FanDuel - WFBC

March 18, 2004

Forget labor woes. The NHL's most serious problem is national TV ratings lower than Arena Football. As Tim Layden gloomily predicts in Sports Illustrated, "soon the NHL will live where track and field and skiing and swimming live, in a cable ghetto where only the truly devoted will venture in search of entertainment."

posted by rcade to hockey at 11:16 AM - 27 comments

Correction: American national TV ratings.

posted by DrJohnEvans at 11:23 AM on March 18

Good point. I don't get why more Americans don't dig hockey. I discovered the sport when Denver got the Nordiques, and then adopted the Stars on my return to Dallas a few years later (just in time for their Cup run). I enjoy it more than basketball and as much as football.

posted by rcade at 11:44 AM on March 18

Not completely on-topic but two things that bug me about hockey are 1) everyone makes the damn playoffs! So why bother with the regular season? And 2) they give points for LOSING!!!! Sorry, but I hate when points are awarded when a team loses. I don't care if it is a 15 overtime nailbiter for the ages, the losing team should not be awarded points. I like the sport per se, but I don't bother to tune in (mentally or television-wise) until the playoffs.

posted by scully at 11:55 AM on March 18

You get points for losing? That's new to me. Explain.

posted by worldcup2002 at 12:05 PM on March 18

everyone makes the damn playoffs! The trend that's been pushing towards more playoffs rounds (more playoffs = more playoff revenue, of course) isn't limited to hockey. MLB seems to be quite enjoying its wildcard expansion, and could easily go farther. The NBA has the same number of playoff teams. The NFL has a more limited number of teams playing in the post-season, but that only seems reasonable when they play a whopping 16 games a season.

posted by DrJohnEvans at 12:10 PM on March 18

In an attempt to reduce ties and increase scoring they decided that they'd give people the tie point if they tied after regulation, and you'd keep it if you were beaten in overtime. This meant that overtime wasn't a total snoozefest, since teams were content to play for the single point. Hell, they'd sit on their hands in the 3rd period when the score was tied too. It's a decent idea in theory but I hate that it results in unequal numbers of points being given from game to game, and that you can lose but still be rewarded. Standings have been rearranged by this in several cases, where the team that won more games and lost fewer was a lower playoff seed. Plus it's got a nasty 4 column scoring system now that is impossible to say or read. Terrapin, the NBA has 16 teams in the playoffs too, and they've got fewer teams in the league. The only thing that bugs me about hockey is that the commissioner has done a horrible job marketing the game. This is all his fault.

posted by Bernreuther at 12:13 PM on March 18

Overtime loss points are a much better system than the one they replaced. I don't mind the NHL's 16-team playoffs because that's when the real season begins. The refs swallow their whistles and the games are much more exciting.

posted by rcade at 12:17 PM on March 18

A game that goes into OT gives each team at least 1 point. So you can lose in OT and still get a point (this is tracked as overtime losses - OTL - in the standings). Personally, I'd reward the winning team 3pts to offset this problem. Back on topic - hockey is in a world of hurt financially, but there's no reason they need to position themselves head-to-head with MLB, NFL, NBA. There would be enough fans to fill the seats if the ticket prices weren't so high (which comes back to the payroll issues). If they'd stick to addressing the issues that matter to fans and not worry about Fox-puck-tracking-like gimicks they should be fine.

posted by kokaku at 12:19 PM on March 18

In defense of the AFL, this year the league made the regular season mean more be reducing the number of teams that make the playoffs to 8 (out of a total of 19 teams).

posted by Tannerman at 12:30 PM on March 18

A big problem is that hockey has high costs. Much of the USA is warm most of the year, meaning ice hockey must be played indoors at rinks with expensive ice time and 24-hour bookings. Then there's all the equipment. Baseball, football, basketball--all lend themselves to pickup games and back-alley throwarounds, which let kids play and develop and enjoy the sport at an early age. Without committed parents and some disposable income, hockey doesn't become much of a concern to children, which lessens the interest of the nation as a whole. Until Tiger Woods came along, golf suffered from much the same problem. On a macro level, I'm not sure the NHL can solve its most crucial ill, which is kids who don't play ice hockey and as a result don't develop an interest in the sport. It had better fix everything else, though, so the league doesn't fall apart.

posted by werty at 12:53 PM on March 18

I think the impact of kids playing a sport on its TV viewership is overrated. We've been hearing for 20 years that pro soccer would be a huge sport in the U.S. when all these soccer-playing kids grew up. What are the MLS ratings compared to Arena Football?

