In professional sports, in all leagues, there are certain franchises that will always get a large share of the national media attention. It's just the way it is and always will be -- we know that the Yankees, Red Sox & Cardinals will get most of the baseball coverage, that the Celtics, Heat and Lakers get the attention in the NBA and in the NFL it's always going to be the Cowboys, Patriots, Packers and whichever team Peyton Manning plays for. It's just the nature of the business.
That means that teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Utah Jazz, and the Buffalo Bills will always get short shrift in national coverage and attention. This is partly to do with franchise success (national coverage will always migrate towards perennial winners) and mostly to do with fanbase sizes and market sizes; after all, national media coverage is a business and ratings are what is most important and despite what fans may think -- national games between the Bills and Oakland Raiders won't exactly get much attention.
This brings us to the national coverage of the NHL, which is essentially split into two parts.
Canadian teams have TSN and CBC and Rogers, which focuses almost entirely on teams located north of the border. Which makes sense. In the United States, we have NBC...and that's it.
National coverage of the NHL has come a long way since the dark days of 2005, when games could be found on something called the "Outdoor Life Network" and then Versus, which was then bought out and became NBCSN. In theory this was a great situation, a network whose flagship coverage would revolve around the NHL and the league had a network that could dedicate a large amount of its coverage to hockey, and not be as spread around as coverage on ESPN or other networks might be.
The problem is that, as countless hockey fans have noted over the years, this national coverage has been remarkably skewed once again to only a select few teams. The Blackhawks, Capitals, Bruins, Penguins, Red Wings and Rangers are all US-based teams that receive more than 90% of the attention by these broadcasts, as evidenced by the amount of national games involving these teams as well as which teams are chosen each year for the Winter Classic (in seven Classics, only nine different teams have appeared).
The business behind these decisions, in theory, makes sense. The NHL is trying to build ratings and NBC is paying for those ratings, and the numbers say that more people will tune in to see Sidney Crosby and the Penguins than they will Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks. Even the LA Kings don't get the same amount of attention as the Blackhawks or East Coast teams, despite their success over the past five years.
The biggest problem that we're facing now is that when teams other than the big, bad national franchises are featured -- the coverage is laughably bad, factually incorrect and skewed so far in favor of the "more popular" team that it takes away almost all the credibility of the national coverage the NHL holds so dear.
On Sunday evening, with Dave Strader and Brian Engblom providing the national commentary for the Dallas Stars taking on the Chicago Blackhawks, the number of factual errors that were reported -- along with names being outright wrong -- were far, far too many for a legitimate national broadcast to be acceptable.
This is a serious problem for the NHL and NBC and if it's happening to the Stars, it's happening to every other team not named the Capitals or Penguins that just so happens to be so lucky to get featured on NBC or NBCSN.
Hearing Antoine Roussel referred to as "Dominic" was amusing the first time it happened -- two years ago. That it continued last season, and then occurred several times again on Sunday evening, is downright unfathomable. That we had references to "John Klingman" and "Jordan Benn" and "Brad Ritchie" is also, to be completely honest, absolutely ridiculous.
Who's Dominic?— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) January 5, 2015
Mispronouncing some names in hockey will happen. Stumbling over player names will happen sometimes. Getting names completely wrong is unacceptable -- and there is no excuse that the announcers "just aren't used to the Stars or know the players." This is supposed to be the premier national broadcast platform for the NHL in the United States, and players names are being stated wrongly again and again and again.
On top of that, there were several questionable "facts" about the players that were reported during the game. Jyrki Jokipakka was apparently demoted to the AHL because of poor play*, and Jamie Benn apparently scores almost all of his goals from within just a few feet of the net. Because we're unable to replay the full broadcast until 48 hours after the game I can't go back and list them all, but there are always several times throughout these games when something about the Stars gets reported and fans respond with a "huh?"
While this was amusing to discuss and deride on Twitter in the moment, the fact is this is a serious issue for the NHL. When you combine these constant errors (which have occurred across multiple broadcasts) with the fact that the broadcast itself is skewed in favor of the Hawks (or Red Wings or Penguins or whichever team is not named the Stars) then you have a problem with the perception of how those teams are being treated by the league as a whole.
The Blackhawks are a great franchise, there's no doubting that. Yet in a game where the national broadcast is more "homer" than the Hawks own coverage, where the Stars players names are completely wrong and facts are misreported, and where the Hawks have been penalized just once in the past two games (compared to seven for Dallas) it's plainly easy to see why fans around the league are getting sick and tired of this insanely skewed attention in favor of only a select number of teams.
What's troubling is that if NBC is getting these facts about the Stars wrong, that means we can't trust what is being reported for other teams as well. How many fans of other teams have expressed the same frustration and anger as the Stars fans did on Sunday night?
Perception is everything in this world, and right now the perception is the NHL is only interested in promoting and riding the backs of a handful of teams around the league.
There's a reason why the ratings for the Winter Classic this season, featuring the Capitals and Blackhawks, were very disappointing compared to years past. There's a national fatigue with having the same teams shoved down NHL fans' throats again and again, and then when their own team is finally given attention the broadcast apparently can't even be bothered to do their homework to get the players and facts right.
It's getting to the point of embarrassment for the NHL, but there doesn't seem to be any sign of anything changing in the future. The same teams have been the focus of the NHL for the past 8 years or so, and not much is going to change moving forward in which teams get the majority of the attention. But if the NHL wants to be taken seriously nationally, being able to report the facts and get actual player names correct should at least be some sort of priority.
*To be fair to NBC, Lindy Ruff referred to Jokipakka being assigned to the AHL as a way to help him build more confidence. That's not the same as a "demotion for poor performance," however.