Bruce Dowbiggin posts his perspective on the world of sports each morning.
On the same day it's rumoured the NHL will cancel the Winter Classic, three TV networks announced they're spending big bucks on English Premier League soccer.
Something does not compute. The NHL is currently subjecting its fan base to another prolonged work stoppage, all in the name of trying to hammer the 30 teams into a narrow competitive band. We are continually assured that North American sports fans are hot and bothered for parity. The NFL's fabled "On any given Sunday" maxim has more hits on Twitter than Erin Andrews' hair.
Then why the surging interest in the EPL, the English soccer Premiership?
If there is an organization that laughs more mockingly at the notion of parity it's the league of free-spending soccer gentlemen who constitute the EPL. The owners make no pretense to parity as they purchase the world's elite soccer stars. They spend as they like and how they like.
Champions are almost always drawn from the richest half dozen clubs, while other teams fill out the Premiership schedule, happy to get a piece of the TV revenues and a big gate when the rich guys come to town.
Surely this is a recipe for disaster. How can people allow such a one-sided thing to continue? Yet EPL franchises are highly coveted and bazillionaire expensive. North Americans buy them and now broadcast them. Monday, TSN and Sportsnet (which has the Canadian rights now) announced they are inking new deals with the EPL starting next season. The NBC Sports Network has also signed an agreement to show the league in 2013-'14 in the U.S., taking the rights from FOX for $250-million.
As the TV deals demonstrate, interest in the EPL is surging in North America. Why? Because we live in a celebrity-driven age, and the EPL provides star teams and celebrity athletes for TV consumption. One name captures this mad obsession: David Beckham (now playing in Los angeles).
The future lies in sport an entertainment. The "app" generation that lives off its cell phone has no tolerance for a league with no glamour teams or "sticky" stars (especially locked-out ones). But North American sportsmen remain obsessed with the traditional model for expansion, equity and parity.
They're willing to lock out for it. Three times. And can't see why their business doesn't grow more.
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The EPL and the NHL (when/ if it returns) will co-exist on NBCSN. It will be interesting to see just how much the soccer product erodes the NHL's status on NBCSN in the U.S. At the very least, the acquisition by NBC is a sharp reminder to the NHL that it won't sit around forever waiting for it to solve its latest labour debacle.
At the worst, it could make the returned NHL product look very stale and unimaginative.
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BTW: Wayne Rooney's contract is for five years. Lionel Messi has extended for four years. In fact, few soccer contracts have extended terms as happens in the NHL or NBA. Because there is a free market in players in the EPL, owners do not feel the need to pay for the sunset years of a star as the price for having him today. Novel concept.
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Television made football, but football is often a savage game. Saturday provided televised evidence with a gruesome leg injury to South Carolina's star running back Marcus Lattimore whose knee was destroyed by a hit in a game against Tennessee. The ESPN producers decided that, as news, it deserved replays in-game showing Lattimore's leg dangling without support after dislocating his knee.
We counted four replays during real time as the game was delayed while Lattimore was carted off. But then the injury was relentlessly repeated (with warning) throughout the day on highlight shows.
It brought back memories of Joe Theismann having his leg snapped by Lawrence Taylor on Monday Night Football and Willis McGahee's knee exploding when he played for the University of Miami – both high-profile televised games.
So when do replays of an injury become too many replays of a gruesome injury? We consulted several of Canada's top television sports producers on their approach: TSN's vice-president and executive producer of live events Paul Graham told us Sunday, "we would just show a replay of a gruesome injury once. There have been occasions where we would show a replay later in the telecast but always with a verbal warning – but generally once is the policy."
Former Hockey Night in Canada executive producer John Shannon told us, "I didn't see [the Lattimore injury]. But I can tell you I was very conservative in showing many violent and gruesome replays."
Larry Isaac is a veteran TV sports producer over three decades. He watched replays of the injury in a Salt Lake City hotel lobby with players from the University of California football team. Isaac didn't see the accident at first, but when he heard the ESPN analyst say, "Oh no" he knew the analyst was seeing a preview of the replay being cued up.
"From the Theismann injury due to Lawrence Taylor to [Zdeno] Chara riding [Max] Pacioretty into the turn-buckle, and so many others, that is always the dilemma for producers," he emailed us. "How many angles do you show, and if you feel it is justifiable to the storyline, you first have your announcer tell the viewers that this is a gruesome angle they are about to see, and some of them have even said "you may want to turn away.... A fine balance that for my three decades in LIVE sports is always debated and discussed with myself and announcers."
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When i grow up I want to talk football like Jon Gruden. Here's Chucky on one play of no great import on Monday Night Football: "Old-fashioned concept, they run a smash route, they run a hitch into the boundary. Delaney Walker runs a corner route... if you're a deep-third player and you jump a hitch there's going to be a player behind you." Wow.
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