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Broadcasting Balance

By George James Malik

According to Ted Kulfan, one defensive game begets an NHL catastrophe:

Why, oh why, does the NBC (and Versus, for what Versus is worth) continue to force the Red Wings vs. Avs on everyone in the nation? WHY!!!! It’s only a heated rivalry worth watching, apparently, in the opinion of NBC. Nobody is left from the rivalry. The Avs aren’t even a playoff team. The Avs aren’t very good. The talent level on both teams isn’t close to what it was during the glory years. But it doesn’t seem to matter, apparently, to NBC. It wants to keep showing the outdated video of the fights and blood and gore of years long gone by. But, the present day games stink. And, it gives would-be fans another excuse to not watch.

With all due respect, it’s one game.  One game that’s less than scintillating does not a disaster make. 
The Avs are a thin team this year.  The Wings played a defensive game—while taking 41 shots on Theodore—because at least five Red Wings played through a vicious flu bug.  The Avs and Wings’ players regularly state that while they don’t want to punch each other’s lights out, they genuinely feel a rivalry still exists between the two teams, fueled by fans and the teams’ historical rivalry. 


What’s wrong with that?  The media seems to believe that “rivalry” games mean instantaneous fisticuffs and guarantees of scintillating, action-packed games between two teams who will miraculously bring playoff intensity to a game played in January.  Sometimes that simply doesn’t happen, whether it’s the wear and tear of injuries, travel, exhaustion from a heavy schedule, or simply games that, for whatever reason, naturally play out as less than blockbusters.
Besides, the league’s broadcasting plans have nothing to do with delivering the most exciting product possible to fans.  Avs vs. Wings?  The endlessly over-hyped games between the Flyers, Devils, Rangers, and Penguins?  Crosby vs. anybody?  Ovechkin vs. anybody?  It’s name recognition and a New York-based belief that teams in the Eastern Time Zone will always generate the best ratings. 
Broadcasts are also scheduled months and months in advance so that the NHL sets aside X number of games for 3:30 starts, Y games for Monday broadcasts on Versus, etc.  The networks look for teams that their viewers recognize, and they aim for the easiest “sells” possible.  Why not cheaply and easily sell the Wings-Avs rivalry instead of explaining to fans that, as it turns out, the Thrashers and Capitals just don’t like each other very much? 
Sometimes fans matter more than ratings, too.  The CBC might tell you that the Leafs-Wings game wasn’t exactly a grudge match, and the Habs-Wings game played out as a defensive struggle, but Red Wings fans planned on watching or attending those games as soon as the schedule came out in July, and as somebody who sat in the crowd during the Leafs-Wings game, man, the rink rocked and shook like a playoff game.
It’s difficult to achieve a balance between broadcast rights, name recognition, spontaneous rivalries as opposed to historical rivalries, and games that matter to fans more than networks, and sometimes achieving that balance can’t stop games from developing into slow or uninspired TV over the sixty minutes of play on the ice.
Mediocre games happen.  We obviously want to see the most exciting on-ice product possible, and hockey fans, the media, and the league alike hope that the broadcast powers that be choose to broadcast games that are more likely to entertain and draw in casual hockey fans. 
Maybe we should argue that national broadcasters should stop depending on name recognition and six-months-in-advance scheduling when rivalries tend to evolve over the course of the season, but the league won’t likely change the times of the games that become must-see TV because a TV broadcaster wants a team to tell its ticket-buying public that there’s been a change to the schedule. 
Assuming that the goal of convincing the NHL, its teams, and its fans that the inconvenience of changing the time or date of a specific game on the schedule with little advance notice will take a tremendous amount of time and effort.  In the meantime, broadcasters will have to hedge their bets, and as far as NBC’s concerned, asking the NHL to schedule a Wings-Avs game for its Sunday broadcasting slot is a safe bet.

Filed in: NHL Talk, George James Malik, Hockey Broadcasting, | KK Hockey | Permalink


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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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