NHL surrendering entertainment value
That's from Ted Lindsay, the Detroit Red Wing great, who is now 87, speaking to the Detroit News yesterday.
He's right. One of the ambassadors of the game, Lindsay has long been a standup guy for the city, the team and the league. Now he is watching the National Hockey League implode with a second labor shutdown that continues to drive away fans and cost the league's owners and players.
It's amazing watching this again. It was just a few years ago that the NHL seemingly lost it all, losing a postseason and championship year due to labor strife. They had lost their deal with ESPN, perhaps one of the most valuable in sports to the exposure, which is doubly important because the teams are seen on games given added importance and featured prominently in the channel's sports news shows, both "SportsCenter" and the "NHL Tonight."
I remember fondly watching Barry Melrose each night during the Stanley Cup playoffs in the 1990s, when both ESPN and ESPN2 showed multiple games. All the hockey a fan could want was on TV, an interest that was born out of the Tie Domi and Bob Probert battles of the 1980s. Then the ownership decided to go for the short-term quick buck, refusing lower revenues and heightened exposure. Sure, it's not fair that ESPN could have them by their shorthairs but hey, we all should know life's not fair.
So they gave up the revenue, then tried to undo the high salaries they'd given and there was a lockout and a lost season. They were on a channel no one watched, but after a few years and promoting itself in the Winter Classic (a game I don't understand people would want to attend... an intimate game taken to a large stadium, who cares?) But nonetheless, they were pushed by NBC and they slowly made their way back, and now it's all lost.
I lost interest after the first shutdown. I didn't miss hockey. There's too much other entertainment. In the 1990s, I watched little network TV. Now, shows are better, by DVR is filled and when baseball and college football ends, I only have weekend football (English Premiere League in the mornings and NFL on Sunday afternoon.) That's plenty. I don't need hockey and really won't watch. I went to a game a year or two ago, saw the Wings beat the Calgary Flames. In two years, I maybe watched a handful, perhaps six or seven, other complete games worth of hockey on TV - in total.
And I'm a Wings and Canucks fan, and I'd check out their playoff games, flipping to them to see what the score was.
Now, if I would care at all, it would be a negative view of their brand, resentment at both sides. But I don't care. Too bad for NBC, which seemed on the verge of challenging ESPN (about the only thing I care about in this sorry story), by using its new sports channel, which used to be Versus (which used to be the Outdoor Channel), to promote the NHL. Now, I am thrilled that Comcast has added the Fox Soccer Channel's high definition channel to my line up. Oh joy. ESPN2 already has HD for its weekly one or two game. (Next, please, Comcast, add Fox Soccer Plus, so I can get the second game on at the same time.)
Some people in my family resented the baseball strike of 1994-95, when MLB lost a World Series, more than a decade later, angry at the lost postseason. "I'll never watch those guys again," I heard. And it was a real anger. This is different. I don't feel that with NHL. And that may be worse for the league, feeling nothing for something that will never matter again.
Oh, and Ted Lindsay is a class act. I remember when he changed his name legally from Theodore, knowing that Ted is how he is known and wanting to use his name and fame to help families in need. Shame the value has been lost in what he could offer, all his hard work flushed down the drain due to greed.