With all of this in mind, I found myself totally taken aback when Sunday night's SportsCenter jumped into nearly nine full minutes of NHL coverage. Leading off was a reshowing of a "This Is SportsCenter" commercial with Alex Ovechkin. Next came about a seven minute feature on Ovechkin spearheaded by Lindsay Czarniak, who used to cover the Capitals as a local reporter in DC. Staying with the Capitals, SportsCenter then did a typical highlight package of their game followed by a quick glance at the playoff standings.
It wasn't amazing, it certainly wasn't bad, it was just extremely out of character as hockey has been relegated to being a second class citizen dueling for airtime with sports containing broader audiences that all share ESPN as a television partner.
There was a lot of chatter as it stuck out quite a bit. Some of my favorite comments on Twitter below:
I enjoy hockey but like many fans, it's just not at the top of my list of things I follow. That said, shining a light on an NHL human interest story was rather refreshing and a nice change of pace.
In my never-ending quest to come up with some stupid analogy for everything, it occurred to me that to many sports fans, hockey is like watermelon.
Watermelon is great. Who doesn't like watermelon? But really, who actually goes and gets a whole watermelon randomly? I don't think I've ever purchased one, and yes I know where to get them. When randomly given watermelon, I am happy and think "I could go for more of this."
Hockey for many is the same. They like it, but it's not right in front of them to consume a lot of it. Yes, you could go and find it, but as a casual sports fan without a rooting interest, are you really going to make a special trip for a rather large amount of it? It's better as a slice accompanying other things opposed to a three hour affair.
ESPN doesn't want to feed you delicious slices of watermelon. If you like it too much, they feel you'll stop going to them for the small slices, and will go elsewhere (NBC, HBO, sports regionals) for your new found addiction.
On Sunday though, we got the biggest slice of this season and it was a nice surprise that I could go for more often. Hopefully as we move towards the playoffs and beyond, ESPN will continue to shed a light on the NHL rather than worrying that doing so will serve as a catalyst for the rise of one of their competitors.