Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Lockout vs. Gary Bettman: who killed hockey?

I don't know a lot about the NHL, but as an avid sports fan, I planned on watching the Stanley Cup Finals. Sure my Stars couldn't get out of the first round, but it's the finals of a major sports league, so I should at least tune in to catch some of the action.

Last night at 5:05pm here in Los Angeles, I received a text message from my friend Brad - an Orange County native - who wanted to know what time his Anaheim Ducks would take the ice against Ottawa down at the Honda Center. I got online and checked. 8pm ET.

Oh crap! It's starting now. I sent him a text message back: "Now. Like now."

But that wasn't good enough. Moments later my phone rang. The caller ID prominently displayed "BRAD" across my cell phone.

"Hey man."

"Hey, uh, what channel is the game on?"

"Hmm," I said. "Let me check." I got back online, found the information and replied. "Versus."

"Okay. Uh, do you get Versus?" he asked.


Brad told me he had a friend who would probably have the Versus network, and if he didn't have it, then no one would have it. We ended our call, and I went to check the local stations for the game.

CBS 2 --- no
NBC 4 --- no
KTLA 5 --- no
ABC 7 --- no
KCAL 9 --- no
FOX 11 --- no
FSN West --- no
FSN Prime Ticket --- no

Wait, so no local station is going to televise the game? I'm in Los Angeles. This is the home market, isn't it? (Sure, there's the LA Kings, but they have been to hockey what the Texas Rangers have been to baseball over the last four seasons.)

Okay, well I guess I won't be watching hockey, but that's no big deal. At least the people who are big fans of their team - people like Brad - aren't missing it.

Then the phone rang. Brad dialed me up to tell me his buddy didn't have the Versus network either. He wasn't going to see his Ducks tonight. So we did the next best thing.

We turned on ESPN and watched the Spurs and the Jazz play Game 4 of the NBA's Western Conference Finals.

When that game ended, what did ESPN lead Sportscenter with? The first game in the championship round of one of the four major sports leagues in the nation? Ha! Riiiiiiiiiight. They didn't shove it to the backburner, but they did put it in the microwave to keep it warm. The lead? Obviously: the Western Conference Finals - Game 4.

I'm not going to rip NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman for taking the higher bid from Versus and not signing a deal with ESPN, but only because it's been done by every other hockey nut. And a hockey nut, I am not.

I'm merely a casual fan. A casual fan that lost interest in hockey after the lockout season a few years ago. I'm a casual fan who's trying to get back into the sport. I'm a casual fan that doesn't have the Versus network. And as a casual fan, I don't plan on going out of my way to order it.

Sure the true hockey fans will find a way to watch the games. But in today's highly competitive capitalistic world of business, the NHL can't rely only on the die-hards to support their support. By not becoming accessible to the casual fan, it turns out it's the NHL that will die hard.

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