By Craig Edwards
We're about to start one of the best events in the world of sports, though it's becoming more and more of a secret in the U.S.
The NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs start tonight, with four of the first round matchups dropping the puck. In all, 16 teams will battle for the right to hold one of the oldest trophies in sports. FYI, a quick wikipedia check tells me that the Stanley Cup was named for Lord Frederick Stanley, who served as Governor General of Canada back in the day. He donated the original cup as an award to Canada's top amateur hockey team.
There is nothing like playoff hockey, in which every goal seems to up the tension in a game. All that talk about getting higher seeds means nothing. It's not uncommon for an #8 to beat a #1.
Even better is a playoff game that goes to overtime. First goal wins the game, which goes until somebody scores. The tension goes up with every shot on goal.
But good luck finding these games on your TV during the week (NBC is showing weekend games). Gone are the days of playoff double headers on ESPN, replaced by who knows what on the Versus Network. Myself and many others don't get Versus. Many people that get it don't even know they do. Since returning from the lockout that killed an entire season, the NHL has... in TV terms... dropped off the proverbial sports map.
League leaders will point to the growing attendance at games to show that they're strong. But if you've been reading my blogs, or paid any attention to sports in the last half century, you know that television is king. Unless the NHL can increase their exposure, no amount of attendance is going to mean a hill of beans in the long run. TV is crucial to building the next generation of fans, and getting exposure for your stars.
The only way to fix this is for the league to do whatever it takes to get on ESPN again, or at least get a national deal on Fox Sports Net. No matter how much it's paying you... being on the Versus channel is not doing anything positive for the league.
Why isn't the NHL on ESPN anymore? Here's a quick play to oversimplify it for you:
The NHL Lockout has just ended... the NHL goes to visit ESPN.
NHL: We're back, now pay us our money!
ESPN: Oh, hockey. We had forgotten about you.
NHL: We took a year off to sort out things... how much cash you want to give us?
ESPN: Dude... we showed Poker while you were gone. It got as good of ratings as you did. So we don't think you should get loads of money.
NHL: Not cool... we may have to go somewhere else.
VERSUS: Come hang out with us! We'll pay you.
NHL: We've never heard of you... but if you've got the cash, we're there.
What's even more annoying is that the NHL has done this before. In the late 80's, the league bolted ESPN for the now defunct Sportschannel and more cash. Again, it was a channel that hardly anybody got, so the league slowly watched their exposure and prominence drop.
You would think someone would have learned their lesson.