Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Why I Loathe ESPN and Preseason Predictions

Anybody see Davis Jones lurking about the grounds during today's celebrations? Or was he perched gargoyle-like high atop some nearby church steeple pining for the chance to rid Raleigh of this vile Hurricane pestilence?

Late last summer the NHL and the NHLPA finally worked out a collective bargaining agreement bringing an end to the miserable lockout. Predictably and soon afterwards, former broadcast partner ESPN declined their opportunity to keep the NHL a part of their programming. To ESPN, hockey was a cult sport on the decline that didn't produce the viewership or revenues necessary for their business model. In essence, the network that begged us to watch when their programming consisted of Australian Rules Football decided to throw one of North America's premier sports under the bus now that they were global. They had no interest in investing in this great sport's rebirth. They had the NFL, NBA, MLB, extreme sports and figure skating for the gals on college football or NFL game days.

With one less program preparation challenge in the mix, ESPN's on air personalities were able to largely ingore hockey and focus on crafting slicker catch phrases and hanging with sexier sports personalities - the exceptions being the instantly under-employed Barry Melrose, Eugene Levy (...and I'm Earl Cannonbear) and John Buccigross.

In January I sat and watched Stewart Scott butcher some fairly well known NHL names during a SportsCenter highlight sequence. From the mouth of Mr. Boo Yah, we got...

  • Marek Zah-litsky
  • Ilya Koval-chick
  • Kar-a-lee Let-oh-nen

In the middle of last week, morning radio host Colon Cowpile made a point of bragging about his disinterest in hockey. He basically said that he'd pay attention to hockey if and only if the California Golden Seals played the Hartford (or Plymouth?) Whalers in the SCF. He then went back to slobbing on the knob of the NBA and NFL. His Improv club routine used to be fresh on sports talk radio. He's dead to me. I'm now listening to hemp farming stories and poetry readings on NPR in the morning.

On Monday night I watched game seven from the lobby of Tucson Ice, our only ice house. You see, I had a C league game scheduled, and as the new guy and one of only four who are willing to play defense, I felt obliged to show up. I watched the first period from the lobby. I dressed out between the first and second periods and ventured to the back rink five minutes before game time. The rink was dark so I asked somebody in management what was going on. They said all games were cancelled Monday night because of game seven. I didn't get the memo. I should have guessed as much; I should have noticed nobody else showing up and making their way thru the lobby. I guess I was kind of spun up and tunnel visioned. So anyway, I watched a good chunk of the second period in the lobby and in full gear. I know - kind of like dressing up as a Borg and going to a Star Trek convention.

On the drive home after NBC yanked the plug early on the celebrations, I tuned into ESPN radio for some post-game banter on Game Night. Either John Seibel or Gilbert Gottlieb (me thinks ASU Sun Dirtball Seibel) is a total tool. I wish I could say which, but I can't tell the difference in their voices. One or the other took great joy in belittling hockey, flaunting their ignorace of professional hockey at every level, calling the Hurricanes the Panthers repeatedly, and rehashing the old Hartford rant. He played it straight for a brief Mark Recchi interview and then went right back into his schtick.

Piss on ESPN. They are firmly convinced that they are bigger than the sports they cover.

Episode Two: Predictions Sure to Go Wrong

Anyhoo, I took a quick look back at the preseason predictions of ESPN hockey guys and some US sports media pundits. Back then it looked like it was gonna be good to be fan of the predictible favs (thanks to Jamie Fitzpatrick for the archive):

-'Ning and Sharks with the 'Ning winning the Cup
Melrose - Flyers and Flames with the Flames winning the Cup
Buccigross - Flyers and Sharks with the Flyers winning the Cup
Burnside - 'Ning and Canucks with the Canucks winning the Cup

SI - Stephen Cannella-Sens and Flames with the Flames winning the Cup

USA Today - Ted Montgomery-Ottawa and the Sharks, but no predicted winner


Josh Crockett said...

Being here with the Washington Post has been rather enlightening as well. The Canes' victory in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals got 4 inches in the rightmost column at the bottom of the Sports section's front page. Not a word above the fold, and certainly no banner on A1 indicating that, y'know, a championship had been won in a major pro sport.

The Miami Heat's victory in the NBA Finals, a Game 6 (thus less predictable for page designers), got most of above-the-fold A1.

It's going to be a long time before I buy another Washington Post.

CasonBlog said...

Great take Josh-One reason fishwrap circulation is on the decline nationwide. They tell us what they want us to know and then stand stunned when we don't embrace their priorities.

When I lived in Columbus, Ohio, the Reds 4-game sweep of the A's in the 1990 World Series played second fiddle to that day's Buckeye football win against, I think, Northwestern.

Bill Purdy said...

I know - kind of like dressing up as a Borg and going to a Star Trek convention.

Best blog-induced mental image, ever!

FWIW, I had the Flames and... the Penguins in the SCF during the pre-season. And I'm proud to be a lousy prognosticator of such things.

Drew said...

Columbus, as you know Cason, is a very weird town in that respect. Buckeye football rules all. I'm an OSU alum (no apologies) and I enjoy watching the football team play, but the amount of coverage they receive at the expense of other worthy sports (every day of the year) is sickening.

Not sure if you were here for the National Championship a few years ago, but you can imagine that almost every section of the paper was covered in scarlet and gray.

It will be a good long while before hockey gets to where it deserves to be in the MSM (if it ever does) in the USA. As bloggers, we can do our part to show the passion that can be put into decent hockey writing.

Stormbringer said...

Ohio State football coverage in Columbus sounds an awful lot like high school football coverage in Bluefield, VA/WV. I have honestly not checked the Bluefield Daily Telegraph in the past few days (and to be honest, that's 'cause there *is* usually nothing much to check in the local rag), BUT I am *very willing* to bet that the Canes winning the Stanley Cup was not acknowledged. Not even a single column, paragraph, or blurb. AND if it had been acknowledged, my dad would have let me known something about it by now.

BUT, the Daily Telegraph sure is not afraid to cover high school football right down to who may be coming to the Graham High G-Men or the Bluefield High Beavers, the NBA (Finals), AND/OR NASCAR, of course.

Apart from the Steelers, strange, strange tastes this town has when it comes to sports...

Jeff J said...

"So anyway, I watched a good chunk of the second period in the lobby and in full gear. I know - kind of like dressing up as a Borg and going to a Star Trek convention."

Nah! If you had dressed up in full Hurricanes regalia like Rod Brind'amour (freakshow mask and all) just to sit and watch game 7: that would be like the Trekkies (not that there's anything wrong with that). Putting on the gear to go play when your team is in game 7 of the SCF? Now that is a true love of the game. Fanhood can get intense, but actually playing - no matter what level - is on another plane.

DrFrankLives said...

Someone point me to a league in Raleigh/Cary that will

(1) accept 35-year old southerners who play any sport with little talent but a lot of effort

(2) teach said 35-year-olds to skate backwards and

(3) then teach them to stop.

I can skate forwards like crazy. Good thing those end boards are always there :-)

Drew said...

Dr Frank,

If Raleigh is anything like Columbus, there's a spot for you on the ice. And I've learned that it's possible to still have fun even if you can't skate backwards or stop. I've found that effort goes a long way towards winning the respect of your teammates. Find an adult beginner-type league and you'll be able to learn at your own pace.

Good luck out there!


CasonBlog said...

Frank-There ought to be some learn to play classes at the Ice Houses in Raleigh. These usually combine instruction with some scrimmaging. Out here we have learn to play classes immediately followed by what they call rookie league. It's just a black on white scrimmage with refs.