Lately, I've read with interest the columns concerning the miniscule TV ratings in the U.S.
[[ But ya can't blame Pittsburgh for this one Canada, FSN Pittsburgh ratings are up 40%, take that !!! ]]
Also a hot topic concerns the declining attendance at U.S. arenas.
However, in my view, boosting U.S. interest in NHL hockey isn't rocket science, folks, it really isn't.
You can spell it out in four letters;
It's that simple.
Like it or not Canada, ESPN is 100% dead-on target when it advertises itself as the "Worldwide Leader in Sports".
And, unfortunately, in the same respect, the NHL needs to take a step back and realize that OLN, or Versus, or whatever the network will call itself next year, will NEVER get to the level of exposure that ESPN does now.
You cannot compare what is being done on Versus right now to what ESPN can provide.
Regular game broadcasts on ESPN and ESPN2.
Resumption of regular shows such as "NHL2Night"
Increased highlights and commentary on "Sportscenter" and ESPNEWS.
Increased discussions and interviews on ESPN Radio.
Commencement of historic and "Instant Classic" NHL games on ESPN Classic.
Not to mention the additional millions of households that ESPN hits as compared to Versus.
Ever wonder why ESPN has all of those NBA highlights and shows and discussions on talk radio ??
Because they've got the NBA contract, stupid !!!
No contract, no talk, no exposure. ESPN is without a doubt the most powerful, most influential force in sports television, absolutely no doubt about it.
Now I'll say this right off the bat, I've been very critical lately of ESPN's performance over the last several years. ESPN has become the "self-proclaimed expert" network, and that has taken away from ESPN doing what it does best, promote and highlight the games themselves. They have propped up blowhards such as Sean Salisbury, Joe Theismann, Ron Jaworski, and Joe Morgan into know-it-alls.
In addition, their level of OVER-analysis is at an all-time high.
BUT, when you think about it, in the NHL's point of view, over-analysis is EXACTLY what the NHL needs.
Say what you will about them, as I often hear the Canadian hockey media boast about their own broadcasts in comparison to their U.S. counterparts (and rightly so, admittedly), but the NHL NEEDS people like Barry Melrose, John Buccigross, Bill Clement, and Keith Jones regularly talking on ESPN about Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, Phaneuf, and Iginla. And by "regularly", I don't mean the measly 10 minutes that ESPNEWS gives Melrose on Thursday's.
I don't want people to misunderstand me, I'm not saying that it necessarily needs to be Melrose and the bunch who're doing the talking. I don't care if it's the stickboy from The Igloo, but it needs to be SOMEONE on a regular basis.
I heard on XM Radio's Home Ice 204 recently (I believe it was with Bob McKenzie, but not 100% sure) that Versus' contract with the NHL is up after this season, with Versus having an option to renew it for another year if it wishes.
Without knowing the contractual implications of that deal, here's a helpful hint, Mr. Bettman;
It's like Tom Hagan telling Sonny Corleone to make the deal with Sollozzo after The Godfather gets shot.
I don't care how shitty any future deal would "initially" be with ESPN, YOU MAKE THAT DEAL.
I don't care if they're offering a three year deal for a bag of pucks, YOU MAKE THAT DEAL.
Take the hit for a few years on the contract Gary, you need the exposure it provides.
After you see the ratings go up, even a little, and you get those fringe fans that couldn't get Versus now all of a sudden watch the NHL all the time on ESPN, you'll be in a better negotiating position for the next contract.
So, until the NHL gets back on ESPN, the NHL in the U.S. will NEVER get above the lowly level that it is at right now.