ESPN doesn’t hate hockey, or so it claims

The question was direct.

“Why does ESPN hate hockey?” I asked Vince Doria, ESPN’s senior vice-president and director of news.

Doria tried to suppress a frustrated laugh. He protested, “We don’t hate hockey.”

Hockey fans, though, know ESPN definitely doesn’t love their sport. There’s a limited presence on SportsCenter since its networks no longer carry games. You won’t find the First Take guys talking much about the Phoenix Coyotes.

According to Deadspin’s Bristolmetrics, which tracks SportsCenter’s dedicated time to a particular sport, hockey accounted for 4.7 percent of its coverage from Jan. 7-April 26. The NBA, meanwhile, had 23.4 percent. Hockey couldn’t even beat “other,” which had 8.8. percent.

Now to be fair, ESPN has raised its hockey allotment during the playoffs. Last week, hockey rose to 15 percent. However, a big part of that might have been due to the New York Rangers winning their series in seven games. Nothing like an iconic New York team to get ESPN excited.

Doria admits ESPN won’t ever get too pumped up about hockey. In a recent Q/A with Doria, he explains why hockey doesn’t move the meter in Bristol.

Why does ESPN hate hockey?

Doria: We don’t hate hockey. When I worked in Boston (as sports editor of the Boston Globe), I probably went to more Bruins games than Celtics. There’s probably not a better in-the-house sport than hockey. Watching it live. My own personal feeling is that it never transferred well to television. I’m not exactly sure why that is.

Why does hockey get a limited presence on SportsCenter?

Doria: It’s a sport that engenders a very passionate local following. If you’re a Blackhawks fan in Chicago, you’re a hardcore fan. But it doesn’t translate to television, and where it really doesn’t transfer much to is a national discussion, which is something that typifies what we do.

Baseball fans are interested where Albert Pujols is going. NBA fans are interested in the Miami Heat. For whatever reason, and this is my unsubstantiated research on it, hockey doesn’t generate that same kind of interest nationwide. You look at national talk shows. Hockey rarely is a topic. People in Boston aren’t that interested with what’s going on with the Blackhawks.

Would it be different if you were a rights holder?

Doria: Well, we were at one time. It wasn’t that different. Listen, I guess if we were rights holder, there probably would be a little more attention paid to it. It’s typical that would happen. We might throw it to commentators who were inside the building. Now we’re not inside the building.

Even though ESPN doesn’t have hockey, you decided to keep Barry Melrose. Why?

Doria: When we lost it, we wanted to keep a hockey presence. We wanted to keep Barry, the best there is in my mind. But now the only place to put Barry is on SportsCenter. If you look at the first few years, after we lost hockey, Barry probably was on SportsCenter more after we lost it than when we had hockey.

Before, he would appear on NHL Tonight. Sometimes, we’d put him on SportsCenter. But there was no real demand to put him on SportsCenter. NHL Tonight was his job, and they’d do all the highlights.

NBC Sports Network has locked up hockey for a long time. What’s going to be ESPN’s approach to the sports going forward?

Doria: We’ll be out at the Stanley Cup. If you watch our show, we do highlights and report scores.

But if you go to our radio and television shows, there’s not a lot of hockey talk. It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of yammer out there to give us hockey talk.



18 thoughts on “ESPN doesn’t hate hockey, or so it claims

  1. As a casual hockey fan who only really pays attention in the post-season, I think this guy is right on. Hockey has never been a big draw on a national level in the U.S. (either on TV or sports talk), and it never will be. 4 minutes with Melrose on SportsCenter works for me.

    • He sounds like a jealous kid that can’t have what they want. “Oh that girl that said no to prom with me? She was ugly anyway, she probably won’t even get a date.”

      That was such a pathetic excuse. Hockey fans, as much as I and mostly everyone else trash talks them, care about how Crosby and Ovi are doing, the goalie situation up in Vancouver, the sell of the Coyotes but because ESPN doesn’t care about the NHL, they act like no one cares about the NHL. So the NHL is getting record ratings these playoffs and that is without the big markets of Chicago, Boston and Detroit. How does that show people don’t care about hockey unless its their team?

      ESPN, stop being a joke. Stop ramming down our throats Tebow, Lebron, Baseball and actually cover a sport like a real journalist would. I could give two SH!TS about Tebow right now or the draft, i don’t care about game three of the Heat/Knicks which the heat should win, I care about a triple OT game in the second round of the playoffs… and I know a lot of people not in NY or WAS did to!

