Hockey Day In America. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? NBC is trying to change that as the network hosts its second annual “Hockey Day In America,” a nine-hour block of hockey-related programming across various NBC platforms.
While hockey can’t seem to find a solid, widespread fan base in the United States, it’s as popular as ever in Canada and Europe and NBC, which owns the broadcast rights to NHL games, would love to see that popularity shift to the U.S.
Lets dissect what Hockey Day In America will consist of before getting into why hockey isn’t, but should be more successful in the U.S.
Starting at Noon ET, three different NHL games will be aired on NBC. Depending on what region of the country you are in on Sunday morning, you’ll see either the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Buffalo Sabres, the San Jose Sharks at the Detroit Red Wings or the St. Louis Blues at the Chicago Blackhawks.
Once the first round of games wraps up, the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins will take on the Minnesota Wild in front of a national audience on NBC. The fun continues on NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) with the New Jersey Devils at the Montreal Canadiens, also nationally televised, at around 6pm ET after the conclusion of Bruins at Wild.
NBC chose some great match-ups as each game features star players and intriguing story lines. From Team USA goaltender Ryan Miller in net for the Sabres to the Red Wings attempting to stretch their home winning streak to a whopping 23 games, there’s something for everyone to gravitate to, including the casual NHL fan and even someone who doesn’t know a thing about hockey.
But nobody is counting on back-to-back-to-back games to do the trick and convert your typical “any sport other than hockey” fan into an NHL sweater-wearing believer. NBC is weaving the details of the game and its culture throughout the nine-hour telecast in the form of features and human interest stories designed to keep the television audience engaged and actually teach people a thing or two about hockey.
While many of us think of hockey as a Canadian sport, the U.S. makes plenty of contributions to the game which will be showcased Sunday. For example, a disproportionate number of NHL players come from two tiny high school hockey programs in Minnesota. Located in towns with populations under 3,000, Roseau High School and Warroad High School will be featured on NBC as the rival schools pump out professional hockey players at an abnormally high rate.
Other tales to be told during Sunday’s telecast are those of a groundbreaking program created by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation which provides sled hockey for the physically challenged and “The Program,” which gives American kids interested in hockey a legitimate path to the NHL without having to leave the country for the Canadian junior leagues. American-born players will be featured and interviewed throughout the telecast.
The NHL had a small window of opportunity to increase its fan base during the NBA lockout, but in the end, there just wasn’t enough time to forge a grassroots movement to attract new viewers.
I once had a conversation with a front office employee of a non-Original Six (Bruins, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Canadiens, Rangers and Maple Leafs) NHL team about how hard it is for his team to grow its fan base. He said the organization had seemingly tried everything to increase ticket sales and TV ratings but nothing would stick. Putting butts in seats inside the arena wasn’t as much of an issue as the TV ratings, which he said were extremely hard to grow.
It’s no coincidence that four of the NHL’s Original Six teams will be featured in “Hockey Day In America” as Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Montreal will bring their strong fan bases with them and perhaps NBC’s presentation of the traditions and folklore of those teams can get others outside of those markets interested in the sport and its history.
Sure, baseball is “American’s Pastime” and its roots run deep through U.S. soil, but football surpassed baseball as the country’s most popular sport years ago and basketball is beloved by Americans from every walk of life. If only sports fans realized that hockey has the violence of football, the speed of basketball and the agility and skill superior to both, they would certainly fall in love with the NHL.
They say “hockey doesn’t translate on TV,” and while there is some truth to that, once you learn the rules and understand the game, hockey is just as exciting to watch on television as any other sport. Seeing a game in person is also a fantastic experience.
Being able to watch hockey on TV was in jeopardy after the NHL lockout as the league was dropped by the networks that carried the games before the 2004-05 season which was lost completely due to the labor dispute. Luckily, NBC came along and partnered with the NHL (which I think saved the league from collapsing). NBC got one heck of a deal as they did not have to pay rights fees for the games, instead, agreeing to simply split ad revenue with the league.
The higher the TV ratings, the more money NBC and the NHL take home. Unfortunately, this year’s Winter Classic game between the Rangers and Flyers had the lowest ratings in the short history of the event, in it’s fifth year. It’s not all bad news though because the game was moved from prime time on New Years Day to mid-day on Jan 2 (competing against college football) due to weather conditions which is probably a likely explanation for the ratings drop. The 2011 Winter Classic between the Capitals and Penguins drew the event’s highest ratings with help from HBO’s reality series “24/7” leading up to the game (the cable network also featured this season’s Winter Classic teams) and because the match-up featured the NHL’s top players in Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.
Given the massive programming block of Hockey Day In America, the NHL and NBC should be able to capitalize off a Sunday devoid football or baseball. Plus, NBC has a full hour of hockey all to itself before any NBA or NCAA basketball games start. That should be enough time to plant the seed and convert the non-believers into hockey fans, slowly but surely, beginning with nine hours of Hockey Day In America.
Two days after getting canned by the Washington Capitals, Bruce Boudreau was hired to be the head coach of the Anaheim Ducks.
No, there wasn’t exactly a job opening at the time, but after winning only three of their last 19 games, the Ducks created a vacancy by firing Randy Carlyle after a 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night, also cutting loose two assistant coaches and the video coordinator.
The video coordinator? Like he was the reason the Ducks are 7-13-4 and tied with a league-low 18 points. Harsh!
Despite Alexander Ovechkin saying otherwise, it is suspected that Boudreau and his star player weren’t seeing eye to eye (e.g. benching Ovechkin - the team’s best player, making millions of dollars - in the final minute of a game against the Ducks, of all teams, on Nov. 1) in Washington, leading up to his firing.
