Every year, I look forward to the release of the national television schedule for the NHL. More than any other single moment of the offseason, it shows which teams the league and the networks are going to promote—as well as the teams that they’ll continue to ignore. Every year I hope for big changes spurred by common season. Yet every year, I’m consistently disappointed. This year’s NHL schedule for Versus telecasts is simply more of the same.
I’ll start with some of the teams that must have been forgotten by Versus. Fans of the Anaheim Ducks, Atlanta Thrashers, Carolina Hurricanes, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks have absolutely NO reason to EVER watch the network unless they have a craving for Professional Bull Riding. Not one of those teams will play a single game on the network ALL SEASON long. I suppose that shouldn’t come as a huge shocker as those teams combined for 7 total games last season. But still, each season brings the renewed hope for intelligence. Once again, that sense of hope was met with the brick wall of reality.
From my purely selfish perspective, the Los Angeles Kings have one televised game on Versus all season. As crappy as that sounds, fans in Southern California that want increased exposure should be dancing in the streets. Why? Because that’s one more Kings game than Versus televised last season.
I have a theory. Versus is convinced there’s only ONE team in Southern California—so they rotate a single game between the Kings and Ducks to keep everyone on their toes. Would it kill Versus to show a game that starts after 5:00? Or, since it’s painfully clear that their intent on sucking the East Coast’s collective cock, maybe they could at least mix in a double-header to show some games from the West Coast.
The Kings, Ducks, Coyotes, and Canucks have a combined TWO games all season! Which games will be shown you ask? The Kings playing at Chicago and the Coyotes playing at Detroit. It just so happens that the Blackhawks and Red Wings are shown more than any other teams in the entire league. So basically it’s not that Versus is showing the Kings/Coyotes; they’re just showing the Blackhawks against whomever.
Let’s put this in perspective: the Blackhawks have as many games on Versus BEFORE the Kings even start their season as the Kings have ALL season (Chicago plays on October 2nd, the Kings start their season on October 3rd). The Sharks actually have 4 games on Versus next season—which is half (or less than half) the amount of games that Detroit, Chicago, New York Rangers, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have. Just like we have all learned over and over, a Presidents Trophy doesn’t mean shit. Apparently, it doesn’t mean that they have to put you on television either.
The clear reason for the crap schedule that Versus just released is obvious: Ratings, Ratings, Ratings. If you live in the States and you want to watch one of the Canadian teams play—you’re shit out of luck. The 6 Canadian teams have a COMBINED 5 games on Versus. Three of the teams (Vancouver, Edmonton and Ottawa) aren’t televised once! I guess this shouldn’t be terribly surprising since the six teams combined for 9 total games last season. But that doesn’t make it right.
I don’t have any problems with TV execs choosing to show more Chicago or New York games than other teams—but there’s no excuse for the gross imbalance that consistently exists in the coverage. Once again, we’ll hear people talking about the same usual suspects all season and ignoring the same teams again because they’re never on television. Hell, the Carolina Hurricanes were in the EASTERN CONFERNCE FINALS last season and don’t even have a single game televised this season.
Its examples like these that make Center Ice a necessity. It isn’t even a choice anymore—it’s like oxygen and beer for hockey fans. Thanks Versus!
Ratings are the obvious reason for the absence of Canadian teams as well. Think about it: the NHL is dependent on the two “home” markets to drive any people that may watch the game. The league and networks dependent on home markets that they wouldn’t allow the Penguins or the Red Wings have big screen monitors televising the Stanley Cup Finals. They were fearful that there would be fewer televisions tuned in, thus lower ratings. If one of the teams is out of the country, they only have ONE market to drive the ratings. With that kind of desperation, there’s no way there would be more than a few games with Canadian teams.
How ridiculous is this? With the addition of Jay Bouwmeester, the Calgary Flames look like they’re trying to make a real push for not only the playoffs, but legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. I’m not saying they’re the best team in the West, but they’re certainly in the discussion. Yet, they’re only on National TV in the US ONCE all season. I want to see for myself if they’re going to be any good! If I’m dependant on Versus as my only source to view hockey, I’d never get to watch for myself. Take those same thoughts and apply them to the Vancouver Canucks as well—except they aren’t on Versus all season. Not once! I believe that would be classified as an Epic Fail.
People in traditional markets will talk about how Atlanta, Phoenix, Tampa Bay, Nashville, LA, etc. don’t have big enough followings and aren’t good enough to warrant national television coverage. But how would they know? Aside from watching their own team play against the non-traditional markets, how many games have they watched?
Is this because NBC, Versus and the NHL are SOOO fantastic at marketing the NHL? I understand that they’re experts and all since I can’t get away from all of these hockey fans that are everywhere. I almost feel bad for football, seeing how they can’t even compare with hockey fans. Yeah, exactly. Do you notice the sarcasm—because I’m laying it on pretty thick. Maybe, just maybe, something different wouldn’t be a bad thing.
There’s no debating the fact that the west coast doesn’t have as many hockey viewers; but part of me wonders if it’s a self fulfilling prophecy. Show hockey to more people and more people will become more familiar with the sport. It doesn’t matter what sport you’re talking about—if you’re a native of San Diego, you’re much more likely to watch an Anaheim Ducks vs. Phoenix Coyotes game than you are a Philadelphia vs. Minnesota game. Just once in a while, give them something a little more local and they might start to think of it as THEIR game.
That’s why the national telecasts are such a big deal. Without Versus televising games for all 30 teams, people will never know what’s going on with a third of the league. It’s bad for the sport because fans are completely ignorant when it comes to a significant portion of the league. It’s bad for business because people in non-traditional markets continue to view it as an outsider’s game.
As long as the networks continue to broadcast hockey like a REGIONAL sport, the mainstream public will continue to think of it as a sport for Minnesota and the northeast. If the networks (and by extension, the league), started to treat the sport as a national sport—the rest of the country might wake up and take notice.
The television schedule that Versus just released; well, it’s not even a step in the right direction.
Gann Matsuda notes that this year’s schedule for Versus is not the exception–its the rule. See, we’re not the only ones! Check out his take over at Frozen Royalty.