Stuck between “Pitcher gets hit in the head by line drive” and “Spelling error in Omaha” sat a ticker entitled “Boston evens series at one” and that’s the only mention (besides the lead story, which was a paltry fraction of the hour show) of the Boston Bruins-Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Finals matchup.
The Stanley Cup becomes the most coveted piece of cannikin in June. But for some reason, the network whose motto reads “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” just doesn’t care about the greatest sport on ice.
ESPN’s coverage of hockey classifies as neglectful. The malnutrition of ESPN’s hockey diet comes to prominence on its flagship morning show, SportsCenter. Notwithstanding Barry Melrose, the local puck expert, hockey doesn’t just take the backseat to every other sport – it’s thrown in the trunk blindfolded and totally abandoned with quotidian repetition.
Sunday’s edition of SportsCenter’s “Top 10 Plays” presented no contradictory evidence. The night previous the Boston Bruins had overcome sloppy play and stagnant offense to garner a late, overtime-winning goal from Forward Daniel Paille. That’s how the intense, gritty Game 2 ended – similar to Game 1, which also went into overtime, but Bruins failed to capitalize and lost in triple-OT. But the Top 10 Plays – which hand out the top position with as much ease as Sean Avery delivering career-ending hits – didn’t acknowledge that the Boston-Chicago game even happened. Tuukka Rask’s incredible performance apparently warranted no merit from ESPN. Even Corey Crawford’s athletic glove save, in which his arm moved quicker than John Tortorella when he left New York, got no recognition.
The NHL was foregone to have correspondent Colleen Dominguez talk while a sparse graphic appeared over her. The graphic simply read: Tony Parker hopes to be 100% for Game 5. Really? I always thought athletes hoped to be ailing when big games were on the line. The story lasted one minute and a half.
The two Stanley Cup games, with determined and gallant fervor, failed to capture national headlines. Instead, ESPN and most other news outlets focused on the unceasing pendulum that is the NBA Finals. The favored Miami Heat are taking on the consummate professional winners in the San Antonio Spurs, who embody the name ‘Old Faithful’ even more than the geyser in Yellowstone with their repeated Finals appearances and their equally repeated wins (four titles in four tries).
But 2013 has presented the Spurs with anything but faith. In four games, there have been three victories by 16 or more points. 16 points actually undersells how the games have been played out, it hasn’t even been that close. All of this including a 36-point pummeling of the Heat by the Spurs that was over even before halftime began. These anticlimactic Finals against the best teams from each conference haven’t been the grind-it-out, best-versus-best matchups that excite like the NHL.
In my distraught nature of wanting to see the highlights from Game 1 to find out the victor (I had Finals of my own at school the next day and after the first overtime, at midnight, I had to call it a day) I was forced to resort to a YouTube video from a drunken Boston man recording off of his low-definition television with his iPhone to see Bruins goals.
So what’s the deal (or the absence of a TV deal) between ESPN and hockey?
Hockey, which has been previously exiled from National TV more shamefully than Napolean from France, took a big step forward this year. The signing of a 10-year pact between NBC and the NHL brought an end of terror in which hockey was broadcast on Versus, a channel which many people didn’t own, and the Outdoor Life Network, which fewer people knew existed. The OLN resembled a precursor to Versus. Djfhsdkafh…as I gather my jaw from my keyboard, I’m just astonished that such a network, only available through DirecTV during its infancy, could hold the rights to a major sport such as hockey.
In an interview ESPN Senior Vice-President Vince Doria talked about how there has never been a better in-house sport. He said during his time at the Boston Globe, he attended far more Bruins games than Celtics. But ESPN has expressed multiple times that they don’t believe hockey brings a telegenic appeal to the room and that on-ice scrambles and intensity don’t translate to the viewer.
Hockey and television also don’t cooperate because it holds a geographical hold, a sort of civic clamp on only certain regions. The sectionalism in hockey is not an isolated occurrence. In the lowest TV-rated series ever, the Los Angeles Kings played the New Jersey Devils to the tune of 2.98 million viewers per game. However, in Los Angeles the series received a 25, which means one in every four males ages 18-49 watching TV was rooting for the Kings. They were eventually rewarded as the Kings took to Cup home, but that shows an alarming trend for hockey. If the two host cities contribute the majority of the viewers, then no other fans are watching. Which in turn means it is regional and partnering with the NHL for every other game they have besides the Finals rewards you with nothing. It also means that the popularity of hockey is still down.
So the chicken and the egg contradiction comes into play here: is hockey not popular enough to be on ESPN? Or is it that ESPN’s refusal to show hockey hamstrings its progress?
And while the argument can be made that a rights holder to a program increases its popularity, take a look some strange sports they’ve had on. Bowling, the Scrabble Championship and Cup Stacking have all presided over air-time on ESPN, mostly on ESPN2, but still there. With the exception of the sweet PBA commercial with Busta Rhymes audio, those three sports make ESPN 8 “The Ocho” from “Dodgeball” look like a good way to couch-surf and waste the afternoon.
That’s the power of other sports. In the NFL, especially with the prevalence of Fantasy Football, nearly every game attracts the maximum amount of viewers because there are so few. In baseball, the likes of Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera with their all-around prowess on the diamond warrant a viewing on occasion. The NBA can be explained with the allegory of “The Decision.” LeBron James infamous “TV Special” in which LeBron picked which team he would play for drew 9.95 million viewers. That’s more than ANY Stanley Cup Final game since the Blackhawks played the Canadiens in 1973.
So while everyone – myself included – are tired of SportsCenter covering Tim Tebow, Jets Camp, and the Miami Heat, as a TV company they stand to make money, and they can’t seem to do that with hockey.
Understandably, they won’t enter an agreement for TV rights with the NHL, but would it kill them to put some highlights on for more than thirty seconds?