From ESPN.com, “Boudreau led the Capitals to four consecutive division titles but couldn’t find sustained success in the playoffs, failing to advance beyond the second round. His attempt to instill more accountability this season backfired — Washington was not only losing, the losses were becoming humiliating. Change was all but inevitable.”
Even great coaches lose their locker room sometimes, as having top talent can be both a blessing and a curse. The situation in Anaheim is somewhat similar in that the Ducks roster has plenty of skill and experience, yet a disconnect exists preventing the team from success.
ESPN.com reports, “Ducks general manager Bob Murray called it ‘an extremely difficult decision,’ but said he felt the team needed ‘a new voice.’”
From a selfish standpoint, I’ll be happy to hear Boudreau’s voice in Southern California. While Lane Kiffin certainly has the fire, Boudreau’s toughness at least comes with a humorous edge making him a perfect personality for the L.A. sports scene.
As a reporter, I fell in love with Boudreau watching HBO’s 24/7 series focusing on last year’s Winter Classic game between the Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. Between the yelling, cursing, joking, and eating ice cream before 10am, what’s not to love? Boudreau should be a fascinating fit for a Ducks franchise that has yet to make it past the conference semifinal round of the playoffs since winning the Stanley Cup, coached by Carlyle, in the 2006-2007 season.
Have you ever set foot in an MLB dugout? I would rather lick a city sidewalk then walk barefoot in a dugout. I’m not kidding. The dirt, water, Gatorade and sunflower seeds aren’t so bad, but puddles of brown chew spit with floating pieces of tobacco, mucus, and bits of food that only one’s dental floss should see is what really gets me.
The truth is that disgusting dugouts doesn’t even make the list of important reasons why a group of senators and health officials from St. Louis and Dallas are asking the players union to agree to toss the tins and play a tobacco-free World Series.
In April of this year the U.S. Congress held hearings on banning smokeless tobacco in Major League Baseball and even MLB commissioner Bug Selig supports the idea. With the players not on board (we’ll get to that in a minute), all that a group of senators could do was send letters to the players union urging them to consider the impact that chewing tobacco and dipping during the nationally televised World Series, which begins Wednesday, could have on millions of children.
The Associated Press obtained the letters sent by Democrat senators from Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut and Iowa to union head Michael Weiner, which read, in part, “when players use smokeless tobacco, they endanger not only their own health, but also the health of millions of children who follow their example.”
Baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement expires in December of this year so putting the pressure on at this time is a strategic move in hopes of implementing a ban through the next CBA. In June, Weiner said the union would make an effort to address the issue in negotiations, but a few months earlier when the issue came up on Capitol Hill in April, the Major League Players Association said it discourages players from using smokeless tobacco but would not encourage a ban on the practice. David Prouty of the Players Association said at the time, “We will educate players as to why they should not use it. There is a tension here, because many players do not think they should be banned from using a product which congress has so far, deemed to be legal.”
Flawed logic my friend. Alcohol is legal, yet not allowed to be consumed on the baseball diamond (don’t feel bad for these guys, as we now know, some are drinking during the games inside the clubhouse instead of on the bench, so no biggie there). Cigarettes are also banned from stadiums, and are even outlawed from being smoked on city streets in places like Calabasas and Santa Monica, California, yet are still legal to purchase and use elsewhere. In fact, smokeless tobacco has been banned in both collegiate and minor league baseball for decades.
A few months ago, HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumble did a story on smokeless tobacco in baseball, claiming nearly one third of MLB players use it. Ike Davis of the New York Mets, who started the habit at age 16 said, “why would you want to start that? It dissent make sense.” Reporter Jon Frankel followed up asking, “so why do you keep doing it?” Davis replied, “it’s called addiction.”
Many baseball players who dip or chew will tell you it’s a disgusting habit they wish they never picked up. So why would you want to expose others to that same fate? In his piece, Frankel interviewed a dentist and professor of public health at Harvard University who studied the topic. The New England native conducted a study using the 2004 World Series featuring his hometown Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals. The study found nine whole minutes worth of public use, as in, noticeably seeing tobacco on screen (chewing, spitting, bulge in the mouth, etc), and that five million children between the ages of 12 and 17 years old were watching.
While many players feel like an official ban is too much policing for their liking, I would argue that they are already policed in just about everything from daily schedules to the uniforms they wear. The AP article about the tobacco-free World Series plea says that some players are open to the ban on smokeless tobacco, which is great.
Athletes and entertainers alike often say that they shouldn’t be our children’s role models, but that we, as parents should be the ones setting examples for our kids. I agree, in large part, which is all the more reason why I think smokeless tobacco, which is a proven cause of several cancers, should be banned from major league ballparks.
As a reporter covering the Boston Red Sox, not one day went by where I didn’t see several canisters of chewing tobacco in almost every locker in the clubhouse. Those shiny tins were always the first things on the shelves to grab my attention for some reason. I wonder if the same was true for now 7-year-olds D’Angelo Ortiz and little Victor Martinez, both of whom would come to work with their daddies, David and Victor, donning little uniforms and all, nearly every single home game. I hope Cardinals and Rangers players consider their own children before scooping some dip into their mouths on Wednesday night.
For the Associated Press article with all of the details of the senators’ efforts to have a tobacco-free World Series, click here http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ivlkZ-nWu3Um7FF-xOcWDxhf91Jw?docId=833af3149044498e8e6a6d05a26974f7
To watch the Real Sports with Bryant Gumble story on tobacco in baseball , click here http://tobaccofreeaz.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/hbo-real-sports-looks-at-potential-smokeless-tobacco-ban-in-baseball/