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Monday, July 02, 2007
Is ESPN Killing the NHL?

Jason Chung has an excellent piece over on The Situationist that examines to what extent ESPN has harmed the NHL by either ignoring it or belittling it. Jason studies how fans' attitudes can be shaped by broadcasting choices, particularly at dramatic junctures, such as in the aftermath of the 2004-05 NHL lockout. Here is an excerpt from Jason's piece:

Since the NHL made the questionable decision to abandon the cable network as its broadcast partner in favor of the fledgling Versus network, many have argued that NHL coverage on the Worldwide Leader in Sports has ranged from underwhelming to disrespectful. Even ESPN’s ombudsman, Le Anne Schreiber, felt compelled to examine hockey coverage on the network. In an article last month, she confirmed that hockey coverage has indeed diminished 28% on Sportscenter over the last three years and that hockey-oriented shows such as NHL 2Night were cut altogether since ESPN’s loss of NHL rights.

The reduced exposure on ESPN can only be harmful to the NHL. By minimizing coverage and highlights, the network is effectively reducing the imprint of the game on Americans’ collective sports consciousness. Worse still, several ESPN writers and commentators have gone out of their way to emphasize the demise of hockey. Le Ann Schreiber recently noted that during the NHL’s regular season, hockey was only mentioned on-air if there happened to be “some egregious brawl” or if it was being “dissed” for its invisibility and irrelevance. . . .

Surely, ESPN’s attitude towards hockey influences its audience. Herbert C. Kelman of Harvard University notes that there are three source characteristics necessary to persuade others and change their attitudes: the source’s (1) expertise, (2) trustworthiness, and (3) power. Of course, ESPN scores a hat trick by (1) regularly hosting a series of experts on various sporting subjects, (2) hosting several hard-news sports programs, and (3) attracting sports’ heavy hitters to its airwaves. Thus, ESPN can exert informational and normative social influence on sports fans who, like the rest of us, seek consensus and conformity far more than we realize. As Situationist contributor Sung Hui Kim notes, this motive for conformity exists among peers and groups of many types, including otherwise adversarial lawyers.

For the rest of the piece, click here.

Update: Eric McErlain over on Off Wing Opinion--the leading blog on hockey--has a terrific analysis of Jason's post.


I think ESPN is definately responding to the NHL's choice of broadcast partners. ESPN has a HUGE influence on their viewers, and it is many times the one place where sports fans get their sporting news and coverage, especially the coverage that is outside of their geographical region and thus covered very little by local media.

ESPN has shown this type of behavior several times lately. Take for example the college football controversy last year. Florida, who is in the SEC, was for a large part of the season either ignored or belittled by ESPN. For those of us with a little conspiracy theory in us, it can be debated that ESPN used its influence on viewers to its advantage when it comes to college football broadcasting. ABC and ESPN (both part of the Walt Disney Corporation) has the rights to the Big Ten broadcasting. CBS has the rights to the SEC games. It would be in ABC and ESPN's favor to have a National Championship game featuring Michigan and Ohio State.
Several voters even told the press that since they cant whatch many of the games, they rely heavily on recaps for their voting. Now, Florida did get their chance at the big dance, which many argued was a grave injustice against the "second best team in the nation" (Michigan). Florida went on to spank Ohio State 41-14 and USC sent Michigan fans crying by a score of 32-18.

I have come to expect this type of behavior from media giants like ESPN and ABC, and I'm not even saying that what they are doing is nessecarily wrong. Sports bradcasting is big money industry, and you do what you do to get ahead, and ESPN is great at what they do, both in sports reporting/broadcasting and staying ahaed of the competition.

I'm sure Prof. Karcher will have a different take on this, since he kept saying that the OSU-Michign game was the real Nat'l Championship all year... but hey, the numbers dont lie...and now that I graduated I cant get a low grade HA HA

Blogger Jimmy H -- 7/03/2007 8:58 PM  

I hate to defend ESPN on anything, but the SEC hosted more Game Day shows than any other conference last season. And these were all inter-league games. And while we were overdosed with the Big Ten, it's irresponsible to suggest that SEC got the "Wayne's World" treatment.

Now for the NHL, there's an obvious blow-off from Bristol these days. The real question in the first place is whether the league deserved the kid-gloves treatment that ESPN is now giving to NASCAR and Arena League Football.

Apparently, the NHL thought that its hype was deserved, leading to a mistake that made it really difficult for one to feel too bad for the league. You don't leave ESPN. If you leave ESPN, you go for another place that will at least have a sports cast that gives viewers a meeting place of sorts, at which they could see that the Caps and Bruins are playing that night. If you don't have that, you better hang with the lesser ESPN contract.

That said, I'm not sure if ESPN is "killing" the NHL. Loyal followers aren't leaving the league. Are we sure of an impact on casual fans? The greatest change will be on kids and on the adult who only interested for the Cup.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/04/2007 6:12 PM  

A correction (?) may be in order--while ABC/ESPN may have the Big Ten and CBS has the SEC, etc., I thought that FOX had the rights, starting last season, to the BCS (BS?) and the so-called "national title game" [I won't comment on my thoughts about the current set-up here...]

Wasn't this the second time that ESPN and the NHL have split--and this time, ABC/ESPN opted out of the last year of the contract, which was the year after the strike/lockout? I am hardly defending either party, but I thought given that ESPN didn't televise any NHL playoff games, the playoff and late-season coverage was fine, and they even had their hockey analyst on-site at the Stanley Cup Finals.

Now, if only we could get ESPN/ESPN2 to cut down on the number of repeat showings of poker, miniseries, and even one or two fewer SportsCenters a night, maybe we could see more . . . . again, a thought for another time.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/14/2007 12:56 AM  

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