Since Tuesday, there have been plenty of articles and blog posts written about the NBC Sports Group retaining the NHL so if I brought one to the table at this point, it would not add anything new to what has already been published. So instead of me talking about the benefits of the new TV contract, let me dispel some of the myths and arguments that have been brought forth from writers, uninformed sports radio personalities, silly commenters to blogs and other people who think they know, but they don’t know.
One thing I’ve heard that is true is that ESPN has a bigger distribution than Versus. Yes, ESPN and sister network ESPN2 are each in over 100 million homes that have cable or satellite. Versus is in an estimated 75 million homes. There’s no disputing this. However, there are several other preposterous arguments that have been raised over the last two days. Let’s go over them.
1. ESPN Would Have Treated The NHL Better Than NBC/Versus
This could not be further from the truth. With ESPN fully committed to the NBA, college football and college basketball in the fall and winter months, there’s not much room for the NHL. With programming nights like Monday Night Football, Big Monday in January, Super Tuesday, NBA Wednesday and Friday, Thursday night college football, Saturday college football and basketball, there’s not much space on the Mothership. You see something similar with ESPN2 as it has boxing on Friday nights, the Australian Open for two weeks in January. Plus in December when the NHL is ramping up for the second half of the season, ESPN and ESPN2 have plenty of college bowl games. So asides from perhaps being able to air one game a week, most likely on ESPN2, ESPN would not have treated the NHL better than NBC/Versus.
Ben Grossman of Broadcasting & Cable tweeted that ESPN was originally not interested in bidding for the entire package and only wanted to air one game a week. Would that be better treatment than NBC/Versus?
On Versus, the NHL is the number one sport and is given plenty of nights for games. And starting next season, the amount of regular season games increases from 50 to 90. Would ESPN be able to do that? Most certainly not.
2. The NHL Took Less Money From NBC Or NBC Low-Balled The NHL
This was said by Jon Wallach of 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston Thursday morning on the Toucher & Rich show and I was tempted to drive up to the CBS Radio studios to taser him with 50,000 volts of electricity. Ok, that’s harsh, but that is so uninformed that Wallach should have been fired on the spot. NBC/Versus had the right to match any offer from any interested party. Fox and Turner dropped out of the bidding because they felt the money being put forth by NBC and ESPN was too high. That should tell you that the bidding went higher than expected. In addition, ESPN walked away when it felt the bidding was too expensive for its pursestrings. Comcast is a very rich company. Get it out of your mind that it was not willing to spend money for the NHL. $200 million per year is certainly not in the range of Major League Baseball, the NBA or the golden goose NFL, but it’s rarefied air for the NHL. This season, the NHL is getting $75 million from Versus and nothing from NBC. $200 million per for the next ten seasons is not a lowball bid.
3. ESPN Would Have Given Games To ABC
Maybe. But with ESPN taking more sports inventory, I’m not sure you would have seen many games on ABC. One complaint the ABC affiliates have made is that ESPN has been taking sports away from them and leaving them with scraps. And I don’t think NBA Communist Sympathizer David Stern would be happy to see ABC airing NHL games when it could be showing the NBA. And the last time ESPN had the NHL, it gave just five regular season games to ABC. NBC has aired double that amount as part of its Game of the Week package.
4. The NHL Would Get More Coverage on SportsCenter
Not necessarily. ESPN airs women’s college basketball, the WNBA, bowling, English Premier League and tennis. How often do you see them on SportsCenter? Very rarely. The UConn women were covered during their winning streak, but after their loss to Stanford, did you see them on SportsCenter? The English Premier League is only shown when there’s an unusual goal and let’s not talk about the WNBA for now. Yes, SportsCenter has virtually ignored the NHL since letting the sport walk in 2006, but it’s actually giving the sport more coverage this year. Maybe it was because the network was bidding for the league, but it is what it is. Even if ESPN got back into the sport, I don’t think the coverage would have increased much.
5. ESPN Would Have Provided Better Announcers Than NBC/Versus
Wrong. Gary Thorne is nowhere in the league of Hall of Fame announcer Mike Emrick. Barry Melrose is ok and Matthew Barnaby is strong, but who else could ESPN provide? Ed Olcyzk is one of the better analysts in the game and so is Andy Brickley. The Versus play-by-play corps was greatly improved when Joe Beninati was let go and Dave Strader and John Forslund were given bigger roles. Had ESPN won the package, I think you would have seen some of the same people NBC/Versus have employed over the last few years. Now if only NBC/Versus could get rid of Pierre McGuire and put Darren Pang in his place and the staff would be much better off.
So I hope I have convinced the naysayers that the NHL would have been better off with ESPN. There is no way this would have happened had ESPN won the bid. I would argue that the league would have been worse off. And while I was critical of the NHL’s relationship with Versus when they first renewed their deal in 2008, the network’s coverage has improved to where I am pleased to see NBC/Versus remain as the rightsholders for the next decade.