      • I agree. Every hockey fan I know watches ANY game they can, not just their team. If my team isn’t playing I get just as into any other game. Hockey has some great rivalries where it’s almost as rewarding to watch your rivals to lose as it is for your team to win.

        Regardless of who is playing in the playoffs, no sport will ever come close to playoff hockey. It puts other sports to shame. And I watch most every sport, NBA, NFL, PGA, MLL, I enjoy it all, but nothing compares to the NHL, especially the playoffs.

        That being said I don’t care if ESPN doesn’t show hockey highlights, I gave up on ESPN a long time ago. Couldn’t stand watching it. I’d much rather watch the NHL network all day than ESPN.

    • I agree. As a die-hard fan, I almost prefer to read/watch something very home-team-centric. Maybe I am a bit of a homer and only want to here good stuff, but the bad stuff is interesting, too. I have the Center Ice package, but never watch a game other than my favorite team…

  2. Well of course there isn’t demand. It is as if McDonald’s used to carry hamburgers, then dropped most of them from the menu and just carried one type at lunch. Then they say “of course we don’t carry many different kinds of hamburgers, there isn’t the interest.” To my mind, an all-sports network should cover all sports. If it doesn’t, it’s not doing its job.

  3. Sounds like a Catch-22. No US tv exposure means no national radio interest.
    But missing from this discussion is the topic of fighting. The perception is that fighting remains in hockey to appease the American fans. Wondering if ESPN would be more interested if fighting was eliminated: as hockey is a non-fighting sport where fisticuffs are almost encouraged?

  4. “People in Boston aren’t that interested with what’s going on with the Blackhawks.”

    That’s just false. Most people in real NHL cities (and by “real” NHL cities I mean places like Chicago and Boston and Detroit and St. Louis and Minneapolis, etc.) are pretty interested in the NHL in general. You listen to sports talk in Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis and they’ll talk about the big NHL stories of the day. Maybe that’s not the case in LA or some of these other new-wave hockey cities.

    But, for example, a few weeks ago when Raffi Torres got his 25-game suspension or whatever it was, I’d hear general sports-talk shows in other Midwestern cities discussing it and tying it back to the whole NHL violence thing in general (I have no idea if this is correct but I’ll cities on the East Coast also had some interest in it).

    So basically, this guy is full of crap.

  5. Hockey “doesn’t transfer well to television?” Gee, it sure as hell does in Canada. Perhaps hockey just doesn’t transfer well to the pointy heads in Bristol? Or, it doesn’t make them as much money as they would like? That would be a more honest response.

  6. ESPN can’t admit, even to itself, that it burned bridges with hockey fans. We have engaged at a national level, but we’ve done so entirely outside of ESPN’s empire. (If it isn’t happening on The Worldwide Leader in Sports…)

    Doria is delusional if he thinks that asking the producers of SportsCenter, Around The Horn, and PTI to add more hockey content during the playoffs, after ignoring the sport during the regular season, is enough to bring hockey fans back. There’s plenty of lip service, but nothing that indicates that they’re willing to repair their relationship with us.

  7. The hockey doesn’t translate to tv goes back to the days of standard definition on 19″ tv’s in 4:3. Hockey is amazing on big screen 16:9 HDTV’s not at all uncommon in most homes now. The action in the game is easy to follow for even novices to the sport and the energy of the sport is obvious. Sounds like ESPN feels like they own the ball (or the puck) and are willing to go home with it so that sports fans can’t play.

  8. That whole “not transfer well on TV” was accurate when ESPN had hockey. Now, with HD it absolutely transfers well. It’s very easy to follow the puck on a 15″, it’s like a football on a 42″. ESPN is as outdated as their statements.

  9. Hockey doesn’t transfer well to television?? Is this guy serious? Hockey is the best sport to watch in HD. No contest. I think HDTV is one of the main reasons for the NHL’s recent ratings surge. ESPN can be comical at times.

  10. PTI actually talks a lot about hockey. First Take doesn’t because Skip has openly said that he doesn’t enjoy hockey and as such doesn’t watch it.

    In the ESPN Book, the PTI guys always talked about how they wanted to be independent of Bristol. I wonder if this is why their show seems to talk more hockey than all other shows. They are clearly hockey fans.

