Medium Cool

December 04, 2000

While the NHL's p.r. bandleaders have spent recent years
doggedly attempting to jack up media coverage of the league and
then grumbling at the spotty results, the folks at nhl.com have
quietly thrived. "The undercoverage [in other media] has been a
blessing in disguise," says Rich Libero, the league vice
president who runs the site. "When fans can't find what they
want in their newspaper or on the sports highlights, they come
to us."

Since its 1996 debut, nhl.com's traffic has increased steadily
to its current 30 million page users a month. What those viewers
get is a respectable, text-heavy site that's worth a stop on a
hockey lover's Internet tour but is hardly the be-all and
end-all that NHL fans would like it to be. The site's crown
jewel is its stats package. The creative and easy-to-use series
of pages breaks down each player's performance into 13
statistical categories, including such hard-to-find figures as
number of shifts, hits, giveaways and takeaways, and ice time.
Team achievement is dissected in similar detail, and all stats
are updated to the minute by computer-toting employees who input
data from every NHL game as the match unfolds.

The site also offers home- and visiting-team radio broadcasts of
all games, a feature that helps draw in nhl.com's sizable
overseas audience. Some 15% of the regular users visit from
outside North America, primarily from Europe.

All this is accessible through a graphically uninspiring main
page built around articles on breaking NHL news. The information
is timely but yields little substance or perspective. "We try not
to be a propaganda machine," says Libero. "Love us or hate
us--we're pretty sure that if we don't give fans the straight
poop, they're going to go somewhere else."

Many do. Not surprisingly, news reported by the league's team of
writers and editors invariably comes through a roseate screen. In
a piece looking back on the career of Sharks defenseman Gary
Suter, for example, there was no mention of his notorious 1998
cross-check to the jaw of Mighty Ducks left wing Paul Kariya--a
dirty blow that cost Kariya nearly half a season because of
post-concussion syndrome.

If you're a savvy hockey fan, you won't always get what you want
on nhl.com, but if you're looking for stats or an injury report
or a roster move, you should get what you need. --K.K.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO On nhl.com there are no fewer than 13 stats categories for players such as Avalanche center Joe Sakic (19).

GOING TO THE MATT
The XFL's play-by-play man has baseball and Toughman on his
resume

Matt Vasgersian, 33, has an eclectic background, a sharp tongue
and a strong sense of why NBC selected him as its play-by-play
guy for the not-for-pantywaists XFL Saturday prime-time telecasts
that begin on Feb. 3.

Says Vasgersian, "I'm not one of those scotch-swilling,
maroon-dinner-jacket-wearing sports guys with plastic hair who
talks in cliches."

Vasgersian's irreverent style is ideal for the XFL. League boss
Vince McMahon wants to ratchet up and glorify the game's
violence, a theme familiar to Vasgersian, who hosts FX's
Toughman World Championship series, in which ordinary guys beat
each other up. Vasgersian's love, however, is baseball, and
he'll continue calling Brewers games as he has done since 1997.
His television career began in the '70s, when, as a youngster in
the Oakland area, he did commercials and appeared in an episode
of The Streets of San Francisco (as the son of a white-collar
crook). Later, as a communications major at USC, he was an
eligible bachelor on The Dating Game. "I was so busy hamming it
up for the crowd," he says, "that I wound up picking the psycho
girl with the personality disorder."

Vasgersian has called few football games but sees this as an
advantage. "I'm just a fan," he says. "Sometimes you hear
broadcasters who think they know everything and use these big
words that make you yell, 'Hey, d---head, shut the hell up!'
Well, I'm not one of them. Some guys think they're above doing
the XFL. I don't." --K.K.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)