A Plea to Versus & The NHL: Stop Insulting Hockey Fans & TV Viewers

Reed KaufmanCorrespondent IOctober 2, 2009

I wrote part of this article exactly a year ago—after the initial NHL broadcasts on Versus made me angry enough to do so. I never published it, hence making it an exercise in "letting off steam."

From October 2008:

Tonight, after watching the coverage of the first two hockey games of the season on Versus, I decided to pay the $160.00 on DirecTV to NOT have to watch any more games on Versus, in fact, virtually any amount would be worth it.

I'm not even going to touch on the two musical performances that have somehow been far worse than any Super Bowl Halftime show that I have been alive for.

The coverage is just awful. We are lucky to see one replay of a goal. I kept waiting for another angle of the Phil Kessel goal to see how he beat Peter Budaj, but it was never shown.

That goal was then credited to Patrice Bergeron in the lower third graphic immediately after, probably because the director cut to a shot of Bergeron after the goal.

But what really tipped me over the edge was the between period highlights—with a black tail tracking the puck! Are you kidding me? Not only is this a TERRIBLE idea, it looks as though it was created with 1980's technology.

I understand that the NHL wants to be on a national network that will give the NHL priority, but I'm sure Public Access would give the NHL priority as well, that doesn't mean it's a good idea.

Versus is terrible at hockey. I couldn't finish watching the All-Star game last year because the directing was awful. I remember that the replays would just hold on a freeze, if the director even showed the appropriate replay.

One of my favorite events of the year was ruined by sub-par TV coverage. But I was willing to give them another try this year, and that lasted approximately five hours. If you want to make it up to me Versus, send me $160.00.

From October 2009:

After watching the premieres this year from Europe, the same feelings were stirred up and I cannot remain quiet.

In the early game from Helsinki, it seems as though there was no broadcast booth in the arena, and the announcers Dave Strader and Billy Jaffe were watching the game from monitors outside of the arena. This of course, is not Versus' fault.

What is their fault, however, is the lack of communication between the control room and the broadcast booth. Several times during the broadcast, the announcers were confused as to what was being displayed over the air.

My feeling is that the technical crew hired by Versus is inexperienced. The director does not seem to know much about hockey, as the wrong replays are usually shown, as well as isolated shots of players that have no relevance to recent plays or comments by the announcers.

Also it is apparent that the replay or "EVS" operators as well as the audio mixers either don't know what they are doing or don't know how to use their respective equipment.

Toward the end of the first period, we were hearing mic checks from the sideline reporter underneath the live audio. No one could figure it out.

Replays are always caught rewinding or on a freeze, if they are the correct video clip.

The game also cut from live action a minimum of twice to a commercial or some other sort of promo.

I understand that Versus does not have the budget of a major network or even a major cable network.

But one would think after FOUR seasons of showcasing hockey, they would have figured out how to do their jobs by now.

What further fuels my fire is the dispute with Comcast and DirecTV.

According to DirecTV's website, "DirecTV was already paying Comcast [who owns Versus] more than any other non-Comcast distributor to air Versus—and now Comcast is demanding an overall rate hike of 20 percent on top of that."

Granted, NHL TV numbers are on the rise in the U.S., but 20 percent? That is absurd. If this is true, wouldn't it seem logical that they could afford to pay some technical TV professionals that know what they are doing?

Versus is denying that any rate increase is on the table, and DirecTV has been publicly bashing the network even though they make users pay for a more expensive sports tier in order to get it.

I have my own personal issues with DirecTV—they wanted to charge me to come fix their service after over 50 percent of my HD channels stopped working. I am now a happy Verizon FiOS customer.

It is clear I am not a huge fan of Versus. They even had an intermission report during the Detroit-St. Louis game shoving the "NHL economics" report featuring Rick Horrow, down our throats, as he continually praised Gary Bettman. This just stunk of a PR effort to convince people that "anyone doubting the NHL as a product is wrong."

I agree with that statement, but during this national TV provider dispute, this was the wrong tactic. I am not as harsh a critic as most people are of Gary Bettman, but this was appalling.

The NHL is to blame for the dispute lasting this long.

If they are serious about working in a partnership with Versus—they have to make every effort to get Versus to the individuals that actually are (or would be) viewers. American audiences have had enough problems locating Versus on their televisions. Now that most of them have, anyone who subscribes to DirecTV (for some it is the only option) now can't receive it at all.

My point here is simple:

Sub-par sports coverage—OR—financial disputes with cable providers are perhaps tolerable separately, as NHL fans realize that it takes a backseat to football and baseball in the U.S.

Dealing with both of these simultaneously is an insult.

Many mainstream sports supporters in the U.S. consider the NHL a joke; this is an example of why.