  11. There isn’t much that needs to be said beyond the fact that ESPN doesn’t hold NHL broadcast rights at the moment. They are a corporate marketing machine disguised as sports network and, as such, they are going to push their products (NFL, MLB, NBA, etc.) much more strongly than others’ products (i.e. NHL). From a business perspective, it doesn’t make much sense to give free exposure to any other sports/programming that might diminish their own market share. If they wanted to be taken seriously as journalists (which is decidedly NOT the case among anyone who actually knows what journalism is), they would actually spend an amount of time on hockey commensurate with its relative popularity.

    Despite being a die-hard Blackhawks/hockey-in-general fan, I must concede that hockey is #4 in national popularity among the ‘big four’ major league team sports. NFL and MLB are clearly the top two, but I find it very hard to believe that the interest gap between the NBA and NHL is as big as ESPN would have anyone believe. In addition, ESPN also pays a lot more attention to golf, NASCAR, and soccer than it does to the NHL. Now, I am a soccer fan, but to say that the audience just isn’t there for NHL despite giving the amount of attention they do to those 3 sports is just b.s./sour grapes, plain and simple. It’s not unreasonable to make the generalizations that golf only matters to relatively prosperous white people and that NASCAR basically doesn’t matter outside of the South. Also, soccer, despite what I’ve heard about its growing popularity in the USA, still faces significant opposition from the meathead/short attention span/unwilling-to-make-an-effort-to-understand-the-sport crowd.

    As a hockey fan, I couldn’t care less that the NHL gets short shrift at ESPN. I don’t ever need to hear obnoxious morons like Berman and Stuart Scott talking about my favorite sport, and, despite the presence of Barry Melrose’s mullet, I’m confident that the quality of any in-depth analysis offered by a network that would employ people like Berman/Scott would be embarrassing anyway.

  12. I dont miss ESPN one bit. NBCSports has done an excellent job and gives more coverage than ESPN ever did. I dont remember the last time I watched ESPN and could care less what they do on that network.

  13. I am so glad I’m not the only one who notices this. This is a deliberate attempt by ESPN to downplay a sport they don’t cover. I don’t watch ESPN much anymore for the fact that they don’t cover hockey.

  14. I want to be the first to make a point that the lack of coverage, quite possibly, could be for a number of reasons. As previously stated, marketing, money, and dishonest ratings/popularity could be enough for me to understand, but I feel it goes deeper than that. I continue to watch ESPN to try and see exactly what it is that they want me to see instead of hockey. What I have found is what sparked national news back in 2003 when Rush Limbaugh resigned due to pressure after his comments that the media chooses to cover more successful black athletes than white athletes. I know this may sound off track at first, but if you were to really examine what ESPN has covered since then you may realize he may have been close to the truth.

    I implore you to do some research, as I have, and examine for yourself, and see if there is any validity to what I am writing. This year proved to be of sound evidence that the NBA will continue to take preference over the NHL for some time. This year’s NBA lockout of over 100 days showed that despite the obvious lack of games to watch for the NBA, the NHL still had little or no coverage during the month of November when the MLB playoffs were over and the only sport being played and in contention for air time was the NFL.(a sport played 90% on one day of the week) Then I had to look even further back into the ESPN 2011 vault for the begining of the season in which the only NHL story covered was the situation in Toronto between Wayne Simmonds and a fan who threw a banana at him on the ice. This was a preseason game, they only talked about the incident itself, they didn’t even mention the final score of the game.

    Every year the NHL puts on one hell of a show in the Winter Classic. This is a proven ratings winner every year. This year proved to be even more proof of the NHL’s popularity when they rescheduled the game around the NFL and still came out on top in the ratings. When you looked to ESPN for coverage, they treated it like a regular game in that they showed a few highlights and very little comentary. While any special events for other sports gain much media attention.

    I feel very strong in my findings that ESPN’s lack of coverage of the NHL is due to the lack of black male athletes in the sport. I feel race has become such a major issue in sports because of the media and companies like ESPN. Their apparent endeavors to promote a better example of the black athlete is not satisfied in the NHL to their liking, and therefore will not attract the mainstream media’s attention.

  15. This feels like crap to me. I heard that the NHL estimates half of their fans are out-of-market. Maybe they aren’t just focused on one or two teams like the NFL (Cowboys), MLB (Yankees, maybe Cardinals in the Midwest) and NBA (Lakers and Heat).

Leave a Reply to Joe Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *