“Versus’ numbers now are exceeding the numbers we were doing in the last few years on ESPN. Versus is getting traction, Versus is doing a great job, and we are doing absolutely fine.”
– NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in an interview with Hockey Night in Canada’s Ron MacLean during Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final.
Thank goodness hockey season is almost here, because all the off-ice nincompoopery that has been scarring the NHL this summer is starting to get on my nerves.
As we all know, the NHL has made many boneheaded decisions and has committed itself to doing business in a manner that would leave any real-world businessman scratching his head.
The latest farce to pop up is the Versus-DirectTV dispute.
Versus, which is owned by Comcast (which owns the Flyers, go figure), is no longer available on the largest cable provider in the Unites States because of a contract dispute. That means, when the league opens for operation in a month, approximately 25 million viewers will be shut out of NHL action unless a compromise is made.
And this is a TV deal the league is proud of?
When a three-year extension was announced with Versus in 2008, your commissioner was all smiles and claimed interest in the game would grow in the U.S. along with the Versus viewership.
Well, surprise, surprise, that looks to be yet another ruse in a long line of poppycock propaganda that insults the intelligence of hockey fans across the board whenever it’s shamelessly used.
It’s time the NHL got its hands dirty to ensure its investment with the Versus product pays off, rather than sitting idly by (as it has while this new mess percolated) and telling the rest of us everything will be alright.
Speaking of poppycock propaganda, how about that riveting Phoenix situation?
We have one month until the puck drops on 2009-10 and while I doubt the mess will be cleaned up by then, I hope it’s the last time Jim Balsillie grabs any NHL headlines until at least next summer…and hopefully longer.
While I think it is obvious there should be another Canadian team and fully support that notion, everyday I’m finding myself hoping it’s anyone but Mr. Balsillie who gets the prime franchise.
The whole bankruptcy issue came to the fore while hockey fandom was enveloped in the second round of the playoffs – and the game’s two premiere stars were facing each other in a seven-game epic. I realize Balsillie was trying to get his foot in the door when he could, but by making a big, public stink while hockey’s holy season was in full swing he was pock-marking the sport – for his own gains - during a period of prevalence.
And while Bettman is ridiculed for answering questions in a way that demeans the intelligence of hockey fans, Balsillie’s plucking of the patriotic Canadian chord is no better. Selling tickets before you have a team? Starting a website and a petition to garner public support for a pissing match with Bettman and the NHL?
I’m not buying in.
If, by October 1, Balsillie is ruled out of the running for the Phoenix franchise, I hope it’s the last we hear from him this season. Because, really, the last thing the NHL needs is bad publicity. How good can a guy be for the league if all that follows him are negative headlines that drag our game’s name through the mud because things haven’t gone as smoothly as planned?
I want another team in Canada, too. But not like this.
Jim. Gary. Just let hockey do the talking this winter. And let’s give the loyal and loving fans what they want without tiring us with more bureaucratic bull…
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web content specialist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season.
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