Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Unadulterated Ice

The following is written by David Kamoe, a life-long sports fan whose sister is a close friend. David is an avid A's fan, wen to to high school with Drew Gooden and can't believe that Giants commentator Mike Krukow used to refer to the right-centerfield expanse at Pac Bell Park as "Finley Alley," referring to Steve Finley who remarkably wore a Giants uniform for a season. David will likely be stopping by these parts a few times a month, so treat him right. And no sister jokes.

The NHL network does not have a glut of programming available to it. Unlike the NFL and MLB networks, the NHL network generally shows a collection of 30-minute or hour-long specials talking up players, coaches, teams, or announcers. The only time it varies is during the All-star break when they heavily covered the events in Montreal, during the draft, and simulcasting hockey from TSN, CBC, and occasionally Rogersnet. All this is fine. The NHL network is not an old entity and in time may develop programming much the same as the NFL and MLB networks. On July 19, 2009, however, they took a new step and in doing so provided a thought.

The NHL network replayed the fifth and final game of the 1979 Stanley Cup finals between the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers. The game was played at Montreal’s venerable Forum. This was the first time I have ever sat down and watched a game featuring one of hockey’s hollowed buildings. Part of what drew me to it was former Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden. Dryden, who was playing in his last game that night, went on to pen the book The Game. If you haven’t read it: do so. It is a fantastic look at both hockey, Montreal, and the inner workings of perhaps the most storied franchise in sports.

What stood out for me was not Dryden in the nets, Lemarie and Robinson on the wings, or Shutt and Savard up front. What caught my eye was what was not there. The boards at the Montreal Forum had not one advertisement on them. The ice only bore the classic logo of the Canadiens at center ice. Only by looking into the stands did someone see an ad for Molson beer.

These days, every arena, ballpark, and court has advertisements all over them. This is especially confusing in hockey where the contrast of the ice and the vulcanized rubber puck is how the sport can be followed on TV. Sure, the advent of HD has helped immeasurably but the ads are too much.

Going back to Dryden and The Game, there is an anecdote in it where Dryden talks about playing in the 1976 hockey game between Canada and the USSR. The game was to be televised on CBS but the NHL felt it needed more income. To supplement their income, they sold advertising space on the boards. The CBS brass was so incensed that they deliberately shot the game so as to not show the ads. I still shake my head when I think about this fact.

The problem is that there is too much money to be had with advertising and the NHL is not a cash cow. That being said, the NFL -- which does consider itself an endless moneymaker—is completely dictated by ads. Thus, the Super Bowl is a stop and start event better watched at home and the seventh game of the Stanley Cup is an edge-of-your-seat thriller good on TV and great in person. C’est la vie.

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