Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Tuesday, May 22, 2021

American hockey fans are fuming over NBC’s decision to end its broadcast of Saturday’s Sabres-Senators game with overtime to go, opting to start its scheduled Preakness horseracing coverage instead. The NHL playoff game turned out to be the clinching game for Eastern Conference champ Ottawa.

Naturally, comparisons with the 1968 Heidi game of NFL (actually AFL) lore are made. Although those comparisons are probably coming from opposing momentums: The Heidi game — more accurately, the forceful reaction it got — represented pro football’s eventual ascendancy to coveted television draw; the (let’s call it) Horsie game, on the other hand, seems to underline the decline for the National Hockey League as a major television sport, with the nadir perhaps yet to come.

I’ll add to the cacophony of online noise over this with a couple of thoughts:

- Since I don’t live in Buffalo or Rochester (Sabres affiliate territory), I was one of those peeved hockey viewers. I think NBC flubbed big on two counts: By mentioning the coverage switch to Versus only once, audio only, in the hurried way it cut off coverage from the game; and again when, through the early part of the Preakness coverage, not running an onscreen scroll or other indicator directing viewers to Versus for the remainder of the NHL game. I myself missed the one-and-only announcement of the channel change, and it was only by luck that I instinctively turned to Versus to discover the hand-off. No question, a shoddy way of handling the situation.

- As far as the properness of NBC cutting off coverage in the first place: The financial commitments are pretty well-known regarding the network’s NHL contract. What’s not as apparent is the Preakness package. Simply put, the race coverage is a couple of hours of infomercial-like segments, featuring a slew of on-camera interviews with sponsor representatives, topped off by the new minutes of the horses running. That’s committed advertiser money, in what’s basically product-placement buys. It may not have been fair of NBC to yield to that financial pressure, but with its overall ratings picture so dismal, it would have been a tough pill to swallow to have to give back chunks of that money in favor of continuing coverage of a low-revenue hockey game.

- It should be noted that this game was originally scheduled as a night game (7 or 8PM). It was moved to the 2PM start specifically at NBC’s request. That makes the pullout more galling. It also makes me wonder why it couldn’t have been scheduled earlier in the afternoon, at noon or 1PM, which would have avoided the whole conflict.

- The popular conspiracy theory suggests that this was a blunt way for the TV guys to tell the league that it needs to ditch OT for the playoffs, and adopt the time-compacted shootout. That doesn’t really make sense in this case, since even a regular-season style short OT and shootout combo still would have encroached upon the Preakness timeslot. I wouldn’t count on seeing a change in playoff overtime format — yet.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 05/22/2007 11:51:03 PM
Category: Hockey, Other Sports, TV
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5 Feedbacks »
  1. Setting aside the financial commitments which I’m sure were the deciding factor, it’s really no surprise - if ESPN would rather air reruns of men with sunglasses staring at each over a poker table for an hour than hockey, why shouldn’t NBC choose the comparatively much more exciting alternative of tiny men riding horses in a circle?

    And I can’t think of an NHL player that would ever merit a posthumous tribute like NBC’s “Barbaro: A Nation’s Horse.”

    Comment by Joel — 05/23/2007 @ 01:55:26 AM

  2. You bring up another potential conspiracy angle, Joel. Recall that, earlier in these NHL playoffs, that Barbaro biopic was knocked off the air thanks to a hockey game that went deep into OT. It was shown at a later date on CNBC, I think, but still, it didn’t air at its original network timeslot.

    Fast forward to this past weekend, when the NHL once again threatened to preempt horseracing — and live horseracing, to boot. Did the horseracing powers-that-be make it known to the network that they’d better not do the same thing twice??

    Last time, pucks won; this time, horses did. I guess you could look at it as even-stevens.

    No NHL player who’s Barbaro-worthy as a tribute? M. Lemieux, W. Gretzky, maybe, when their times come? And ask around Philly, where the name Pelle Lindbergh might still trigger wistful memories.

    Comment by CT — 05/23/2007 @ 01:18:50 PM


    It seems there’s nowhere in North America that’s safe for an NHL telecast. On the heels of NBC’s “horsie game” over the weekend, hockey fans in Manitoba got gypped out of the first two periods of Tuesday’s Western C…

    Trackback by Population Statistic — 05/23/2007 @ 11:41:04 PM

  4. Geez, a conspiracy nut and I don’t even know it - I was unaware that hockey bumped the Barbaro love.

    I wonder if a split-screen would be considered in a situation like this? I guess people would just complain about which event got the audio, but at least you could SEE them both.

    Lemieux and Gretzky sure, but they’re both from the wrong Nation. I’m sure the CBC would be chock full of tributes for those guys, particularly if they were euthanized.

    I just don’t think NBC would see a lot of ratings for “Modano: A Nation’s Center.”

    Comment by Joel — 05/24/2007 @ 01:01:30 AM


    While the following isn’t intended to be a piling-on to last week’s “Horsie Game” brouhaha, it’s probably inspired by it:
    Well over a year ago, when Al Michaels jumped ship from ……

    Trackback by Population Statistic — 05/26/2007 @ 02:53:16 PM

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