Jun 4, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Kings right wing Justin Williams (middle) is interviewed by ESPN reporters Barry Melrose (right) and Steve Levy (left) after game one of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final against the New York Rangers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL on TV: ESPN

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This is part three of a series.  Part one and two are here.

ESPN covers hockey.

Well I infer that from a company that still proclaims itself the “Worldwide Leader in Sports”.  The truth is that since the NHL disappeared from their airwaves right after the 2005 Lockout ESPN has for all pratcial purposes the network has ignored the league.  This has become a great source of consternation in the online NHL fan community (feeding the inferiority complex felt by some).  In a great piece of work done by deadspin (Link http://deadspin.com/what-i-learned-from-a-year-of-watching-sportscenter-5979510) in the year of 2012 it is shown that during 23,052.75 minutes of Sportscenter a grand total of 459.5, or 2.7%, were spent on the NHL.  Some will say, “ESPN has a business to run and part of that is showing people what they want and obviously the people don’t want hockey.”  Which makes sense till you see the many reports that came out last winter showing that the NHL was selling out more games than the NBA, a league that landed almost 20% of Sportscenter’s coverage, and not by a small margin.  Unless you go through ESPN’s website and search for the NHL it does little to provide you with meaningful content.  But the good news ESPN is that we want you to do better and you can.  Here is how.

Live Coverage:

With the exception of the Frozen Four (good start)  ESPN has no coverage of live hockey.  They can be forgiven not having NHL games as when the last bidding time opened up for rights NBC wanted exclusive national rights.  Even then ESPN does a lot of live coverage for events the network does not have the right to.  They set up shop and do live coverage of the World Series and the Super Bowl each year but do not pay any near this amount of attention to the Stanley Cup.

Talent:

ESPN can get whatever talent they like and they have two solid reporters who work directly for the network who are near synonyms with hockey coverage, Barry Melrose and John Buccigross.  Two people don’t make for a crack NHL coverage team but this is where the suggestions for ESPN start…and at very little cost to them.

ESPN has a 20% ownership share of TSN.  When you watch TSN you can see the obvious similarities in how shows are produced and in what graphics are used.  Don’t believe me go check out ESPN.com and then take a look at TSN.ca and let me know what you think.

ESPN can tap into the incredible team that TSN has (see previous article).  These folks could do remote’s for Sportscenter or their analysis could even be pulled off of Sportscentre, notice the spelling difference that makes it Canadian, and thrown on the American Sportscenter to increase the quality and quantity of coverage.

Resources:

Ha…haha…hahahahaha.  Considering that ESPN is the sports wing of the giant evil mouse corporation ESPN has all of the resources it needs to create compelling hockey television even without any rights.

Commitment:

Little to none.  This makes me sad as I would expect the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” to focus on something other than the NFL, SEC, and LeBron James.  Now for my favorite part.

What should they do from here:

ESPN, I have your fix and the hockey community would love you for it.  Launch a hockey channel through ESPN3.  For those of you not in the know ESPN3 is the networks online portal that allows one to watch everything on ESPN television, with a paid subscription, as well as hundreds of other sporting events from around the globe (I watched Cricket on it!)

Now some may ask how ESPN could have enough material to make this work.  The first key is to use this platform to distribute all of the hockey shows that TSN broadcasts in Canada.  How amazing would it be to fire up the Roku or tablet and have easy access to TSN’s “Free Agent Frenzy”, or to be able to watch a Sportscenter that focuses primarily on the NHL but then also gives you the rest of the North American sports news.  Also to fill time the network could gain rights to NCAA and NHL games for a comparative song when compared with other networks.

Right now ESPN is the barren landscape of hockey on television and focus on the sport about as much as HGTV does.   With a few tweeks and utilization of resources it could become a major source for American hockey fans.

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