The other day one of the posters on the blog expressed surprise—and I guess a little bit of delight—that I still spend time in the car flipping around on the AM radio to find different stations and different games.
It’s true. I know I should have satellite radio but I should also probably have a blackberry and I don’t have one of those either. I can text if I have absolutely need to but I’m more likely to just dial the phone because it’s a lot easier.
The radio has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid and the Mets or Yankees played late at night on the west coast, I’d take my transistor, put it under my pillow and listen to the game until I fell asleep. There was only one FM radio in my parent’s apartment and, as I mentioned yesterday, I’d use it frequently to listen to college basketball games—especially when my parents were out at night and I could sit on the bed with pretzel sticks and a coke while I listened. That was heaven—until my dad found the crumbs.
My car radio is always set—even during the offseason—on stations that I know carry baseball teams. At night, more often than not, I can pick up the Mets and Yankees; the Red Sox; the Phillies; the Indians; the White Sox and, on a clear night, the Cubs and Cardinals. I used to be able to pick up the Orioles and Tigers but they moved away from the clear AM channels they were on in recent years.
Even though I listen to hockey on the radio—bringing back boyhood memories of Marv Albert doing Ranger games—it isn’t the same as baseball. Even college basketball isn’t the same as listening to a baseball game. Life in the car just wouldn’t be the same if I could pick up every single baseball game for a price. I have the baseball package on TV; love the baseball package, especially because it saves me from having to watch the Nationals and Orioles every night (one can only take hearing Rob Dibble call the Nats, “we, us and our guys,” while complaining about every ball and strike call for so long) but there will always be a part of me that misses my boyhood when the NBC game of the week on Saturday was a big deal because it gave you a chance to see teams from other cities play.
All of this is a lead up to talking about hockey. The other day—evening actually—I was in the car and picked up WFAN coming out of New York which has as strong a 50,000 watt signal as any station in the country. I have, at times, picked it up loud and clear in Florida.
Mike Francesa was on. I’ve said before that there is a lot I don’t like about Francesa. He’s arrogant beyond belief, frequently rude to his callers, can’t interview anyone without interrupting and screams at anyone who has the nerve to disagree with him on any subject.
That said, he’s good radio a lot of the time. Because of WFAN’s power, he gets good guests, aided by the fact that the station pays so many coaches and athletes to make regular appearances. He’s also bright, though not nearly as bright as he thinks he is.
The subject was Olympic hockey. A caller brought up the fact that the U.S.-Canada game Sunday night had gotten huge cable ratings and that if the U.S. makes the gold medal game, especially if it plays Canada (he mentioned Russia too at the time) the ratings should go through the roof. My guess is NBC will find a way to show a figure skating exhibition between periods, but so be it.
The caller wondered if the NHL would get a boost from the success the U.S. was having and because the hockey was drawing viewers it doesn’t normally draw. Francesa immediately cut him off (surprise) and said the success of the hockey wouldn’t help the NHL’s ratings on NBC one bit and that Olympic hockey, including 1980, had never helped ratings.
In fact he’s wrong about that. Interest in hockey soared after Lake Placid. Youth hockey grew tremendously, attendance went up in non-original six cities where it had been lagging and the NHL actually over-expanded because it was so encouraged by what it was seeing. There was also a spike after the U.S. played well in the 1994 Olympics, so much so that Sports Illustrated ran a cover story labeling hockey as the next ‘it,’ sport. Then the owners locked the players out at the start of the next season and hockey ceased to be ‘it,’ pretty much before it got started.
It is hard to say how the American success in Vancouver will manifest itself going forward. Hockey is always going to be a tough TV sport. Even if you’ve watched the game all your life, it can be difficult to keep track of the puck, especially in the scrums around the net. Someone takes a shot from the point, the puck ends up in a gaggle of bodies and you aren’t sure if the goalie has it, it’s in the net or it’s gone wide or high. Often it takes replay to see what actually happened on a goal.
What’s more, the NHL’s national package on weeknights is on Versus, which still isn’t in enough homes to make much of a ratings dent. Still, I’ll bet there will be progress, particularly with NBC games on the weekends. The NHL has two superstars: Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. For some reason, when their teams, the Capitals and Penguins, met in the conference semifinals last year, NBC made no attempt to get their games on the network. I’m betting that doesn’t happen this year if they meet again. You can also be sure the Buffalo Sabres will see a lot of air time, especially if Ryan Miller proves to be the key guy (as he surely will be) if the U.S. wins any medal, but especially if it’s the gold.
Most people will tell you this: If you go to a hockey game, especially a playoff game, you’re hooked. Hockey in person is as good as it gets and I’m not sure there’s anything more dramatic in sports than a playoff game that goes to overtime—especially a seventh game. The tension is amazing.
But the game is always going to be something of a niche sport on TV. That doesn’t mean it can’t grow. In fact, hockey ratings have improved on NBC since the new rules that were put in place after the lockout and since the arrival (at the same time) of Ovechkin and Crosby. The now-annual outdoor game on New Year’s Day has also brought in new viewers. Even ESPN, which basically sent the NHL packing several years ago, is now talking about wanting to bring it back to the network.
The Olympics will help hockey and the sport will become more popular. It isn’t going to become baseball, football or basketball—no one is claiming that. But to brush it off as some know-it-alls will do, is just silly. And if you DON’T take a look at the game—even with its TV weaknesses—then you’re missing out.
Some of you may have noticed that a post from yesterday was removed by the guys who run the site for me. The removal had nothing to do with it being critical of me—that’s fine as everyone who reads the blog and posts on it or e-mails knows, I have no problem with people disagreeing or critiquing or correcting my mistakes; in fact I enjoy almost all of it. Profanity though, whether directed at me or anyone else, is off-limits here. Because I write books for kids, I know a fair number of kids read the blog. So, we’re going to keep this, as Ben Bradlee might say, a family blog. We've only had to remove posts a couple of times in eight months which speaks to the quality, I think, of those who take the time to post.
As for the non-profane specifics of that post (and I’m pretty sure I know who the poster was) the claim was made that when I said it was, “a matter of record,” that Georgetown was responsible for there being only one scheduled game with Maryland in more than 30 years (there have been a couple of pre-season and postseason tournament games) I was wrong. He said there had been no game because Gary Williams insisted Georgetown return the 1993 game played at Capital Centre to College Park.
In fact, that’s not true. Here’s how I know: I’ve talked to Gary about it in my role as the scheduler for the BB+T Classic. (I’m on the board of the children’s charities foundation that runs the tournament). As long as Verizon Center was set up the way it is set up for the tournament—tickets divided among the teams—he was okay with playing Georgetown. That’s a FACT my angry Georgetown-loving friend. What’s also a FACT is that it was John Thompson (the elder’s) decision to divide the tickets up for the Cap Centre game so that his pal Russ Potts would run the game and the ticket and corporate sales. If you have an issue with that decision, ask Big John about it.
I’ll say it one more time: Georgetown’s absence from an event that has raised more than $8 million for kids at risk in the DC area in 15 years is something that should make anyone associated with Georgetown ANGRY because it’s embarrassing to the school. And if you want to take cheap, profane shots at me for saying that, so be it. I’m quite comfortable with what I’ve said and what I’ve done through the years.