By Allan Muir
There are certain inalienable truths that hockey fans hold dear. Our sport is the finest game ever to be invented by man. The skill, courage and honor of our heroes make athletes from other sports look like spoiled, sniveling toddlers. And ESPN hates us. I mean really, really hates us.
We don’t need any more evidence to know that the first two hold water — I mean, we have eyes, don’t we? — but that third truth? Well, an article on Deadspin today suggests that maybe the Worldwide Leader isn’t thumbing its nose at us after all … at least, not as blatantly as we thought.
I can’t comment on this myself because I haven’t watched an American SportsCenter broadcast since the early ’90s. But Patrick Burns devoted a year of his life to cataloging every minute of every broadcast and parsing out the data in a way that would make the fancy stats geeks proud.
I suspect a little piece of him died every day.
A lot of what he uncovered won’t exactly be news to anyone who watches the show. SportsCenter likes to cover the NFL. A lot. LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and Peyton Manning got mentioned more often for crossing the street than most athletes did for making game-winning plays. They’ll throw down the adjective “elite” to describe anything from a prospect to a haircut.
Where Burns’ sacrifice starts paying off is when he examines the treatment of hockey on the program. Now we all know it is an afterthought, falling just below Tim Tebow’s dating life and just above Little League baseball and arena football. His numbers bear out that belief. Out of a total broadcast time of 23,052.75 minutes last year, SportsCenter devoted all of 459.5 to covering the NHL.
That’s a whopping 2.7 percent of its airtime.
Does that seem like a reasonable representation of the interest in the game across this great land? Of course not. And that’s why many hockey fans can’t be bothered with the show.
But relative to some other numbers, hockey has some surprising company among the other sports that are fighting for scraps of airtime.
Consider golf, a sport that boasts one of the world’s most high-profile athletes in Tiger Woods and draws decent ratings on the major U.S. networks. It earned just 3.3 percent of ESPN’s airtime. That’s more than the NHL, but given golf’s profile, the margin isn’t as great as I expected.
Hockey coverage looked like overkill compared to NASCAR (2.1 percent), soccer (1.3 percent) and tennis (0.9 percent). The latter two are particularly interesting because ESPN spent big to acquire the rights to all four Grand Slam events and it broadcasts MLS, so you’d think those would be investments that the WWL would want to support with its little news show.
And if they’re not even smart enough to take care of their own properties, then maybe we … shudder … owe Gary Bettman an apology for ripping him after he picked little ol’ OLN instead of ESPN when he had to come up with a new broadcast deal back in 2005.
If he had gone with the WWL back then, there’s no guarantee that we’d be getting more coverage than Mark Sanchez, the quarterback of the New York Jets. So … winning!