NHL All-Star Game Goes Unwatched, and It's Easy to See Why

Adam AmickSenior Writer IFebruary 2, 2007

IconIn case you missed it, last Wednesday night the NHL held its not-exactly annual All-Star Game at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.  

What? You didn't know it was on?
That's not surprising, since apparently neither did most of the people who watched the last All-Star Game in 2004.  According to reports, household viewership this year was down 76 percent.
In fact, ratings for the game were so bad in the United States that the Associated Press took note with a story titled, "All Star Game draws measly 0.7 rating on Versus."  The AP's coverage of this news is telling: someone either doesn't like the NHL, or doesn't know how to do his job.  And the fact that an editor allowed this through is no shocker either, considering how slanted the AP's political coverage is.
The article, posted on Yahoo! Sports and ESPN.com, is very quick to talk about how poor the ratings were across the U.S. -- save for Buffalo and Pittsburgh -- but fails to mention the actual story:
According to the article, viewership in Canada was up six percent.  Okay, so this isn't big news, since hockey is life in the Great White North.  But still, what gives?  Why the enormous discrepancy in viewer numbers?
Since the AP writer failed to do his job and tell you the "why" of the story, I will.
One word: Versus. Who? Oh, yeah — the network formerly known as OLN (Outdoor Life Network).
Get NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on the phone — he's fired!  He should have paid ESPN to take the NHL back onto airwaves that reach the majority of American homes.  Poker, billiards, and bowling have taken up valuable air time on ESPN that hockey could be utilizing. Heck, NBC could have covered the All-Star Game, since they have a contract to cover a handful of regular season  matchups, but they chose not to.
I find it inexcusable that the AP writer didn't even mention why so few people watched the game:
Nobody has Versus!
I had to pull a fast one and upgrade my Dish Network deal from the Top 120 to the Top 180 just to get the NHL All-Star Game, for God's sake!  So I called Dish up and asked, "How can I get Versus for four hours to watch the game?"  The woman was very helpful: upgrade my account, then pay a five dollar service fee to downgrade it.  Five bucks for the game...Okay, I'll take it!

So yes, I got to see the NHL All-Star Game on Versus.  But the fact that you need top-end satellite or cable packages to get the NHL is unacceptable.  It doesn't bode well for Mr. Bettman, and considering all that the NHL has done to improve its image after the 2004-2005 season was cancelled, he deserves to be unemployed.  Yes, attendance at NHL games is up.  The games are great.  But if no one gets the network that carries the league, what difference does it make?

After Bettman's dismissal, the Associated Press writer who penned the story needs to go back to school.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure why ratings were off when Versus reaches so few homes in the U.S.  On the flip side, Canadian Broadcasting reaches EVERY home in Canada — and so everyone could watch the game.  I wouldn't be surprised if most viewers in Buffalo and Pittsburgh actually watched it on CBC, being that they're so close to the border.

So shame on the AP writer for not at least mentioning the lack of coverage that Versus has in the U.S.  Yes, the NHL deserves a major penalty for negotiating a contract with such a no-name network, and Gary Bettman deserves a game misconduct for being an idiot. But for a journalist to neglect the last of the five "W's" of writing (who, what, when, where and why, in case you forgot grade school)
He deserves to be sent down to the minors.