by Mike Chen on 04/06/09 at 02:56 PM ET
Today’s mega-post references two of my favorites: Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy and Steve Lepore of Puck The Media. Steve struck gold with a candid interview with ex-ESPN/current-Versus announcer Jack Edwards. As a follow up, Greg made this astute point:
The point isn’t that these people don’t do quality work; it’s that their network is training hockey fans to look elsewhere. It’s a vicious circle: Hockey fans don’t watch ESPN or visit ESPN.com for news because ESPN doesn’t give them what they want; ESPN sees those numbers, and decides no one is intersted in hockey; they cut back coverage, leading to more fans becoming disenfranchised.
Greg’s totally right. Since the NHL disappeared from ESPN, I hardly watch the channel except during the MLB playoffs. I’ll be watching it in two-week spurts now that they’ve the tennis Grand Slam tournaments too, but other than that, they don’t broadcast anything that I care about. And for my online visits, I check ESPN once a week and that’s just for John Buccigross’ column.
I’m guessing many hockey fans are like me when it comes to their online activity. For scores and updates, it’s either TSN or Yahoo (mostly Yahoo because their interface loads faster); for breaking news, it’s the Empire here at Kukla; for rumors, it’s Spector’s; and for opinion, I grab the local headlines via Illegal Curve or one of my favorite bloggers. I feel no need to visit ESPN.com anymore. For hockey, it’s too sparse, and for everything else, it’s too cluttered.
This is the thing about ESPN and Versus. Consider it like a school popularity contest in a John Hughes movie.
ESPN is the pretty and popular homecoming queen—she might pretend to pay attention to you but you’re an afterthought that disappears from her vacuous brain after five seconds. Versus is like the cute but quiet indie rock chick—once you get to know her, you see how cool and devoted she really is, and she has an awesome Joy Division t-shirt. The homecoming queen might elevate your school popularity but the indie rock girl understands you and wants to go listen to rare Smiths b-sides together.
So then who you pursue really depends on your goal. ESPN raises overall awareness of the league to Joe Sportsfan but puts it tenth on the priority list. Versus allots a pretty good amount of time to the league, especially during the playoffs when it essentially becomes the NHL channel (not the NHL Network) for two months.
I would think that in a perfect world, you get a joint-rights deal with Versus and ESPN. One game a week on ESPN while maintaining the current Versus/NBC package. A deal like that opens up the door for cross-promotion and SportsCenter placement on ESPN, raising awareness while giving ESPN some filler programming and indirectly sending a few eyeballs over to Versus. Since ESPN is trying to keep Versus from gaining any traction in terms of competition, I doubt that’d ever happen.
For now, I’ll agree with Jack Edwards’ assessment:
So, for those of you that hope that hockey gets back on ESPN, that’s what you’re gonna’ get. That’s where it belongs in ESPN’s hierarchy, because there are some bozos sitting in the accounting department in a bunker in Burbank, California running Disney, who look at the numbers and completely ignore the passion of hockey fans.
Me? I’m ok with Versus/NHL Network/Center Ice/blogosphere—the hockey equivalent of my indie rock girl in the Joy Division shirt (hey, I married someone like that and we played Love Will Tear Us Apart at our wedding).
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