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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Preakness Pucks Over Hockey Fans

- Many FOB's and other racing fans were disappointed when NBC postponed their Barbaro documentary when Game 3 of the Rangers-Sabres series went to double overtime. Now, the skate is on the other foot, as many hockey fans were enraged when the network left Saturday's Senators-Sabres contest before overtime for their Preakness coverage. And I can tell you that if it was the Rangers playing instead of Buffalo, as it very well could (and should) have been, and I was sitting in my hotel room in Nashville with no Versus on the TV menu, I'd be getting a bill to pay for the television with the [insert the nearest solid object] lodged through the screen.

But like most other hockey fans, I'm more disappointed with the league, wondering why they would ever accept not only having the games on in the afternoon, but scheduled only three hours before the Preakness telecast (as it was on Derby day too), and still stewing about the stupid lockout that caused it to lose their contract with ESPN in the first place. And, as is the case with horse racing, I just lament the sport's lack of popularity. To me, hockey is the most exciting team sport on the planet, and playoff overtime is a sporting spectacle second to none. But if you think horse racing ratings are anemic, they're like those for American Idol compared to hockey (a 5 for the Preakness as compared to 1.5 for the game). Some compared the incident to the infamous Heidi incident in 1968. And at least one writer suspects a grand conspiracy by commissioner Gary Bettman to impose shootouts on the playoffs, which to me would be as meaningful as a close Eclipse Award race being decided by which trainer could saddle his horse faster.

But of course, it was a no-brainer for NBC. They pay a handsome fee for rights to the race, and had to appease their paying advertisers. The NHL is on the network on a revenue-sharing basis and receives no upfront fee- and besides, there are no commercials aired during playoff overtimes.

But some did take their frustration out on the sport of kings. Most were particularly frustrated that the overtime was over at 5:20, nearly a full hour before the race actually went off. Allan Muir of Sports Illustrated wrote:

This was an epic embarrassment for the league. A conference final elimination game dropped for talk about a horse that died last year and the weather at Pimlico.
From the blog Barry Melrose Rocks:
What amazes me the most is that no one had the foresight to move the time of the game, as is done so often. Instead, we all got to watch a bunch of horses run around for two minutes and the countless inane hours of pre-show that go along with it.

Congratulations, hockey is now lower on the food chain than a sport whose glory days are far behind it, and has tried in vain to find a 'champion for the ages' that will captivate mainstream America and spark a new era of growth. Wait... or is that the NHL?
Deadspin noted:
The reason NBC was so anxious to dump the hockey game? The horse-racing pregame show. Late-breaking updates on the quality of Street Sense's pre-race bowel movements take precedence over the NHL's conference finals.
He's wrong when he wrote that "horse racing is more popular in the United States than hockey"; I don't recall professional hockey ever needing bingo halls filled with Golden Girls playing nickel slot machines just to keep a dying enterprise afloat. Well, except for the Penguins...
The CasonBlog asked: Where's PETA when you need em?
Isn't it cruel and unusual punishment to force poor defenseless animals to dash at dangerously high speeds around an oval with a 8o lb human tormentor on their back? Horses should be free to run, eat, get eaten, crap and procreate at their leisure. Well shouldn't they? Where were the legions of PETA protesters on Saturday afternoon when I most needed them? Wouldn't a huge pile of hemp-clad slackers stacked en masse around turn one have been just the ticket? Then we could have gone right back to OT in Buffalo. But noooooooo!!!!
Ironically, in Buffalo, where the local NBC affiliate stuck with the game (as did the one in nearby Rochester, where I'm sure reader Jim L. was watching), the ratings for the Preakness once the game was over was the third highest in the country; and that's not just because the Sabres fans, so smug just a couple of weeks ago, were too busy crying into their pom-poms to change the channel. The city had the 10th highest ratings for the Derby. So maybe just a few were busy sobbing.

Unfortunately for our reader Red Wings Fan, his team's tragic OT loss on Sunday was shown to its conclusion. Now he knows how we felt after blowing a 1-0 lead late in Game 5 and losing in sudden death.


Anonymous said...

Gary Bettman has to go! He has ruined the NHL.

Anonymous said...

Great Headline, those hockey games last until 2 or 3 in the morning anyway don't they, what the problem is?

Michael said...

In 1992 I was watching the Gold or Bronze medal Olympic hockey game only to see it preempted for the (taped) Rick Pitino show.

This is when he was still loved throughout the Bluegrass.

Superfecta said...

I like hockey a lot, I really do (hey, I went to college in Boston, it's required), but it's hard to recall a sport that shot itself in the foot so completely and with such dedication.

If you compare the last few years, it can make racing look like it's been guided by figures of godlike genius.

Anonymous said...

As A BU alum and long-time hockey fan I can say that the caliber of play in Hockey East these days is right up there with the NHL; on a given night the top Hockey East clubs could give most NHL teams a run for their money. The restrictive NHL rules against checking, among other factors, have changed the professional game for the worst and many East Coast NHL fans now prefer Hockey East and other top college games. Bruins fans are also discouraged by the current team ownership which seems to be more dedicated to a safe bottom line than winning the Stanley Cup. Another factor for an old Bruins fans like me is that today's Montreal Canadiens are not the mighty Canadiens of yore- it just isn't the same when you play Anaheim for the Stanley Cup, you have to beat Montreal to feel like you've really won it! Same for Sox fans who feel like it's not the World Series unless we beat the best Yankee teams along the way. Green Mtn Punter