Last night, ESPN was doing something they haven’t done, at least by my recollection, in almost 10 years: airing a hockey game. They featured two of the game’s biggest names in their broadcast of Alex Ovechkin’s HC Dynamo Moscow vs. Zdeno Chara’s HC Lev Praha.
(First, let me preface the rest of this article by acknowledging the fact that I hate ESPN. I hate them so very much.) Yes, we’re talking about ESPN: the same network that wouldn’t show an NHL highlight if Tim Tebow were heavily involved in the game, doing something crazy like say sitting quietly in the stands.
So why? With so many other great topics they could cover, such as Tim Tebow, LeBron James, football, Tim Tebow, Lebron James’ Tweets, or anything that they pass off as a sport but we all know it really isn’t one, why did they choose to broadcast a hockey game? A game played in Russia at that?
I’m led to believe one of three things:
1) ESPN recognizes the demand for hockey by some in the absence of the NHL, so they figured many hockey fans would tune in to satisfy their hunger, and they also thought that they would show hockey fans some compassion in their time of need.
2) ESPN truly believes that there is a market for hockey in the U.S., and any sports fans that currently are not hockey fans might tune into a game and be hooked after watching the awesome action (because let’s be honest, the casual sports fan will watch whatever garbage ESPN puts up there; i.e. an Oakland Raiders game).
3) ESPN is airing KHL games to spite the NHL. [For those of you that don’t remember, ESPN aired hockey games from 1992 up until the lockout (and sporadically during the 80s). When the lockout hit (the first second one), ESPN tried to negotiate a new contract, but failed in getting a deal, so they opted out of their remaining two years.] So now they’re airing KHL games because they can and the NHL and their networks cannot. Also, they know that hockey fans in general aren’t huge fans of theirs, and broadcasting a hockey game on their network may lure some of them in, possibly stealing some NHL fans during these dark times and converting them elsewhere.
The notion of ESPN “having some compassion” should have clued you off that the first scenario is a load of crap. And the second scenario would imply that ESPN executives have intelligence value putting quality content on the air over ratings. So that leaves us with the third option: ESPN is broadcasting KHL games (or possibly a single game) to spite the NHL.
Do I really believe this idea? Sort of. I just like to create unnecessary drama when the thing I love most isn’t around to satisfy me. But I wouldn’t put it past them, just because they know they can get way with it.
So I watched the broadcast (sort of). The game was alright I guess; even though there was only one goal scored (Ovechkin of course), there seems to be a lot of offense in the KHL (or more likely, they just don’t play defense), although the games don’t seem to be as intense. At least it was professional hockey. But the commentators really had nothing to talk about. The extent of their dialogue was limited to: mentioning the names of the few guys in the game who had played (or currently play) in the NHL and saying “oh you might know this person,” talking amongst themselves like a couple of college roommates that figured nobody was watching (or like Bob Uecker in “Major League”), and saying “ESPN” at every spot they could. They really didn’t offer much insight.
“What do you know about [some player], Barry?”
“Not a thing!”
It’s almost like they took the whole thing as a joke, which it might have been, and wanted everyone know it. It felt a little bit like a slap in the face. And I can’t really blame them. I like Steve Levy, and I don’t hate Barry Melrose, even though everything he says is wrong (see: every one of his playoff picks ever), but it just sounded kind of ridiculous. And Barry Melrose has an atrocious laugh. Almost as bad as his hair. They had a few interesting bits about the KHL and some decent commentary on the NHL and the lockout, but you could tell they ran out of stuff to talk about by the first minute of the second period.
But you know, whatever the reason for broadcasting, devious or innocent, at least it’s some pro hockey. They’ve aired more pro hockey than the NHL or NBC since the season was supposed to start. It gives us something to talk about. And if games continued to be broadcast, and there’s no NHL this season, at least Blue Jackets fans can pick and cheer for a team that isn’t terrible, and nobody will judge them for it.