ESPN won’t talk about hockey because ESPN isn’t talking about hockey
The NHL Playoffs are in full swing, with the second round well under way, and it’s been one of the more exciting playoffs in memory. Practically every game is going down to the wire or overtime, the Kings are putting together a Cinderella run that might never strike midnight, and there has been more passion and fire during games this postseason than in the last 100 years of baseball. Sure, there have been wacky judgements handed down regarding suspensions and fines, and there have been more fistfights than the last UFC pay-per-view, but there are great and exciting games happening every night in the NHL.
However, if you’re one to get your news from the World Wide Leader, ESPN, you’d likely be missing out on a lot of that. That’s because, according to Deadspin’s Bristolmetrics, which covers the amound certain topics are covered during Sportscenter, the NHL consistently finishes last in amount of coverage among the four major sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL), and in three of the last four weeks, has been on the air less than the Top Ten feaure. Twice in the last month, hockey has gotten talked about for 15 minutes in an entire week and has only just recently, with the hockey playoffs now ramping up, gotten more than 10% of air time. In all, hockey accounted for just 4.7% of Sportscenter coverage from January 7 through April 26. So what gives?
Ed Sherman asked ESPN’s senior vice-president and director of news, Vince Doria, “Why does ESPN hate hockey?” and Doria responded:
“It’s a sport that engenders a very passionate local following. If you’re a Blackhawks fan in Chicago, you’re a hardcore fan. But it doesn’t translate to television, and where it really doesn’t transfer much to is a national discussion, which is something that typifies what we do.
“Baseball fans are interested where Albert Pujols is going. NBA fans are interested in the Miami Heat. For whatever reason, and this is my unsubstantiated research on it, hockey doesn’t generate that same kind of interest nationwide. You look at national talk shows. Hockey rarely is a topic. People in Boston aren’t that interested with what’s going on with the Blackhawks.”
But what if ESPN still held the rights to games?
“Well, we were at one time. It wasn’t that different. Listen, I guess if we were rights holder, there probably would be a little more attention paid to it. It’s typical that would happen. We might throw it to commentators who were inside the building. Now we’re not inside the building.”
People who have watched the coverage of international soccer rise exponentially since Bristol started airing games know that Doria’s “a little more attention” argument doesn’t hold much water. He goes on to defend the network’s coverage by saying that they’ll continue to show highlights and report scores. But ESPN is so much more than that.
The part of the argument that doesn’t hold up is Doria’s claim that ESPN doesn’t talk about it because it doesn’t translate to the “national discussion,” like the national discussion is something that is merely observed and reported on and not manufactured. People watch what is put on their television (as long as it isn’t soccer) and will talk about what’s getting talked about. The national discussion is a product, and the biggest factory going right now is ESPN.
Sportscenter is giving the bare minimum courtesy it can by reporting scores and showing some highlights (even more now that the local New York Rangers have advanced in the playoffs), but what about the rest of their lineup? They have First Take, Around the Horn, Pardon the Interruption, SportsNation, and countless other programs where they just sit around and talk about the “big stories” in sports. Do you know who decides what those “big stories” are? That’s right, ESPN. Do you know how many of those “big stories” they decide on are about hockey? About as many as cricket.
It’s not as if they don’t have the time to squeeze some hockey talk in. I mean, how many different questions about Tim Tebow do Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith need to yell at each other about? Was it necessary to have a camera on Bayless while he live-tweeted Tebow’s arrival in New York? And how many times do you really need to replay Baseball Tonight in a day? There’s some easy fat to be trimmed (mainly involving Skip Bayless) that would make room for hockey, and hockey is giving you plenty of solid material to work with. On top of the obvious crowd pleasers in Ovi and Crosby, there’s the on-going saga of the sale of the Coyotes, the goalie drama in Vancouver, and the can’t-lose Kings, just to name a few. It would be so easy to break out of the current mode where they ignore hockey and tell everyone how “dumb” and “boring” it is. Of course, then how would we know what Skip Bayless thinks about Tim Tebow’s choice in after-shave?