Mailbag: Versus, Don't Miss A Second-- Miss Entire Periods!

ARTHUR:
So, checking the Anaheim Calling inbox this morning, I found a message from a Versus rep, inquiring into whether or not Daniel and I would like to be pimped-

DANIEL:
--ahem --

ARTHUR:
That is, whether or not we'd like to participate in an NHL on Versus promotion. Rather than give them a straightforward 'yes' or 'no,' Daniel and I thought we'd do an honest write up, and then take it from there.

So, Daniel, as someone trying to watch the Ducks games from an Illinois grad school-- who ended up missing the 1st period of Game 6 on Monday --what's your beef with Versus?

DANIEL:
Well, first let me start by saying that I had prepped a meal for puck drop and everything. So, here I am with taquitos and guacamole that I made from scratch-- God that sounds so stereotypical --rocking my Ducks sweater, only to have the Blackhawks on Versus AND the local channel. Now, I can understand feeding the Blackhawks game to Illinois if there is no local coverage, but if there IS local coverage, why am I watching the Hawks game on two channels when there's a deciding game in another series? I could have been on Hockey overload. My cable guide said I should have been watching the Ducks game. I'm just wondering how Versus is going to let me know, as a fan, which game I will be watching.

ARTHUR:
Yeah, there's a lot of that sort of mismanagement. I also don't see how their advertising campaign was "Don't Miss A Second," and then on the night playoffs start, we missed the 1st period of the last two games. They missed 2,400 seconds on the first night of play!

Though, in their defense, they're a startup cable network with ONE channel trying to manage the rights to air three hockey games in one night. But let me just say this, and you know what I'm going to say: hockey fans were spoiled by the TV deals in the '90s.

DANIEL:
Oh, here we go. Are you going to be preaching for long? Should I get a drink and come back?

ARTHUR:
When they signed with FOX in '94, the NHL hadn't been on network TV from 1981 to 1989, and they hadn't signed a long-term deal since they left CBS in 1972. That's 22 years out of the spotlight.

Now, I grew up in the Bay Area in the 80s. We had no team, and I had no cable. No USA network. No ESPN network. Certainly no Sportschannel America. And so, no NHL. And there was a time when that was the story: if you moved away from Canada/the Canadian border or a major hockey market, then you lived in a hockey-less world. Even if you had cable, you got a handful of games and the channel that carried the NHL kept changing.

So, you can't convince me that no coverage is better than coverage. The NHL went a long time without any kind of TV deal, at all. And since Bettman scorned FOX and refused to give ABC a discount, he's stuck with NBC and Versus. He may end up putting every non-Finals game on Center Ice or NHLTV, and out-of-market fans will have to pay just to watch the playoffs.

DANIEL:
Okay, I'll admit that hockey fans have come to expect a little more from hockey TV coverage after the 90s, but is that really an excuse for Versus not to get their act together?

I grew up on ESPN double headers and NHL2Night. I think Versus can do a lot more in terms of coverage. Even a nightly show a la NHL2Night would go a long way in keeping more viewers interested in the few games they can actually watch. I'm saying that Versus may have limited resources, but there's certainly more they can give us to make sure fans see a little more hockey related content on a regular basis. Plus, it'll increase general traffic for their channel and possibly raise viewership for the more obscure sports the station airs.

ARTHUR:
Well, I definitely agree that it does wonders for the NHL and its stars to show Ovechkin's and Malkin's highlights every night, and break them down for the casual fans. I don't know how much it would cost to produce an NHL2Night. Maybe not more than that Sports Soup show that Versus has, and maybe it's a wise investment with how much they're paying for their TV contract with the league. But that's all assuming Versus WANTS to invest in its NHL coverage.

Let me break you off with a little trivia, here. First of the major sports broadcast on ESPN? NHL games. They negotiated TV contracts with the Whalers and Capitals. Versus is probably using the NHL the same way that ESPN did back then. They're just trying to show the other major sports that they can handle a broadcast. I'm sure they don't want Bettman any more than he wants them.

DANIEL:
That's a fair observation; I certainly don't think Versus treats hockey like a flagship sport. Not the way a TNT treats the NBA. I know TNT doesn't have a nightly NBA show, but they have programs other than sports. Versus advertises itself as a sports channel. They don't have to go ad nauseum like ESPN, but give me something.

TNT at least has a great personality that mixes things up for the rest of the group, one Sir Charles Barkley. That's the main difference between what happens with other sports and what happens with the Versus coverage. The Versus crew doesn't have a lot of personality. Sometimes I feel like I'm watching a bunch of guys who know nothing about hockey. Not because the info isn't good. Engblom, Clement and Jones know their stuff. They just never seem comfortable in front of the camera. They laugh awkwardly and just aren't engaging. I teach public speaking, and I'm not convinced these guys took it in high school or college. They stare at the camera and they seem to get excited about all the wrong things. I don't know. I'm just never excited when I watch the games, and I don't feel like I get the insight into the game that I do when I listen to Hayzie (Brian Hayward for those of you unfortunate enough to not know who he is). I know a lot of fans don't like Hayzie, and think he's a homer, but you haven't heard these midwest commentators. These motherf***ers are something else.

ARTHUR:
[laughing]
I agree that the Versus crew needs a Barry Melrose-type, but here's the thing, how easy was it for ESPN to replace Barry Melrose this year? Suddenly, Scott Burnside *shivers* is a hockey expert? Maybe there aren't a lot of old NHL coaches/players that have personality.

At the end of the day, Versus is not avoiding those basic scheduling mistakes that plague an upstart cable network and they need to invest in more NHL programming and better color guys. BUT I'm glad someone's carrying hockey, and really, it's not their fault that a fledgling network has to carry the majority of the NHL programming. It's Bettman's.

DANIEL:
That is the truth, and we, as Hockey fans, just have to deal with Bettman's mistakes...all the time. I hate that guy.

Okay. Keep this in mind, folks, Arthur and I will be doing a split experience for Game 3 at the Ponda Center (eat it Honda that stadium will forever be the Pond and y'all just piss me off) for CLS. That is, I will be talking about what it's like watching the game on Versus, and Arthur will be providing you with his analysis as a live fan. It's gonna be different-- we hope --and hopefully you all will enjoy it. This was Anaheim Calling to the Hockey world. Enjoy your playoffs.



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