Wednesday, January 24, 2007

NHL Lacks Skills Against TV Competition

Last night was the 2007 NHL Youngstars Game and the Skills Competition, the first of two broadcast nights for the All-Star game festivities. Tomorrow night will be the actual All-Star game. Now I'm not that excited over the game itself, especially since only one of my Panthers, Jay Bouwmeester, will be represented. But the NHL is going to have to quickly realize that what they did last night was a huge faux pas.

Case in point, for the first time in a long time, the All-Star festivities are on during the week, Tuesday and Wednesday. This stuff usually takes place on Friday/Saturday. Now granted TV ratings aren't very good on the weekend and are better during the week, and that might matter if this was being shown on network TV, but it's not. The NHL is partnered up with VS., the cable channel that most people don't get without ordering it (usually not on standard/basic cable) and even less actually watch. It wasn't until last year that they joined forces with VS. (then OLN) to have a new post-lockout network after ESPN dropped them like a bad habit. It's safe to say ESPN was done with hockey and we've been through that before, it's both good and bad.

Since the season started, VS. has gotten slightly better at their coverage but are of course nothing compared to the Canadian stations or probably even as good as NBC. But if there were any questions if things had progressed at all on VS. and with the NHL's TV smarts, it was made extremely clear last night that they had taken at least two steps back if not more. So the Skills Competition was on last night, but against what? Every major network had the U.S. Presidential State of the Union Address last night. While not the most riveting television, it is still going to pull in the ratings every single year without a doubt, especially when it's on all the major channels and news networks. Tomorrow night, the All-Star game, gets to go up against the likes of American Idol. Now granted those who like AI are not those who follow the NHL usually but clearly the ratings will be shot to hell on that game.

So does the NHL have a good reason for doing this? There is at least one good reason. That the NHL GMs didn't want to lose a weekend of home games for their clubs. This is very rational at least, as weekend games bring the most revenue per team and this weekend all games will resume without missing a beat. But then you have to remember that the ASG itself would have gone up against no other major sports (Saturday ASG is usually during the day), not even the NFL.

What really sent me over the edge last night was the VS. production of the Skills Comp. It was incredibly deplorable. Coming back from breaks, they would do interviews or talk over things while an event had already started. Some camera angles made it impossible to see the action, especially during the accuracy shooting event. Other times, the announcers themselves were totally lost. Either they didn't know how the event really worked or they forgot how to call the game entirely. Mike Emrick, I am so sick of hearing you on my TV on this channel.

But the real moment I knew this thing was a joke? During the fastest skater event, each skater is to go around the rink once with their stick as fast as they can. They are clocked with a speedometer/speed gun or some such device for the best possible accuracy. Except, this device wasn't working at all last night. So they used a human element by having someone hit a stop watch. A stop watch, are you kidding me? This is not soccer people, this one of the oldest sports leagues in North America and this is what we get?

I think it's safe to say the NHL didn't win over any fans last night if they were even trying. Everything that could go wrong did. Even the interaction from some of the more interesting players fell flat, maybe only Ovechkin's interview held my true interest. But even the crowd in Dallas had little to yell about. I will likely give the ASG a chance tonight, but my hopes are very down. The players will likely not go all out and it is not the honor it may once have been to be selected. Frankly I can't wait to get back to the real hockey, the stuff that everyone should be watching to see the spirit of the sport, not this lame excuse for an exhibition of how NOT to display and play the game.

There's no Smash Mouth to be found at this red line.

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