The NHL memorandum of understanding has been signed, revenue sharing is in place and the mall in Glendale, Arizona, is saved! Four months of no hockey is a small price to pay for such a noble goal, Mr. Commissioner.
Ahem. The NHL season gets underway Saturday with a Hockey Night In Canada tripleheader and coverage on NBC as well (one of a record 14 regular-season hits on the main network). It’s Ottawa vs. Winnipeg in the afternoon, Toronto vs. Montreal as the main event and Vancouver vs. Anaheim as the dessert.
While the Great Labour War of 2012-13 was nominally fought to aid weak U.S. markets, don’t expect the national NBC telecast to be showing hockey’s halt and lame. Because, frankly, my dear, they don’t give a damn about them. Opening Day will see regional coverage of the Pittsburgh Penguins - Philadelphia Flyers or the Los Angeles Kings - Chicago Blackhawks.
On Sunday, NBC serves up the Flyers again, this time against the Buffalo Sabres, a modest market that still manages to produce respectable ratings. Who can blame NBC? Big markets produce bigger audiences and, by extension, bigger ratings.
Okay, maybe we shouldn’t use the word big in relation to ratings for an NHL telecast. Maybe better ratings is the proper phrase. It’s the same on NBC’s Hockey Day In America in February, when fans will see Penguins - Sabres and Kings - Blackhawks on the main NBC channel.
Ditto NBC Sports Network’s Wednesday Rivalry Nights, which anchor virtually every game with a major market. Now here’s where it gets curious.
While NBC wants the pizazz of big markets, the new NHL collective agreement is doing all it can to reduce the attractiveness of major teams, stripping them of their ability to hang onto their stars. The depressing effect of lower salary caps guarantees that dominant teams’ rosters will be strip-mined of their players to send to smaller markets (that can’t afford them in the first place).
As happened to Chicago after its 2010 Stanley Cup. So to sum up: NBC, the NHL’s TV partner for the next decade, interested only in big markets. NHL shuts down for four months to hobble those markets. Discuss.
That’s why some team executives believe that owners of weaker markets could be throwing the keys on the commissioner’s desk in three to five years of a 10-year CBA.
NORTHERN EXPOSURE: In Canada it’s business as usual for the hockey broadcasters. Or it will be in a year or so when the profits start to flow again. HNIC has announced its 49-game 2013 schedule till playoffs begin in late April. Hockey Day In Canada originates this year from Peterborough, Ont., on Feb. 9.
A large part of CBC’s energies will be dedicated to making nice with the NHL in preparation for negotiations on the next national TV contract in 2014. Which may explain Don Cherry’s obsequious praise of Gary Bettman’s role in solving the lockout. (And the sensitivity about CBC News reporting Cherry’s subsequent jeremiad on Haiti.)
Lacking the funds to go dollar-or-dollar with CTV/TSN or Sportsnet, CBC must score citizenship points with the league instead. Hence the polite, “We don't disclosure confidential contractual matters” from Jeffrey Orridge, executive director of CBC Sports. Fair enough. You do what you have to do.
GAME ON: The loss of games to the lockout was less destructive for the Canadian private broadcasters who saved on production costs since October while raking in the usual subscriber fees. Although it probably cost TSN big time in per diems having Aaron Ward from a sidewalk in NYC every night for a month.
The meat of their schedules (and profits) traditionally lie ahead in the spring. Although how they’ll cope with Trade Deadline Day (April 3) and Free Agent Frenzy (July 5) moving to new dates is still to be seen.
“We did a good portion of our season prep in August,” TSN Vice-President and Executive Producer, Live Events, Paul Graham told us in an email. “Our group has been ready to roll for awhile. From a scheduling standpoint it is pretty much business as usual. Same amount of games that we would normally have during this time frame, our resources are normal - just that the regular season is a couple of weeks longer.”
Like CBC, the privates will be prepping for the NHL national TV rights negotiations. Which means you won’t hear public complaint about the compensation for games lost to the lockout. Uncle Gary has a very long memory.
LOST IN TRANSLATION: “@AportzlinecMe to #CBJ player: "What do you think life after 61 will be like?" Player: "Well, I don't think anybody can really say. That's why we fought so hard for pensions during the CBA stuff. I mean, you want to ..." Me, interrupting: "No, no. I meant now that (Rick) Nash is gone."
“@jessespector Mike Commodore listed with No. 25 on #Habs training camp roster. Disappointing he didn’t get 64.”
UNDERWHELMING: If you’re worried you’re missing all the excitement of trades and signings now that the NHL has resumed... this is the excitement. Vancouver signed Cam Barker. Glad we waited four months for that.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: If you wondered whether Baltimore kicker Justin Tuck was allowed a practice kick on the field just before his game-winning double overtime field goal in Denver, you had company. Arizona kicker Jay Feely was all over that on Twitter.
“@jayfeely It's actually against the NFL rules to kick a practice ball in overtime on the field. Had ref's tell me that twice this yr.”
Well yes. And no. Former head of NFL refereeing Mike Pereira chimed in.
“@MikePereira: confirmed with the NFL officiating department: There is no penalty for the practice kick in DEN.”
That made Feely and several other NFL kickers on Twitter lose their minds for a while.
“@jayfeely I'm telling you what Tucker did, sneaking a practice kick in between periods in OT, is against NFL rules.”
After some to-and-fro, it was resolved that what Tucker did is not illegal, it’s just not allowed.
Oh, good. That fit in with the general shambles the NFL made of the Denver - Baltimore game. Abetted by the CBS TV crew of Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf, who showed they’re past their stale date. Dierdorf got virtually every one of the innumerable video replays incorrect - in addition to polishing the apple for the league too many times when the refs slowed the game to a crawl.
Which begs the question, why CBS doesn’t use someone like Pereira on its broadcasts to save us from Dierdorf’s daffy opinions? FOX and ESPN do it now, and it helps to have an authority. Certainly can’t be that CBS lacks for money as it reminds us every break that it’s the No. 1 network in American TV.