On the television side of their operation, ESPN's hockey coverage sucks.
It's not a secret to anybody who follows the NHL or to anybody who realizes the NHL exists: ESPN, the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader In Sports™, barely covers the game, which believe it or not is still very firmly one of the major four sports in both North America and the United States. You'd never know if you only got your sports coverage from ESPN.
A small example: As of this writing, the @SportsCenter Twitter account has tweeted 66 times in the last three days. Exactly two of those tweets were about the NHL. By comparison, at least six of those were about Michael Jordan.
So, sure, ESPN can claim that they cover hockey. But we all know that we're lucky if "covering the game" is more scores ticking across the bottom line during SportsCenter and the occasional highlight. Maybe Pavel Datsyuk will crack the Top 10 sometimes. But it's rare.Hell, even the week the NHL lockout began last September, a major event that impacted not only sports fans but local economies in nearly every major U.S. city, hockey saw under two minutes of SportsCenter coverage. For the entire week.
Hockey fans rightfully call ESPN out for this every chance we can get, but the big wigs in Bristol don't think the criticism is deserved. Go figure. From SI.com:
[ESPN president John] Skipper said the perception that ESPN has given hockey the short end of the stick is not accurate. "Look, I don't think it's fair," Skipper said. "I see "SportsCenter" every day and we cover hockey every day. We do not have a significant differential between highlights of hockey now and when we had it. The only difference is we are not there [as a rights holder]. If we were there for the playoffs, we'd be throwing to the guys calling the game. We can't do that, but we are at hockey games. We are doing hockey highlights."
He says there's no significant difference between now and when the network had rights to broadcast games. Apparently, Skipper doesn't remember that ESPN once had a nightly NHL show on its airwaves, which went off the air for good during the 2004 playoffs. ESPN canceled the show when they decided not to bid on the NHL's TV rights in 2003 and it stopped airing the same week NHL hockey last hit their airwaves. Perfect timing.
But hey, no "significant differential" there at all.
We're sort of over the fact that ESPN doesn't cover our sport, and most hockey fans have found plenty of other outlets that provide suitable coverage of the game. But don't insult our intelligence and tell us you're covering hockey properly. You're not, and you deserve all the criticism you get for it.
(Important footnote: ESPN covers the game very well on the Internet, with Craig Custance, Pierre LeBrun, Katie Baker, Scott Burnside and John Buccigross all talking hockey on the web with regularity. Any criticism of ESPN's hockey coverage doesn't extend to them. It's about TV.)