When NHL commissioner Gary Bettman allowed the lockout disaster to cancel to entire 04/05 hockey season, it set into motion a downward spiral of consequences that will take probably ten years to recover from. That’s about how long it took major league baseball to recover from their strike in the 90’s.
Among these consequences is that ESPN dropped the NHL like it had ties to Al Queda. So the NHL whored itself around begging a TV contract & ended up on OLN, the Outdoor Life Network. OLN? What the fuck, over? Sure, most kids learn to play the game on frozen ponds in their back yards, but there’s only ever been a handful of games played outdoors in recent memory in the majors, or even college, so why the Outdoor Life Channel? OLN has subsequently changed its name to Versus, a move which gained them about 6 more viewers.
Meanwhile, ESPN filled in the newly-freed air slots with shit like World Series of Poker (when the fuck did poker become a sport?) and reruns of the World’s Strongest Man Competition from 3 years ago. Incidentally, more people have been watching Mariusz Pudzianowski lift beer kegs over his head than have been watching hockey. I’m sure some of the people watching those reruns would be watching hockey if they could. Don’t get me wrong; I think Mariusz is a tremendous athlete but watching him drag a Greyhound bus 300 feet with his ball hairs just isn’t the same as watching Rod
Brind’Amour the Howler monkey steal the puck, pass it to Eric Cole, see Cole deke the blueliner, drop a no-looker to Eric Staal, and see Staalsie one-time it over Kari Lehtonen’s shoulder to the top shelf where Daddy keeps the Playboys.
Anyone who’s known me for more than 45 seconds knows I’m a hockey junkie. My bedroom closet has several hockey t-shirts. There’s the obligatory hoodie, zip up jacket, pullover windbreaker, hats, cowbells, souvenir pucks, a couple posters, 3 autographed sticks, and a few jerseys. Most of the stuff is from my local ECHL team, the South Carolina Stingrays, whom I am a season ticket holder for. One of the jerseys is a $450.00 game-worn, and the one I wear to games has about 60 signatures on it, including about 10 NHL players. Plus, lest we forget my obligatory copies of Miracle and a couple Wayne Gretzky DVD documentaries, and about 40 of the McFarlane Sports figures. And… an annual subscription to The Hockey News. Hockey is the only sport I follow, and about the only thing I don’t get into are fantasy leagues. Even I have limits to my madness.
This said, a couple weeks back was the annual NHL All-Star Game, held this year in Dallas. I would have loved to have watched it, but I don’t have Versus as part of my package with DISH Network since it’s part of the more expensive plan with all the obscure channels, nor do I have the NHL Center Ice Package. Sure, I love hockey but I couldn’t see dropping an extra couple hundred bucks to get the Center Ice deal, even if it meant I could catch every single game all season for every team. And I didn’t want to drop another 30 or so a month on the cable bill just to pick up Versus and about 20 more channels, of which I might watch maybe 2, just to see a couple games a week. I can still catch the occasional game on the alternate sports feeds when they aren’t blacked out, usually ‘Canes games, and Turner Sports plays a lot of Thrashers games. Yeah, I spend enough all year on my sport that I don’t have to spend more to find an obscure no-name channel featuring Combat Tiddlywinks that the NHL screwed itself into a deal with.
The All Star Game on Versus drew a TV audience of just 475,000 people. That’s fucking WEAK, in a nation of over 300 million. The following TV shows had more viewers: HGTV’s Design on a Dime., Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel, Bravo’s Top Chef, Food TV’s Ace of Cakes (which had 85% more viewers actually), and, most pathetically, a fucking repeat of The Andy Griffith Show on TV Land.
Are you shitting me? This is deplorable. The sport I love is falling apart as it’s trying to recover from the lost season debacle of 2 years ago, and the best it can do for its showcase game is come in weaker than Aunt Bee and Barney goddamned Fife?