One of the fronts where ESPN has taken the most criticism lately is their handling of hockey, and that's understandable. The network hasn't exactly given the NHL a lot of coverage in recent years, which some would say is thanks to a serious belief inside Bristol that hockey "doesn't transfer to a national discussion." Others would argue it's because they don't have NHL broadcast rights (and competitor NBC does). Regardless of which side of that debate you fall on, it's become a prominent topic of discussion in the sports media world, and ESPN president John Skipper made some fascinating comments to Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch on the subject this week. Here's what he had to say (page two, item #4):
Skipper said the perception that ESPN has given hockey the short end of the stick is not accurate. "Look, I don't think it's fair," Skipper said. "I see SportsCenter every day and we cover hockey every day. We do not have a significant differential between highlights of hockey now and when we had it. The only difference is we are not there [as a rights holder]. If we were there for the playoffs, we'd be throwing to the guys calling the game. We can't do that, but we are at hockey games. We are doing hockey highlights."
What's notable is that the Worldwide Leader isn't doing a lot of hockey highlights, though, particularly compared to sports where they also happen to own the broadcast rights. Consider Deadspin's excellent Bristolmetrics series, which tracked the content of SportsCenter's 11 a.m. segments on a minute-by-minute basis throughout 2012. Their final 2012 segment concluded in the cumulative statistics that those SportsCenters spent just 459 minutes on the NHL from Jan. 7, 2012 to Dec. 20, 2012. That's 2.8 percent of overall airtime. The next-lowest sport tracked individually, college basketball, was at 1,168.25 minutes (7.1 percent of total airtime). Of course, it didn't help that the NHL was locked out this fall, but ESPN's coverage of the lockout was so hard to find that even company man Bill Simmons was griping about it.
SportsCenter largely ignored the NHL this past year, though, regardless of whether the league was currently locked out. The league was in full swing last January, but got just nine minutes of coverage in a week of SportsCenter (less than even "Other Sports"), and things didn't improve by the playoffs. In June, the height of Stanley Cup playoff action, the NBA's Miami Heat received 120 minutes of coverage in a week of SportsCenter, while every non-NBA sport shared 130. How much of that did the NHL get, even with a thrilling playoff run by a major-market team like the Los Angeles King? 23.5 minutes, 6.1 percent, below the NBA, MLB and SportsCenter staples like Encore and Top 10. Maybe that would be fair if hockey actually didn't "transfer to a national discussion," but the improving ratings it's drawing on NBC don't suggest that's the case. At the moment, it's hard to think that the attention ESPN pays to hockey accurately reflects the sport's place on the U.S. landscape.
However, perhaps Skipper's comments are correct and it isn't all about broadcasting rights. Puck The Media's Steve Lepore made a very valid point Wednesday; the network's NHL coverage on SportsCenter began to drop off when they picked up NBA games in 2002, before they lost NHL rights to NBC. Thus, perhaps this is more a question of ESPN priorities than ESPN properties. With ESPN pushing more and more coverage towards fewer and fewer stories throughout the day (think Jets and Lakers), there's little room left for dedicated coverage elsewhere. Whatever's behind it, though, it's easy to make a strong case that the minimal attention the network pays to hockey doesn't reflect the sport's place on the U.S. landscape.
In the end, perhaps ESPN as a company isn't sure where hockey's place on the landscape is at the moment with one executive stating "hockey doesn't transfer to a national discussion" and ESPN's president claiming "we cover hockey every day." That's quite the disparity coming from the highest levels of the network. Regardless of if their rationale involves broadcasting rights or "national discussions," Bristol has underserved hockey fans for quite some time.
@roybelly @awfulannouncing Which is funny cos that's their soccer policy too. Ronaldo, Messi, or Rooney score? Nice put that in. No? Oh ok.
@roybelly @awfulannouncing Showing hockey highlights at :54 past the hour when Crosby or Ovechkin score (now Hawks too) does not qualify.
I'm not a huge hockey fan, but I see a stark difference in the way ESPN treats hockey and a sport that has leadership support. Like soccer. There will be a night full of hockey games, college basketball games, and NBA games and soccer will still have some long highlights and two spots on the Top Ten.
@awfulannouncing @espn is a joke , never watch it anymore, if they have @cubs playing. I turn tv off and listen to @WGNRadio
@awfulannouncing They are a joke. Ex: @espngreeny never give NHL scores in the a.m. Never. But we get Nets-Bucks score.
“@awfulannouncing: One ESPN exec said hockey doesn't generate national discussion. Neither do the #jets but that doesn't stop them.
