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An Open Letter To ESPN Regarding Their Hockey Coverage

Know who this guy is? If you watch ESPN, you probably don't know much.
Know who this guy is? If you watch ESPN, you probably don't know much.

Dear ESPN,

Good morning. I hope you've recovered well from your post-ESPYs party. I feel compelled this morning to relay a question you may have missed from that night, while you were busy partying and whatnot. The question comes from the Twitter feed of Mike Commodore of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and it was brought up during your 'Best Male Athlete" award:

 Question...the espy's have an award for male athlete of the year, do they not? If they do who is up for it?

(original tweet)

Good question, Mike. This year, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Jimmie Johnson, Albert Pujols, and Drew Brees were nominated. Brees won. 

Ok, brees is deserving...but how is a guy who won best olympic forward, oly gold, stanley cup and cup mvp not nominated? J Toews. 

He won all of that in 2010...can't tell me any of those nominees accomplished more in their sport then Toews did in hockey.

Can't argue with that logic. You make a very fair point, Mr. Commodore. Jonathon Toews earned more hardware this year than all other nominees combined. There has to be SOME reason he was left off.....

I hear u guys, I know the answer too...nhl isn't on espn's's more then just a little embarrassing.

 Ah yes, that's the reason. So, ESPN, what say you? How does it feel to know that an entire sport feels embarrassed by the lack of coverage it receives from your network? Maybe it doesn't really affect you that much, but it should. Because you're not doing your job. 

To me, as the self-proclaimed 'Worldwide Leader' of sports coverage, you should be giving an equal amount of coverage to every sport. Right now, you're doing the bare minimum. 

Compare the amount of coverage hockey receives on a weekly basis compared to basketball on your network. I tend to lump the two sports together because both run on nearly the same timeline: both are in offseason, both are in free agency, and both will begin their seasons at roughly the same time. So logically, both sports should be receiving nearly the same amount of coverage. 

So let's look at your basketball coverage, shall we? Over the last month since free agency started, you have devoted nearly four segments per 45 minutes of your morning Sportscenters to NBA free agency. Yes, the LeBron thing was big. But for the first week or two into free agency, nothing news worthy was happening at all. Only rumors like "I talked to my mother and she said she heard from the Starbucks waiter that Lebron was fond of green pillow cases" were happening. Meanwhile, NHL free agents were being signed all over the place. Dan Hamhuis signed. Evgeni Nabokov left for Russia. Mike Modano left Dallas. And Kovalchuk, oh the Kovalchuk drama. 

And yet you felt the unconfirmed speculative 'reports' were worth running with over actual, you know, news. Okay then. 

Speaking to ESPN Ombudsman Don Ohlmeyer, ESPN Vice President of studio production Mark Gross rebutted: 

Gross defended the network's commitment to insightful NHL coverage, citing several examples, including the length of highlights for major hockey events. On New Year's Day, even with the college football bowl frenzy, Gross noted that the network ran a highlight from the NHL Winter Classic spanning nearly five minutes, "the second longest-treatment of any single game in the show that night." On Super Bowl Sunday, "SportsCenter" ran a two-minute hockey highlight from the Pittsburgh-Washington showdown featuring Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.

Alright, I'll give you that. You, ESPN, deserve credit for dedicating a five-minute highlight to the most gimmicky NHL event of the year, and for showing a highlight of the two most recognizable athletes in hockey. 

But that's partly why you're derided so much in the hockey community. Die-hard hockey fans don't enjoy all the Crosby-Ovechkin love, in fact, many of them dislike it. I've had numerous conversations with fans who think most of ESPN's audience believe there are only two players in hockey. I wouldn't call that outstanding coverage. 

Anyways, Ohlmeyer went on:

There's little question that hockey got more attention on ESPN when the network carried the games and the sport had its own nightly show. Did the NHL occasionally get an undeserved preference on "SportsCenter" because of the network-league relationship? Probably, but at the same time, with a nightly NHL show, "SportsCenter" also might have considered using its slots for another sport.

Two things here. First, I'd like to point out that ESPN has a 30-minute nightly show for the NFL, MLB, and NBA. Heck, even NASCAR. No such show exists for the NHL. I think this is a big part of the complaint many fans have towards your network regarding your hockey coverage. Because there is no NHL show, the only avenue hockey fans have to see their sport on your network is via SportsCenter. As Ohlmeyer points out, a nightly NHL show would allow SportsCenter to open up slots to cover the other sports more without worrying about hockey. But the same should be for shows like NBA Shootaround. Since the NBA has their own show on your network, wouldn't it make sense that hockey should then receive more coverage on SportsCenter than what basketball is now? If you're not willing to give the NHL its own show, then it should get higher priority on your highlights shows than it currently is. It only makes sense. 

My second issue is this, and it's more of a personal issue I've had with your network. It's painfully obvious that ESPN gives top priority to the sports that will be shown or sponsored by their network. Golf, basketball and (with Monday Night Football on ESPN) are all on the top of the list and will often dominate your coverage for days at a time. I understand this, and I understand that's just how the industry works in television. But as a sports fan, I don't like it. I despise it, actually. You say your responsibility is to cover the top sports news and events of the day. That's great for average sports fans who just want to skim the surface of the news. 

But for the other, more educated fans, we don't want to skim the surface. We want in-depth coverage of our sports, and that's why we've moved on from your network to the NHL Network, MLB Network, and NFL Network. We are no longer your audience. And frankly, I hope we don't have to be again. I don't want the NHL to return to ESPN, because I don't want my sport's coverage to be dumbed down so the more general audience can understand. I enjoy the NHL Network, and I'm guessing the players do too, because it CAN go in-depth and is wholly dedicated to what the audience wants, not what will earn them the most money. 

So yes, Mr. Commodore considers your coverage of his sport 'embarrassing'. But as someone said on Twitter that night:

"Don't worry. No self-respecting hockey fan watches ESPN."

Amen, and Viva La NHL Network. 


Pat Iversen