Friday, December 24, 2010

*The Great Canadian Hockey Monopoly

I love hockey. I revel in the Canadiana it represents. I love the in-depth coverage, I love the rabidness of the reportage we have here north of the border, and I love the extra lengths our sportscasters go to give it to us. I also hate it. I am a beard sporting, lumberjack jacket wearing, beer swilling Canadian stereotype, but I'm also a sports fan. I love football, baseball, basketball, MMA, and even footy (I love footy so much I actually call it footy), and for people like me there are not alot of options on the big three Canadian sports networks.

On a given night in the Canadian sports broadcasting landscape an average of 50% of the coverage we see involves NHL hockey. This leaves the other 50% to cover every other event under the sun, and most of these stories get grossly under reported. The popular argument for any network executive working at either TSN, Rogers Sportsnet, or The Score would be that they are simply giving the public what they want. This begs the question: at what point do they stop giving us what we want and start telling us what we want?

Example: The other night Dwight Howard put up 26 points and 23 rebounds against the Mavericks, one of the top 3 teams in the entire NBA. It was Howard's third straight game of 20+ rebounds. This amazing stat was not mentioned once in Sportsnet's recap of the game, they instead chose to take a "Hedo Turkoglu" narrative in their coverage. For the record Turkoglu put up an underwhelming 9 points in the loss to the Mavs, but because he is a half season removed from a messy breakup with the Toronto Raptors, the brilliant minds at Sportsnet chose to tell us what aspects of the game we were interested in. And here I thought objectivity was the golden rule in Sports broadcasting. (I won't even get into the droning, emotionless personalities that Sportsnet chooses to prop up in front of their telepromters day in and day out. That's another gripe for another day.)

TSN on the other hand is Canada's oldest, and most respected Sports network. They are also one of the most biased. Every day Sportscentre leads off with ten to fifteen minutes of NHL coverage, complete with post-game scrums from each game, and on-site reporters for each of Canada's franchises. TSN boasts an armada of hockey insiders and analysts, but have nobody who specializes in baseball. No NFL insider. No NBA segment. They outsource this coverage to their ESPN cohorts. Not a bad idea when you have no one on staff who knows anything about these sports, but if your slogan is "Canada's Sports Leader" shouldn't you have at least one person designated to cover each of these? At least The Score and Sportsnet each have some random British guy who talks about the EPL so we can at we can trust in his sophisticated accent, even if he is only covering one of the many top-end soccer leagues in the world. The last time I checked Canada's national sport was Lacrosse. I don't remember the last NLL game I saw covered on any of the big three networks, including "Canada's Sports Leader". 

They don't even cover "Hockey" per se, they cover the NHL, because the NHL are the ones who have the lucrative broacasting contract with TSN and Sportsnet. I don't see any OHL highlights on a daily basis, no WHL or QMJHL (although I do get extensive coverage of the World Junior Championship, because it is conveniently broadcast on TSN). There is no mention of the European elite leagues in Germany, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republc, or Switzerland etc. The Kontinental Hockey League is the next biggest hockey league in the world and I can honestly say I have never once seen a single KHL highlight on Canadian television. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the KHL doesn't seem to get along with the NHL? Wouldn't wanna burn that Bettman bridge I guess. Hell, they don't even cover NCAA hockey.

I know nothing about NCAA sports and I place the blame squarely on the major sports networks in my home country for indoctrinating this love of hockey that lives inside me, and the indifference to everything else that comes with it. I didn't know who Cam Newton was until he won the Heisman. I read it in a footnote of a newspaper. That's what the NCAA is in Canadian media: a footnote.  

The Score does a fantastic job of trying to bring the NCAA to the forefront of the Canadian media, but they have neither the resources nor the clout to make a big enough impact on the national sporting psyche. They are also responsible for being one of the first to offer comprehensive coverage of Mixed Martial Arts, and of European soccer, in particular Italian Serie A. They offer coverage of CIS football, something neither of the two heavyweight stations can say. Grassroots stimulation of the homegrown product. They even have the basics down: their ticker doesn't go anywhere during commercials. Little things like that actually do matter.

Despite all of these things, I've still got a deep passion for the sport of Hockey. I love it with all my being, and I embrace the Canadian stereotype that it makes me. What I would appreciate though is having the option to watch something else from time to time, and having that something get the same attention as Hockey. There is alot more to the sporting landscape than just puck, and maybe if we gave our kids the option to fall in love with something different, our other national teams might not suck so badly, so consistently, while our hockey team perennially spanks the planet. Just a thought.

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