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Afternoon Line

And of all the major leagues, ESPN doesn’t carry the NHL. As a consequence, the NHL is like a tree falling in the forest, because pretty much if a sport isn’t on ESPN then it doesn’t count as a sport. Poker became a sport when ESPN started showing it.

Angry hockey people even tabulate the few minutes ESPN deigns to mention the NHL. ESPN replies that hockey is not in the “national discussion.” The NHL is just not like LeBron or Kobe or baby bumps or Mitt Romney’s dog. In fact, to ESPN the NHL is rather like ... Tim Duncan. Hockey fans say that the NHL can’t be in the national discussion unless ESPN discusses it, because in American sports today, that’s how you get national. You get on ESPN. Look at it this way: ESPN to sports is like Fox, MSNBC, the Comedy Channel and MTV all in one.

ESPN might have a problem, though. The New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings may very well end up playing in the NHL finals. Is even ESPN bigger than LA and New York, together? Stay tuned.

-Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated.



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Primis's avatar

SI talking about ESPN’s poor hockey coverage is kinda’ like Roger Clemens calling Barry Bonds a cheater, or like… I dunno’... Shane Doan complaining about Dustin Brown being dirty.

Here’s the thing:  It’s clearly not even that big of a deal in LA still given the poor, inaccurate coverage.

Posted by Primis on 05/23/12 at 04:12 PM ET

Matt Fry's avatar

So… their hockey coverage hasn’t changed all that much then…  Getting on ESPN doesn’t necessarily make you national, if history is any indication.

Posted by Matt Fry from Winnipeg on 05/23/12 at 04:23 PM ET

Norskirama's avatar

I heard Deford make these comments on NPR this morning, and there was more about Tim Duncan earlier in his commentary…something about the NBA being more like Hollywood starts because you know who someone is talking about by using only first names like LeBron, etc.  except for the very talented Tim Duncan who is not called Tim, but TimDuncan. Frank does not realize the first name recognition is true in the NHL as well, if you follow the NHL (Sidney, Evgeni, Nick, Ovie, Jonathan, Henrik (3 of those), Shane, Wayne, Zdeno, Joe, Stevie and I know there are more).

Posted by Norskirama from Lincoln, Nebraska on 05/23/12 at 04:25 PM ET

Vladimir16's avatar

Hockey is a fringe sport.
ESPN sucks.
Who gives a rat’s ass.

Posted by Vladimir16 from Grand River Valley on 05/23/12 at 04:45 PM ET

Ajax19's avatar

What Vlad16 said.  Amen, brother.

Posted by Ajax19 on 05/23/12 at 05:09 PM ET


Vlad nailed it.

What hockey has going for it though is the most solid core fan base out of any of the major sports. Hockey fans really don’t care about its popularity among the casual fans, they care about the sport itself and will do whatever it takes to find it and support it. Nothing else really matters.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 05/23/12 at 05:46 PM ET


I don’t read SI anymore.  ESPN makes a farce out of the sports it covers.  I think Bettman did right by the fans.  NBC is giving hockey more exposure than ESPN ever would.  Who watches Mike and Mike in the morning anyway?

Posted by 13 user names on 05/23/12 at 07:40 PM ET


I can’t remember the last time I even looked at ESPN.  I haven’t watched the channel in so long, I’m not sure I would even recognize it.

Saying ESPN is “how you get national” is like all those corporations who refuse to think social media is anything more than just a place where kids put stupid pictures.  Eventually, those corporations completely die off because they’re no longer relevant.

Posted by BuzzFledderjohn on 05/23/12 at 07:49 PM ET


The ESPN has a massive reach which would benefit the NHL’s presence in the national sports conversation. But based on the league’s recent history with the network, people seem to overstate the effect. Before the lockout, hockey coverage was dwindling and viewership was static at best. ESPN had very little interest once the NHL came back and with such a small investment (especially compared to massive college FB, BB, MLB, NBA, auto, and NFL) hockey was unlikely to be provided a major footprint.

Outdoor Life Network and OLN were pathetic, and a sad era for hockey. As it evolved to Versus it improved and now is on quite solid footing. Hockey fans and outside observers alike must remember the choices that were presented, not imagined. This league remains (in the U.S.) mostly regional, and mostly a niche sport. It’s unrealistic to assume that ESPN, with it’s programming slate already stuffed, would vault it above the other sports.

In short, those who belly ache about no ESPN deal should answer these questions:
1) Is ESPN positioned to offer the NHL a financially competitive deal to Comcast?
2) Would the deal assure significant airtime throughout the season—whether earlier in the season, competing with college sports, or later in the season, competing with NBA playoffs and MLB?
3) Exactly what impact would this coverage have on a sport which is inaccessible to those who have never embraced or had access to the hockey “culture”/tradition?

Posted by Dave on 05/23/12 at 07:53 PM ET

UMFan's avatar

I get the New York market, but do people in LA even bring in good tv numbers for sports programming outside of the Lakers? I always figured LA to be sort of like Miami in that regard i.e. too many other things to do around town.

Posted by UMFan from Denver, Colorado on 05/23/12 at 09:14 PM ET


New York market for better or for worse is a Ranger market more than a hockey market.  If the Rangers are not in it, most Ranger fans I know won’t watch the Final. So much like LA, those two markets will be greatly affected by whether the home team makes it because besides hockey New York has more than one or two things to offer as well.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 05/24/12 at 03:39 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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