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http://www.sportingnews.com/yourturn/viewtopic.php?t=247979

ESPN is back in NHL's TV picture

July 30, 2007

For the past two years, hockey fans' chief complaint about NHL television coverage has been ... wait for it ... Versus.

If you don't know the gripes, you don't follow hockey. Once the league switched its television package to Versus after the 2004-05 lockout, the outcry began. The chief problem? Too few people could get the cable channel, which at the time was known as OLN. If OLN was available, it was on a higher tier, or service level. Read it: costs more.

Hard-core fans had no trouble watching games. Many of them subscribed to the higher tier or to the Center Ice package. Those of us lucky enough to have OLN/Versus on our existing cable package got what we wanted. Those who didn't, well, whining is too strong a word. But they made their complaints known.

Another part of the package was the NHL's deal with NBC. At best it cast pro hockey in the same light as indoor football, a weekend sideshow intended to fill time when few people watch TV. Not surprisingly, NBC's numbers were puny, anemic and anorexic.

Now comes word today the NBC-Versus experience might be at a major crossroads.

SportsBusiness Journal reported in its July 30 issue talks are under way between the NHL and ... wait for it ... ESPN.

This could be a dream come true for everyone except Versus and those of us who have a gripe with ESPN.

In an article headlined "Look who's talking: ESPN, NHL", writers John Ourand and Tripp Mickle say discussions focus on bringing hockey back to the cable giant for the 2008-09 season. "Multiple sources described the conversations as preliminary. The two started talking the week of July 16 when the NHL approached ESPN about NBC's nine-game regular-season schedule, plus the playoffs. NBC holds the rights to air the coming season as part of a revenue-sharing agreement, and the network holds a one-year option for the 2008-09 season."

One should not be surprised to hear NBC might not want to chuck the NHL.

Again, Ourand and Mickle: "The key to this whole scenario is Versus, which holds cable exclusivity to all of the league's games through 2011 and is paying the league a rights fee in excess of $70 million annually. Sources close to the Comcast-owned network, however, indicated that Versus would be willing to waive that clause, but only if it gets something in return -- either a lower rights fee, a stronger schedule or a deal extension."

Another catch to this deal: The games might go to ESPN2, rather than the signature cable source that brought you "Playmakers," "The Bronx Is Burning" and other "dramas" (their word, not mine) and game shows that nobody would mistake for quality TV.

OK, assume the deal leaves Versus with a heavy slate of NHL games to sandwich in with its fighting, rodeo, lumberjack and outdoor sports lineup. If ESPN carries select games in timeslots NBC currently fills, that would still leave the NHL out of prime nighttime slots on ESPN, which probably won't surrender its NBA schedule. So how much would that help the league? And outside of Buffalo, would the NHL provide enough viewers to give ESPN2 the ratings and ad review it needs?

The Bristol Octopus doesn't do charity. It does shameless self-promotion better than any entity not linked to a European government, but it doesn't shame itself with losing propositions.

Unless I see something that tells me otherwise, I'd rather see the NHL leave games on NBC and Versus. Yeah, an ESPN connection would raise the league's public-relations image. And if NBC wants out of the deal, the NHL is right to do something to assure its TV presence on a high-level U.S. broadcast outlet, preferably one available to the highest number of viewers. Free TV, rather than cable.

Hard-core fans aren't the NHL's primary concern. They are hooked and in the creel. It's casual fans the league needs to grow its base and popularity. And realigning with the magical machine that is ESPN would seem a bonanza in the making.

Nah. Leave the games on Versus. Better yet, go through with the proposed NHL Network. It's better than being a second citizen on ESPN.

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Well if this does come true ESPN won't be replacing Versus they would be replacing NBC. The original article on the NHL approaching ESPN is if NBC does not pick up the option for 08-09 ESPN getting that package. Versus would still be the main network for the league and have a mojority of the NAtional games as well as the All-Star game.

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The NHL had their games on ESPN and ABC for years and noone watched why would that change now?

Putting the games back on ESPN will do NOTHING. Taking them off broadcast TV to put them on ESPN2 would be a typical NHL mistake move.

Unfortunately it may not be up to them. I think the league would be quite happen to keep it how it is with NBC and Versus however NBC may not pick up the option for 08-09. That leaves the NHL with few if any options for network tv.

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The NHL had their games on ESPN and ABC for years and noone watched why would that change now?

Putting the games back on ESPN will do NOTHING. Taking them off broadcast TV to put them on ESPN2 would be a typical NHL mistake move.

Putting the games back on ESPN is critical. Hockey is totally off the normal sports consciousness - ESPN controls that.

The NHL has to find new revenue streams, otherwise this salary cap system could spiral out of control.

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Yeah, I can see it now, channel 94, right between Oxygen and G4 networks

You get G4 that low ??? :P

(but by the way G4 is a great nothing else is on so I will watch Ninja Warrior channel!)

I don't get the people pissing and moaning about "VS is hard to find"... how come NO ONE has a problem finding the NFL Network on their cable systems for the pre-season and the after thanksgiving games ??? :P

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I don't get the people pissing and moaning about "VS is hard to find"... how come NO ONE has a problem finding the NFL Network on their cable systems for the pre-season and the after thanksgiving games ??? :P

1. Gambling can do wonders for a person, they will find anything.

2. Marketing, something the NHL does not know a lot about these days.

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You get G4 that low ??? :P

(but by the way G4 is a great nothing else is on so I will watch Ninja Warrior channel!)

I don't get the people pissing and moaning about "VS is hard to find"... how come NO ONE has a problem finding the NFL Network on their cable systems for the pre-season and the after thanksgiving games ??? :P

'cause it's called NFL and not VS?

Plus NFL games are on at a regular time.

And yea, what LOTCB said - if I've got the Chiefs -4, I'm gonna know when they're on.

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'cause it's called NFL and not VS?

Plus NFL games are on at a regular time.

And yea, what LOTCB said - if I've got the Chiefs -4, I'm gonna know when they're on.

So wow... golly gee...so it's not the network it's on... it's the PRODUCT... hrm... so I guess it matters little what network it's on, so at least put it on a channel that won't bump it for horse race-PRE-SHOWS, and poker tournaments and unwatchable "original programming" :P

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So wow... golly gee...so it's not the network it's on... it's the PRODUCT... hrm... so I guess it matters little what network it's on, so at least put it on a channel that won't bump it for horse race-PRE-SHOWS, and poker tournaments and unwatchable "original programming" :P

except that it is the channel that it's on. i'm a huge hockey fan, i've got 10,000 posts on a hockey message board in the last 5 years, and i'll often forget there's a game on versus. the games come on at either 7, 7:30, or 8, and versus is 408 on cablevision - i never scroll through there to see what's on. by the time i do remember, it's time for another interminable NHL intermission that makes the game completely unpalatable to television.

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:puke:

Doc is by far the greatest PBP man in hockey, and don't you forget it.

Amen brother....amen....

As for hockey being on EPSN, anything that will keep the leauge financially sound is good for me. Having hockey on ESPN will draw more viewers, period. Now will those viewers go to games, buy jerseys and eat Premio sausage at the arena...ehhhhh, probably not.

Hockey is a niche sport filled with hardcore fans and it will take much more than ESPN to change that.

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