Great @awfulannouncing link on ESPN lying abt their hockey coverage. That network creeps towards "joke" status daily. http://t.co/ZXEUXkLs7T
@awfulannouncing I calculated that data here. http://t.co/i38KhbF7lN
@awfulannouncing from Sept-Dec during lockout 11pm SC spent 12 min on lockout. TOTAL. Don't need broadcasting rights to cover lockout
@CorkGaines @awfulannouncing Are we really asking for #more lockout coverage? Wish they'd do that with every sport.
@CorkGaines @awfulannouncing I think that's also how long TSN Sportscentre spend covering OTHER sports during the lockout.
@CorkGaines @awfulannouncing That's making the assumption that SC is some sort of 'news', in reality, it's an infomercial
@awfulannouncing re: hockey. Who gives a shit what ESPN thinks anymore. This is the network that employs that blowhard Skip Bayless FFS...
@awfulannouncing Tim Tebow doesn't generate national discussion, but they have no problem shoving him down our throats...
@awfulannouncing Maybe there jelly NBC outbid them for it. There was a day when ESPN would cover NHL games weekly
@awfulannouncing doesn't it take @ESPN actually showing NHL highlights more than 5 minutes of the 60 to 'generate nation discussion'?
@awfulannouncing It doesn't generate enough national discussion because @espn refuses to cover it. Like it or not, they run the sports world
@richarddeitsch “You’re not talking about ‘SportsCenter’ highlights.” Isn’t that exactly what people are talking about when being critical?
They have good hockey people but they are way under utilized. ESPN is spoiled and when they don't get their way they act like you don't exist.
@scoknuts They have good hockey people? They have ONE hockey person, Barry Melrose, and ONE anchor that knows the sport (Steve Levy). Maybe two if you include Linda Cohn, but she is on so infrequently these days that she doesn't count. By contrast, they employ over a dozen basketball experts. Hockey is treated like a fringe sport by the network because they view it as such. In markets like Philly, NY, Minneapolis and Detroit, hockey is far from fringe. It's growth in popularity in LA should make ESPN reconsider it's poor coverage, not to mention the rest of the country and the growing interest.
@Broncos Rule Fair enough I guess I was talking about Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside and John Buccigros on twitter. I don't expect the TV side to worry about the NHL. Basically at this point I rarely watch ESPN only live games. That's why I hope NBCSN keeps growing and I would love to see them have a more NHL oriented show.
Other quotes from the article:
“We do not cross promote the bejesus out of other ABC/Disney properties.”
“Our baseball coverage is just as balanced as FOX (News).”
“We do not shove soccer down people’s throats”
“We don’t cover Tim Tebow as much as you think”
That quote from Skipper might be the funniest thing all day. While their on-line hockey coverage is excellent (Loved Burnside's embed with the Blues), that has never translated over to TV.
The NHL Network also isn't really the best place to turn to for breaking news, so we have NBCSN or bust. I usually choose on-line coverage instead.
@RearAdBsBlog Why not just own it at this point? It's obvious they don't care about hockey fans, so why not be upfront about it?
@TheRealDPC I'm still a Sox fan, always will be (ALCS G7 & WS G3&4).But these 3 clowns have made it so easy to pick on them.
@RearAdBsBlog that's true. They're nauseating. But the fans feed into it too. Red Sox fans are the worst. I liked when it was just baseball
@TheRealDPC Yeah. They've made it tough to be a fan sometimes (Sox Nation cards, Sweet Caroline, 8th anniversary, etc.)Happy for titles but
@TheRealDPC Won't get much Sox talk outta me unless I'm making fun of them.Or any baseball for that matter.Loved it growing up,not anymore.
It is difficult for the sport of hockey to grow in popularity across the USA if one of the major sports channels does`nt considered it worthy of reasonable coverage throughout the season. ESPN will take a topic/subject and beat it into the ground, like the ongoing Lakers saga, but dismiss other news completely. I enjoy listening to Mike n Mike in the mornings but they frequently focus on only a topic or two for the entire four hours at the expense of other subjects.
The simple fact of the matter is that I don't know a single hockey fan who has turned to ESPN for highlights or coverage in the last decade.
Now that NBC/NBCSN has broadcast rights, now that NHL Net is readily available on cable and satellite systems...there is no need for ESPN to BOTHER covering hockey. In the same way I won't sit through 20 minutes of Tebow-Lakers-Michael Jordan talk for 20 seconds of Jets-Lightning highlights, non-hockey fans likely won't sit through 3 minutes of hockey to get to the latest Dwight Howard trade talk.
The four-letter network has become less about the sports itself, and more about the tabloid stories and speculation surrounding the sports.