posted by rcade at 01:29 PM on March 18

Hockey's problem is it simply isn't a very good TV sport. I actually thought the glowing puck that FOX used was a good idea that could increase viewership (the 'flame' that was added when the puck was shot however was way over the top). Not being able to follow the puck is a big complaint of people who are new the game. Why not try to add something to make it easier for them? Something I notice when I watch games on ABC vs. CBC is the different camera angles each uses. ABC seems to use a camera situated directly behind the net (usually mounted at the top of the glass I think) whenever the play moves inside the blue line. CBC never seems to use this set-up. I actually like it. I makes you feel more like you are actually there. I don't understand why everyone has a problem with the overtime loss. It isn't complicated. I agree that 3 points would be better for a regulation win. This is how I would like to see things: Win In Regulation = 3 points Win in Overtime/Shootout = 2 points Loss in Overtime/Shootout= 1 points No more ties because a shootout will determine a winner of every game after the 5 minute overtime. Of course in the playoffs there would be no shootouts. You play until there is a winner. I hate the thought that a team might miss the playoffs because of a shootout, but I really think it would add some excitement to the 82 game regular season. Did anyone else notice that the Wild had 20 ties this year. I don't mind the NHL's 16-team playoffs because that's when the real season begins. The refs swallow their whistles and the games are much more exciting. rcade: Personally I think this is another thing wrong with the game. A hook is a hook. I don't care it it's the first period of a regular season game or the second overtime period in the finals. It should be called. Don Cherry would be upset because the 'we should let the players decide the game', but what he fails to grasp is they are. The players know the rules, if the refs would just called them consistently I don't think the players would mind.

posted by camcanuck at 01:57 PM on March 18

Terrapin, the NBA has 16 teams in the playoffs too, and they've got fewer teams in the league. I don't like the NBA either, and don't watch it at all. I live and breathe college b-ball (GO TERPS!), but can't stand the NBA.

posted by scully at 02:14 PM on March 18

We've been hearing for 20 years that pro soccer would be a huge sport in the U.S. when all these soccer-playing kids grew up. Well that assumed that the US's networks would get on board and be willing to essentially show a commercial-less event. If there is one thing that will stop Americans from embracing a sport is the lack of opportunity to sell things.

posted by scully at 02:16 PM on March 18

I think that's a bit of a red herring. Soccer is commercial and profitable elsewhere as a televised sport. If the audience was there, U.S. TV networks would find a way to make money off them. I don't buy the premise that Americans watch sports because they played them. Golf ratings bite and NASCAR is thriving, and yet a lot more of us hit the greens than drive cars in a circle at high speeds. Besides, most of us are lazy couch potatoes who have very little experience breakig a sweat in any sports. If athletic toil was a prerequisite to sports ratings success, there'd be no TV sports.

posted by rcade at 02:58 PM on March 18

I thought widespread HDTV adoption was supposed to solve the problems of televising NHL games. No more glowing pucks, just enough resolution to actually see the puck. (This is assuming that HDTV ever gets widespread adoption.)

posted by dusted at 03:08 PM on March 18

If the audience was there, U.S. TV networks would find a way to make money off them. However difficult it is to doubt the desire and ability of the American television industry to separate a viewer from his/her duckets, I disagree. There is resistance in the advertising community to change that would be needed to broadcast uninterupted halves. I find this surprising as ad dollars could be earned in countless ways without breaking for a commercial. But then what of the commercial actors, writers, directors, etc? The 20 second spot is an institution that doesn't like competition. And yet variety of form increases uniqueness and visibility.(scratchs head) Maybe I'm wrong about the resistance thing, because it would seem that soccer is an ideal vehicle to hock wares....why? 45minutes of eyeballs glued to the screen.

posted by garfield at 03:29 PM on March 18

I hate the NBA too. The first three quarters don't matter, and all the stars are pricks. Still, it's better than baseball. And people have been watching hockey in the Northern border states on old crappy TVs in fairly large numbers for decades. The big problem is that it's still new to the rest of the states (except for the cities where it's played) and the mythology that comes as a package with the NFL or College Football or Basketball hasn't been successfully sold to the rest of the country. Soccer has the same problem. People like it, they'll even watch the games and love it when they watch it, but you need that mythology. You need the legends of Howe and Orr and the Richards and Sawchuk and Mikita to really sink in to people before they'll become lasting fans. I don't know how you sell that to a kid in Tulsa. But until someone figures it out (and I believe it's possible), the ratings will not rise.

posted by chicobangs at 03:36 PM on March 18

dusted: That's EXACTLY what I've been trying to tell people. When I was in Las Vegas 6 years ago, I saw HDTV on a big (>20") screen for the first time (electronics convention). One of the demonstrations was a broadcast of a hockey game (college) in HD. Holy cow, was it ever amazing to watch. Not only was the puck easier to follow, but you could see the ice chips fly when they turned corners or stopped. The only downfall was that they had just one HD camera so it was in a fixed angle (panning up and down the ice) and they didn't zoom in enough to really show the detail (scars! sweat! missing teeth!).

