TV Rules Sports, For Better and For Worse

As if you needed a reminder that TV suits dictate sports scheduling to meet their needs, after waiting three days between NBA playoff games, and an eternity for series to complete, MLB announced World Series schedule changes. Game One will now be Wednesday, which means Game Seven could stretch the season into November.

The reasons are clear, more advertising dollars in prime time on weeknights, then the traditionally less viewed weekend time slots. What TV execs do not care about it is how a team may not play for as much as nine days before starting the series, the equivalent of summer vacation in a sport played almost everyday. Can we expect a team with a weeklong layoff to be at peak performance? The other negative is the weather. After just enduring a two-week period in early April that made Cheeseheads in Green Bay cringe, baseball is going to allow the most important games of the season be played under potentially adverse conditions. How much fun was that 1997 World Series in Cleveland? Speaking from late October experience, its not too much fun watching baseball with frostbite threatening your toes, and the thought of getting up for work in a mere hours. Another decision clearly driven by money and television, with total disregard for the fans, the players, and the product on the field. So much for an afternoon baseball game.

On the other side of the coin, NBC’s decision to cut away from NHL playoff hockey in favor of pre-race coverage of the Preakness was a fan-friendly decision. Hockey fans may not agree, but the numbers are clear, the horse race received a 5.3 rating and the hockey game a 1.4. NBC made more than three times as many people happy then they upset. If you can not please everyone, at least please the majority. While the motives were clearly money and contractual obligations, NBC scored one for the fans.

Hockey needs to take a long look at this decision and ponder reality. The sport has no television appeal in the US, and subsequently makes no money from TV in the States. Instead of compromising its playoff schedule in exchange for little public exposure and treatment like a redheaded stepchild, the league should ditch broadcast television and go exclusively cable, and perhaps be the first to go online for the playoffs. No matter what it thinks hockey is no longer, if it ever was, a big time sport. It should focus on catering to its niches and screw the big networks.

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