Freezing Out The Public

By Gary Norris Gray
Updated: April 30, 2009

CALIFORNIA — Versus Television Network formerly known as (OLN), the Outdoor Life Network, emerged from the Outdoor Life magazine. OLN was launched in 1993 and became a major network with the contract of the National Hockey League in 2005.

The Canadian-based network resides in Toronto, Canada but the American OLN-Versus Network moved its headquarters to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

America hockey fans were forced to watch the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins game five on Tuesday, April 21. The Network broadcasted every Flyer-Penguin playoff game. Versus could and maybe should be called the Flyers-Penguin network.

The Penguins beat the Flyers in game six on NBC’s weekend hockey show to win the series, four games to two. The National Hockey League have been unsuccessful in promoting its product properly since the season ending strike in 2004 when the league locked out its players.

The NHL had a broadcast contract with ESPN before the strike. When the strike ended, ESPN retracted and ended its contract and they no longer broadcast NHL games in large part because fill in programming of Texas Hold ‘Em (through the “Poker After Dark” airings) provided better ratings than hockey.

ESPN’s SportsCenter only give courteous and minimal notice of the league sometimes not giving the scores of games; the scope of their hockey ‘segments’ lasting less than two minutes most times.

By contrast, in Canada during hockey season, The Sports Network (TSN) gives a comprehensive look at hockey in Canada and the U.S. , making sure the entire hockey turf and all the burgeoning interests in those areas are explored.

TSN’s feeds of Canadian teams playing in this year’s playoffs have proven to be far superior in their scope of what is happening on ice as well as giving lay fans insight that doesn’t insult but invites further interest in the game. .

This has been a serious blow to the NHL. The League had acquired many new fans and viewers through the ESPN telecast. They had created a new culture of hockey fans.

All of this is now lost and made worse by the broadcasting antics of Versus. When you add that the NHL has had two exceptional seasons of overall performance coupled with poor promotion by Commissioner Gary Bettman.

The Versus Television Network is a very small cable network and many American and Canadians do that have this network on their cable systems. Under the ESPN banner the average hockey fan knew they could view many different teams from the different divisions.

This was not been the case when Versus became the hockey network four years ago. Buffalo, Philadelphia, Washington, Pittsburgh, New York, and Detroit have dominated their broadcasts. This is manly due to the rating spikes in these cities.

This Network have been a promotional machine for Sidney Crosby (Penguins) and Alex Ovechkin (Capitals), the new young faces of the NHL. This Network ignores many other NHL stars in the League.

The question remains, what about the brothers playing for the New Jersey Devils, or their star goalie Martin Brodeur? What about the San Jose Sharks?

What about players like the Devils’ Bryce Salvador, Johnny Oduya, and Kevin Weekes, or Setaguchi, Jonathan Cheechoo, Mike Grier of the Western Conference Champion and President’s Trophy winner, San Jose Sharks.

Many hockey fans want to see these players and cannot.

What about airing the great battle between brothers Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames and Dustin Byfunglien of the Chicago Black Hawks, the list is endless.

Versus got very lucky this week by broadcasting three of the four Gane Seven’s Monday and Tuesday nights, in Calgary, Anaheim, and Washington. The New Jersey Devils, who loss their Game 7 against Carolina, weren’t part of their broadcasting plans.

Versus continues to broadcast primarily American teams and northeast teams omitting the seven Canadian teams out, thus hockey viewers never get to see the great teams north of the Canadian-American boarder.

Hockey Fans missed New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur’s career record for victories (552) three weeks ago because they (Versus) happened to be in Philadelphia.

They also missed Brodeur tying Patrick Roy’s playoff Shutout record 23 on Thursday, April 23 because they were in Philadelphia again. Martin Brodeur is only two career shutouts away from Terry Sawchuck’s record of 109.

Will Versus miss this record too because they will be broadcasting a game in Buffalo, Philadelphia , Washington, New York, Pittsburgh or Detroit next year?

Versus missed the Columbus Blue Jackets making their first playoff appearance. They also missed the Blue Jackets first home Stanley Cup playoff game because they assumed that it would be a competitive mismatch.

The Versus administration may have been right about the Detroit Red Wings beating Columbus 5-1 but the second game the Blue Jackets gave the Red Army a barn burner and a heart stopper. Yes, the Wings won again, but the Blue Jackets made Detroit play a complete game.

The Wings ended the series with a 5-4 victory. The Wings scored the winning goal with a minute left to go in the third period. Many Hockey fans wanted to see the Columbus crowd cheering their beloved team in Blue JackCity.

They wanted to see the new Arena in Ohio.

These are all historic moments and the hockey viewing public should have been able to be a part of it. Apparently the NHL, Versus, and the NBC must not want to join the party.

If the Versus Network is the new hockey station then they should broadcast the best game or historic game of the week. This is how you garner new fans and reward older fans for their loyalty.

Apparently this is not being done currently and the NHL has suffered with a drop in the viewing rating outside of Versus’ targeted area.

Take note, Versus and NBC — There are other teams in the league besides Washington, Philly, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and the New York Rangers. These networks have some questions that need to be answered.