posted by grum@work at 03:36 PM on March 18

I hate not being able to see the puck but I also think it will be at least a decade before there is serious HDTV penetration in the American household. I also don't watch as much hockey as I could because of the excessive violence--soccer players may bang each other around too but at least the holds are usually less obvious and frequent and there is no out and out fighting in EPL or MLS.

posted by billsaysthis at 07:43 PM on March 18

"A hook is a hook. I don't care it it's the first period of a regular season game or the second overtime period in the finals. It should be called. Don Cherry would be upset because the 'we should let the players decide the game', but what he fails to grasp is they are. The players know the rules, if the refs would just called them consistently I don't think the players would mind." camcanuck, you were so right on here i couldn't quite believe that you also said you liked the glowing puck! ;)

posted by owl at 07:11 AM on March 19

how long (or how many games) do people actually watch before they throw their hands up and say the don't dig hockey because they can't see the puck? maybe just 'cause I am Canadian and I have a special hockey watching gene or something but I have no problem seeing the puck. And if I can't literally see it then I at least know where it is based on the way the players are responding. Sure, a small puck must be a problem for newcomers to the sport but I don't see how it could not be overcome with a suitable time of exposure and level of interest in wanting to watch hockey. I thought the glowing puck was a great innovation. Not something I cared for for myself but, hey, the technology was great and if that's what it takes for some more people to enjoy hockey then that's cool. What would be useful is some UK digital style broadcasting technology where you could "press the red button now" if you would like watch the game with the glowing puck so the people who like or want it that way can have it that way.

posted by gspm at 08:43 AM on March 19

A black puck on white ice is a hell of a lot easier to follow than a pop-fly/homerun white ball on blue sky in baseball; or a white golf ball on blue sky. I never hear complaints about those. I could never figure out why.

posted by mkn at 09:31 AM on March 19

Not being able to follow the puck is a big complaint of people who are new the game It's not just newbies. I remember watching hockey broadcast on the CBC just across the border in Washington, and it was really frustrating to watch because the picture was not perfect. I had to constantly infer the position of the puck from how the players were moving, and shots on goal were just impossible to follow. If they didn't score, I would spend a second or two pick the puck back up visually. Really annoying. I tried watching the glowing puck, and I guess it did help a little, but it was just as annoying in a completely different way. A black puck on white ice is a hell of a lot easier to follow than a pop-fly/homerun white ball on blue sky in baseball This may be true, but even if it is, it's not constantly happening. In golf, the cameramen will zoom in on the shot as it's airborne, and follow it through its trajectory until it lands, making following the shot pretty easy. Pop flies and hits to the outfield in baseball may be a bit harder, but they make up very little of the game, and most people watching at home can deal with that. In hockey, it's pretty much constant.

posted by deadcowdan at 11:02 AM on March 19

Hockey had it's chance early on in the 50's with televised games in the US, but the ownership of the 6 team league thought it affect the ticket sales too much. (I would quote the passage in Net Worth, but I can't find my copy) Playing the game and being exposed to it at an early age are two different things. Knowing the history and culture of the sport is what creates fans. But then, I grew up in a house with shrines to the numbers 1,7,9,10 and 12 in the basement (with a 19 being added in the 80s). Ratings (not neccesarily ticket sales) in this area have always been decent, even when the team was horrible. The NBA, NFL, MLB, and now NASCAR all have done huge marketing pushes that have worked. The NHL on the other hand tries to let the game sell itself, which is suicide. There was a push there with Gretzky in LA (who guest starred on an episode of SNL). But when wayne retired the league did little to build on the recognition, other than pepper the south of the country with expansion and reloated canadian teams. I had a point here somewhere, I think I could have just said: "The NHL has always had a problem selling itself, and needs to get it's head out of it's rear"

posted by tj at 02:24 PM on March 19

When does Bettman's contract expire? Can we trade him? Can we cut him? His numbers have sucked for a few years now, and I don't see them changing. A change of scenery is what he needs because there's no denying he has talent, but for some reason he hasn't blossomed into a NHL star.

posted by garfield at 02:56 PM on March 19

I've been watching hockey since the smallness of childhood, nigh on 35 years or so now, though perhaps no more than two dozen games a year and I still have trouble following the puck and the action. I see where the players are moving, of course, but always seem to be a bit behind the action and so when goals happen its too late.

posted by billsaysthis at 09:28 PM on March 19

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