Thursday, July 28, 2005

Trolling for a deal on American TV

While the Canadian end of the broadcast schedule seems to be firming up nicely (see note about Hughson going to HNIC) the American broadcast universe is a tad unsettled.

NBC has the rights to the old ABC/FOX package of weekly games that usually run half a season but the cable option for the NHL has yet to be decided.

The latest news out of New York has the NHL working on a couple of options to try and attract a deal for the new and improved league. The players that Gary Bettman is apparently in discussions with include, Spike TV, the USA Network, ESPN 2 and OLN, The Outdoor Life Network. Spike which bills itself as TV for men might be an interesting choice what with it's wrestling spectacular and of course Striperella, but one wonders about it's possible reach. The USA Network used to be the Cable partner of choice back in the mid eighties I vaguely remember Al Trautwig hosting the NHL games on USA which seemed to always feature the Rangers I think.

ESPN 2 is a bit of a surprise as the mother network basically told the NHL to hit the road back in June when things looked dark and darker regarding a CBA between players and owners. But one assumes that even the Deuce could make some use of the NHL to help fill in those hours between dog shows and poker tournaments.

By far the most unusual option is the OLN, once know as the Fishing and hunting channel OLN has developed a bit of a reputation for niche sporting activities having hosted the recent tour de France and the odd soccer match from time to time. In the States OLN is owned by the powerful Comcast cable chain, so it may not be that wild an idea after all. Comcast could use the platform of OLN to build a rival to ESPN in sports programming. The NHL may be the building block required to chip away at ESPN's dominance.

All of a sudden one wonders if the folks at ESPN may have been a little hasty in their dismissal of the NHL option, for Gary Bettman sometimes you have to be a little lucky to be successful. In the matter of American TV rights, Bettman may have just received a lucky break to salvage a battered reputation. And while the prospect of sharing tv time with the likes of celebrity bull riding and little known car races might seem like a loss in the short term, if it gets in on the ground floor of a challenge to ESPN's sport dominance, the NHL may find itself one day in the right place at the right time. The question for now is, will anybody be watching in that short term?

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