NHL TV Coverage: Why VERSUS?

WoooooSenior Writer IMay 16, 2008

If you have read any of my articles throughout this NHL season and/or postseason, you are familiar with my utter distaste for the VERSUS network.

From the on-air broadcasters to the in-studio analysts, VERSUS continues to treat hockey fans in the States (at least the vast majority of those that I have talked to) to sub-par broadcasts on a weekly basis.

Previously known as OLN, or the Outdoor Life Network, VERSUS was previously focused on outdoor sports. Then, after the NHL lockout season, VERSUS signed a two-year contract with the NHL, and in 2007, the two entities extended their contract through the 2010-11 season.

VERSUS is owned by Comcast, which is headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Perhaps this offers justification as to why every television personality employed in the NHL sector of the network seems to favor the Flyers every time their games are covered.

This may also be one reason why the network is a joke—I mean really, what more could anyone expect from anything stationed in Philly?

While the availability of the VERSUS network has expanded over the past few years, there are still many people scattered around the country whose cable package doesn't even include the channel.

In one way, I envy all of you. But in another way, it just doesn't seem right that you should have to special order the channel or resort to an internet live feed to watch your team play.

Such play-by-play studs as Mike "Doc" Emrick and Joe Beninati fill the ears of viewers with their cartoon-character voices and overuse of big words on a weekly basis.

You're calling a hockey game, not giving a speech before Congress. Call the game, and leave out the word choice that implies you have received a college education.

To compliment their play-by-play counterparts, VERSUS has assembled an even more pathetic assembly of color commentators and in-studio analysts. Led by Eddie "I used to coach the Pittsburgh Penguins, but I got fired" Olcyzk and Billy Jaffe, these guys do their part to remind us that they are collecting a paycheck for offering their pointless opinions on national television.

In the studio, Bill Patrick, Keith Jones, and Brian "the 80s called and they want their mullet back" Engblom offer in-depth analysis during intermissions, and pre/post-game editions of Hockey Central.

I will admit that while the studio guys do offer a much needed break from Emrick and Beninati's pointless in-game ramblings, they don't do much to offer stats and facts, but rather bombard us with their vast array of mid-season/end of season/playoffs/career awards.

Does anyone really go to bed at night wondering which three players Keith Jones would want on his third line?

VERSUS has seen a steady increase in ratings over the past two seasons, however if the number of people who mute the television to watch the game, but flip on their local radio station to listen to a real announcer (enter Mike Lange) was taken into account, ratings may actually be shown to have decreased.

Maybe I'm all alone on this one, but I would much rather sit down and watch/listen to a game on my local FSN Pittsburgh station that have to spend three hours wondering how Mike Emrick is considered a good announcer while trying to follow the game at the same time.

The local stations carry the load for the majority of the regular season, but are pushed aside by the second round of the playoffs. Something doesn't seem right with that picture.

I know the NHL, like everything nowadays, is a business, and the rights to broadcast games are bought and sold like loaves of bread. But wouldn't it be nice to be able to choose between tuning into your local station, or contemplating repeatedly stabbing yourself in the ears with a sharp object while watching a VERSUS telecast during the playoffs?

While I do realize the importance of national broadcasts to the further growth of the NHL in the United States, it baffles me to think that these guys are the best that our beloved league has to offer.