Saturday, February 10, 2007

Will the Hockey fan finally get a choice with Star choice?

It’s been a week or so of peek a boo programming on Star Choice, one of the two satellite television providers for a good portion of Canada.

Last week Star Choice suddenly made available out of market television broadcasts of NHL games to its subscriber base, games usually that previously were given to the grey screen and subject to local black out graphic that sends more than one hockey fan off on a tirade. A daring move that was suddenly shut down as fast as Martin Brodeur can snare a flying slapshot.

Star choice briefly tested the waters of total access only to have the window slammed down by the courts after Rogers broadcasting went to court for an injunction requiring the satellite provider to return to its previous black out policy.

Tonight was a perfect example of the asinine policy of not seeking out the largest possible audience, the Hawks and Oilers were playing on Sportsnet West, the game was blacked out in British Columbia, leaving hockey fans with no game to watch on a Friday night. Basketball featured a lively match up on TSN between the Raptors and the Lakers, followed by a nightcap between Atlanta and Phoenix on Sportsnet Pacific.

While were sure that the Raptors have begun to develop some solid fans outside of Ontario, we would hazard a guess that Sportsnet would have at least cut into TSN’s audience had they lifted the black out rules and let the Oilers Hawks go nation wide and probably would have attracted a larger audience than the Suns and Hawks of Atlanta. Perhaps Mr. Rogers has too much money at the moment and needs to take a break so his accountants can rest up, or perhaps nobody has given him an income projection sheet should he allow full hockey availability.

It’s always been a frustrating and confusing situation for many hockey fans across the country with the full Sportsnet package of stations from east to west, five networks (HD included) that can offer hockey from all of the NHL markets, but restricted to geographic locations.

What many of us don’t quite get is why for instance if we live in Prince Rupert, BC we can’t see that Ottawa Senator - Pittsburgh Penguin match up, it’s not like we we’re going to make it to the game on time anyways, not to mention the distance between the town and the nearest NHL franchise. It's especially frustrating when you subscribe to all four Sportsnet options, but can't take full advantage of what you have spent your money on, it makes for bad PR for Star Choice, Rogers and the NHL.

There may be a light at the end of the blackout tunnel however; Star Choice has taken to listing contact numbers at Rogers and an e mail address at the NHL to have viewers voice their concerns and complaints. A press release put out Friday explains why they are taking the measures and how Canadians can get their views across. It would be interesting to see the reaction at the head office of the NHL as they begin to realize that yet another fire is burning in Canada, a portion of the NHL landscape that was supposed to be happy with the product and ready to reward the league with its loyalty.

Whatever the reasons that are in place, whether it’s a Rogers issue, team issue or league issue, the rules in place at the moment are stupid, ones which punish the Canadian hockey fan and leaves them looking for alternate programming, hmm, those Raptors mentioned earlier are playing some pretty good round ball right now, and hey look they’re on TV from coast to coast. The NHL needs to talk to their partners at Rogers and explain to them how their policy is damaging the game and the ratings.

Once we get that sorted out perhaps then we can begin to work on the black out of pay per view games outside of their region of origin. Surely NHL franchises are interested in making a few bucks; expanding the pool of potential viewers at ten dollars a pop would certainly go a long ways to helping all the Canadian franchises to secure their bottom line with extra cash.

If the fan of hockey in Red Deer really wants to watch the Canucks, Sens, Leafs or Habs how exactly is that going to hurt the local teams? The idea of thousands of same day sale tickets going down the drain because somebody stayed home to watch a different game seems foolish, if need be then open up the pay per view games across the country, have each team pool their monies together and then divide equally. A novel approach we guess for a collection of owners that at times seem to put their own needs ahead of not only the league but the fans as well.

If you're a Star Choice subscriber voice your opinion, even if you're not a Star Choice subscriber take the time to show the NHL how short sighted they are on this issue, to grow the game and hold your clientele you have to make the product available.

The Toronto Star featured an article on how the Canadian Television viewer is keeping the NHL afloat through its devotion to the product broadcast across the land. Imagine how much more impressive the numbers might look with an open skies policy in place.

By eliminating the black out policy across Canada, everybody will win, including the hard pressed hockey fan just looking for a game that they might want to watch.

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