Today the puck dropped on the 2009 hockey season. Yes, hockey is the youngest smallest brother of the major 4 sports but its still a major sport.
Just not enough to be ESPN……or actually on DirectTV.
Local fans can find their games on a local sports provider, but the national television rights are split between NBC (broadcasts very few games only after football season), Versus, and the new and mostly unknown NHL network.
I often find myself extremely interested in these network vs. cable/satellite provider pissing matches for distribution. I closely followed the Big Ten Networks push onto Comcast and Time Warner after a year of missing out distribution on those providers. Found myself awed by the politics involving Comcast and the NFL Networks ongoing pissing match. Of late have been surprised yet enlightened by the emmergence of league owned channels like MLB Network, NHL Network, etc. Click Read More
Let’s be real though, all of these channels combined don’t add up to the viewership of ESPN. ESPN has gone from a single TV channel to a sports media conglomerate with strong market share in radio, print, online, and TV (4 channels). They’re even creeping up in the blog game although I think they’re missing the mark.
Comcast, which owns Versus, has lusted for a large media entity to go along with their growing cable business. Since failing to acquire Disney (owner of ESPN), Comcast has launched Versus (formally OLN), purchased local Fox Sports affiliates, made competitive bids for NFL programming, and procured both college football and NHL games for their budding Versus.
All was well with Versus being a major content deal away from being a viable second fiddle to ESPN.
Unfortunately though, DirectTV dropped Versus from its programming in early September. Most believed that this would only be a temporary thing as the NHL hockey season was a month away.
Fast forward to today as DirectTV and Comcast continued to negotiate but were unable to get a deal done to carry the network across DirectTV’s 24 million households.
All was not lost though as DirectTV replaced this harsh rhetoric with something a little bit more friendly.
The odd thing though is that DirectTV has historically been the one entity to avoid these sport network distribution pitfalls. You usually called them because they have every sports channel and if you were shit out of luck having availability of a certain channel, they were the best option to get your fix.
Making this more intriguing is that Comcast is now rumored to be buying a controlling stake in NBC Universal. That would entail NBC, Universal Studios, and a bunch of cable networks like Bravo, USA, and Sci Fi.
Fox owns a part of DirectTV and successfully negotiated carriage of the Big Ten Network on Comcast over a year ago. Maybe Comcast feels Fox should lean on DirectTV to return the favor? Maybe DirectTV was ready to come to the table and meet Comcast’s demands but got a little spooked by the news that if this acquisition of NBC U goes through, they are going to have to be dealing with the same guys much more often.
As for the NHL and hockey fans, you know they are pissed. Obviously the NHL has leaned on both sides to no avail and is probably seething that 24 million households did not have the opportunity to watch opening night.
Hockey fans are a passionate bunch and actually the NHL had better attendance then the NBA last year. DirectTV is probably losing some customers and are probably fielding an influx of calls from pissed off customers. The rumor is that if you bitch and scream enough, they’ll give you the NHL Center Ice package for free or at least very cheap. (To do this you call and say you want to talk to customer retention. From there you act really pissed off, say you have Comcast cable installation scheduled…..thank me later).
So the question is, how long will this last?
My guess is less than a week with the NHL and college football coverage falling into a black hole right now. You can bet the NHL is not going to let this drag out and will start to become more active in ushering both companies to a resolution.