Last I checked, it's the year 2011, and with this whole Internet thing, the world is smaller and closer than it's ever been. I can video chat with my neighbor across the street, or I can do the same with a friend in Siberia. It's incredible.
But you know, for all of our technological advances, I couldn't watch the Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Colorado Avalanche game if I was in Columbus Wednesday. And that's just ridiculous. Oddly enough, I could watch the game (via a jumbotron feed) with NHL GameCenter Live from any locale in the world, and I could watch with NHL Center Ice as well.
But from Columbus, Ohio, maybe a block away from Nationwide Arena? Nope, not a chance.
It all had to do with some silly national exclusivity rule with Versus. According to the Blue Jackets, the network has exclusive broadcasting rights on Wednesday nights this season, but one game gets an exception each week. That explains why the Vancouver Canucks at Philadelphia Flyers game was on local television in Philly, but Colorado and Columbus fans couldn't view their game in the local markets.
If you look at the NHL schedule on Wednesday nights, it appears this is indeed the case all year long. There aren't a ton of Wednesday night games on the schedule all year, and on nights where there is a full docket of action, Versus typically isn't on the broadcast schedule.
We went through and counted, and as it turns out, there are only a handful of games that are blacked out without television coverage thanks to this exclusivity rule. Wednesday night was the first. Here's the list:
- Wednesday, March 21: Florida Panthers at Carolina Hurricanes. Detroit at NY Rangers is the Versus game, Montreal at Buffalo is the exception.
There are ways to get around the rule. The exclusivity appears to apply only to games starting in the same hour, so if the Versus game starts at 7 p.m., a game starting at 8 p.m. won't be impacted. That's why the Capitals play the Panthers at 8 p.m. in Florida on February 1, for example.
It doesn't apply when Canadian teams play one another, either, since Versus can't claim exclusivity over a game that's played in a country where they don't even exist -- although notably, that's still stopping Sens fans from seeing their February game in Florida.
But despite the exceptions, let's just quickly note how ridiculous this all is. For starters, you'll notice that no big money team will ever be blacked out. That's not just some coincidence. That the Capitals game in Florida was moved to 8 p.m. that night while the Senators game in the same arena 14 days later was not says all you need to know here.
Blackout rules in general are stupid and typically just a hold over from a time when executives thought that TV took away from the crowd that would actually attend games live. But these rules were put in place in the year 2011, when the NHL and NBC Sports Group agreed to this new television contract.
So what's the point? Versus wants exclusivity so more people watch their game. Okay, fair enough. The NHL obliged to make a very valuable partner happy. Okay, fair enough. But in practice, does this really work?
We won't bother to look at actual ratings since this happened for the first time Wednesday night, and since numbers on a four game sample wouldn't be accurate anyway, even come the end of the year. Let's just think about it, though, using last night as an example. You're a fan in Columbus, and you can't watch your team's game. Are you going to flip over to Versus and watch the Bruins and Hurricanes do battle, instead?
Some people might make that decision, sure. But in most cases, fans are just going to find something else to do, especially when frustrated that they can't watch their own game. It's certainly not enough people to make a difference in Versus' numbers -- remember, these are all relatively small markets we're talking about here.
All it does is piss people off. Columbus fans are irritated, Avalanche fans are irritated and come the end of the season, Carolina fans will be just plain angry. There's literally no reason for these exclusivity rules to be in place, and both Versus and the NHL would be wise to scrap the entire experiment.
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