Enough Is Enough: NHL Must Look Out for Fans in DirecTV/Versus Standoff

Michael MaxwellCorrespondent IFebruary 9, 2010

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 12: Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers waits for a face off during the game against the New Jersey Devils on December 12, 2009 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Flyers spotted the New Jersey Devils a 2-0 lead before storming back to grab a stirring 3-2 victory at the Wachovia Center in south Philly last night. 


Having dropped back to back one-goal games at Edmonton and Minnesota while desperately trying to stay in the top eight in the east, this could turn out to be the turning point of the Flyers season.  I would have loved to have seen this game on television.


You see, I happen to root for the Flyers from the Windy City. 


Sadly, us Flyers fans living outside of Eastern Pennsylvania/Southern New Jersey market who happen to be DirecTV customers were left in the dark again.  The game was broadcast to a national audience on the cable partner of the NHL, Versus.  But this channel has not been part of DirecTV’s lineup since the beginning of the season.


As I have done every year for the last several years, I made sure that my subscription to NHL Center Ice was in place, so I was assured of seeing every Flyers game...or so I thought.  I had no idea of the trouble brewing between DirecTV and Comcast (corporate parent of Versus) when I signed up for NHL Center Ice over the summer.


DirecTV is the largest satellite provider in the United States.  Comcast is the largest cable provider.  This is shaping up as a clash of the titans.  It is a battle with no winner, but one very clear loser: the great fans of the NHL.


It seems that both DirecTV and Comcast are being very tight lipped about the situation.  Official information from both media giants openly blames the other for the present situation.  Frankly, I don’t care who is at fault.  In my mind, both sides are equally to blame.


NHL.com has a link to the DirecTV web site, so that fans can contact DirecTV to voice their displeasure. I have contacted DirecTV numerous times and encourage every NHL fan to do the same.  I was unable to locate a link on NHL.com to the Versus or Comcast web site to voice my displeasure with them.


The irony in this situation is that my favorite team, the Flyers, just happens to be owned in part by Comcast. 


Is it just a coincidence that NHL.com has not offered fans the opportunity to contact Comcast about the situation, or is the NHL concerned about rocking the boat at Comcast because of its relationship with the Flyers? 


Only those at the NHL know for sure.


I am incredibly frustrated that it doesn’t seem as though anything meaningful has happened at all since very early in the NHL season.  Here we are now, with the playoffs looming—still no deal.


It is time for the NHL to step up to the plate and do whatever is necessary to assure that the game is available to as many consumers as possible.  There is absolutely nothing to be gained by the present situation. 


It is difficult enough for the NHL to break into the mainstream in American sports and stunts like this continue to make it an uphill battle.  This provides yet another reason why hockey is still a distant fourth in popularity among sports in this country (or maybe even lower depending upon what polls you believe).


I’d like to see more updates from Gary Bettman and his staff at the NHL as to what is being done about this dire situation.  The longer this goes, the more likely irrevocable harm will be done to the game. 


As Exhibit A, one need look no further than what has happened right here in Chicago


A few years ago, Blackhawks home games were blacked out in Chicago because the ownership at the time thought it would encourage more fans to attend the games in person. 


It didn’t. 


It just created apathy, as the Hawks routinely played before crowds that barely reached five figures some nights.


A new owner took over the Blackhawks in 2008 and promptly made all home games available on local television.  Now, the Hawks are the hottest ticket in town and the Madhouse On Madison St. is back. 


The moral of the story is exposure is the key to everything.  The NHL isn’t even close to getting maximum exposure now because of this situation with DirecTV and Comcast.  If the NHL isn’t on television in as many homes as possible, the NHL has no hope of pulling in additional fans that might only have been casual followers previously.


Without exposure, the casual NHL fan walks away.  There are plenty of other things on television these days to grab their attention.  The Chicago fans came back because they are considered diehards that grew up in a hockey hot bed many years ago. 


What do you think Mr. Fan in Florida, Arizona, or California thinks that the NHL isn’t on DirecTV/Versus? 


My guess is they don’t give a squat. 


Yet, the NHL has the potential to attract a whole new generation of hockey fans, if only its most marquis games could reach those 16 million DirecTV customers. 


I think the NHL can and must be doing more to pressure both sides.  Please Mr. Bettman, hockey fans across North America are counting on you.


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