What Do You Do Without Versus?

You can check me off as a complainer, a hockey TV complainer.

Plenty of people have options to fit their TV viewing habits.  We have all heard the complaints about who get’s Versus, who doesn’t have the NHL Network, and who has to wear an aluminum hat just to get a hockey game.  I don’t really fit any of those categories (except the tin hat, but that is a fashion statement).

My issue is that I am rarely in control of my television “situation.” I travel for a living, all around the nation, and the variety of viewing scenarios can get pretty ridiculous.  I would say, they are usually imposed on me.  For instance:

For the next day or two, I am in Oklahoma City.  The apartment here does not have Versus.  It does have good internet, so if the Bruins game that will be joined in progress is available on NHL Gamecenter, I can watch that from “home.” Otherwise, it’s off to a bar in downtown OKC (aka Bricktown) were I will be the only hockey fan around. Oh joy, the hordes of people who would rather watch NBA playoffs, poker, or anything else.

A few weeks back, I was in East Lansing.  My hotel seemed to have Versus until right before we got there, but had since changed to the Big Ten Network (what a trade off). If I disconnected the cable and plugged in my TV Tuner, I could get the CBC (but not on the TV provided by the hotel, go figure).  Versus was available elsewhere, but the CBC on my 13″ Macbook did the trick. Gamecenter was useless, thanks to internet that was slower than Blair Betts getting up from a Brashear check (ZING!). Oh, yeah, five weeks of this.  Whoo-hoo!

In Tempe, AZ, we had the NHL Network.  When it first came out, I looked at their schedule and lambasted the station.  Now, I miss it like it was my first puppy dog. We also had FSN Arizona with it’s spotty broadcast schedule.

The past year has been nothing but frustration with broadcast hockey.  In a few days, I’m headed to Denver for three weeks, where I will have crappy internet, probably horrible cable, but a Czech hockey bar accessible from the light rail.  As great as they are, I still have to go somewhere and pay for other services to watch hockey.

So what does all this mean?  Where am I going?  Am I just using this as a forum to bitch?  Well, yes and no.

With all the complaints being leveled at Versus for not having their collective backsides in order to be showing us the maximum amount of hockey available, we should feel lucky we even have a national provider.  But if that national provider is not able to get hockey into the homes, there should be less restrictions on who is blacked out and who is not.

I still don’t understand how teams can blackout local areas from watching hockey online, especially when the product offered (gamecenter) is a paid for service.  What is the difference from watching the commercials on my computer and watching the commercials on a television?  All a blackout does is make me watch a game other than the one I wanted to.  I’m sure the cable companies are happy to keep blackout practices in place, but as those restrictions have been lifted in some areas, we all get a taste of what can be, and we want more.

If this sounds like a call for the NHL to jump back to ESPN, it isn’t.  I wouldn’t mind seeing more coverage on a national scale, and ESPN is the ready made choice.  But I would rather Versus and the NHL work together to get better deals for distribution on more basic cable packages.

We are living in a world of new media, where the internet is an emerging content delivery system, but I still have to hunt, beg, borrow and steal just to watch a sport that is desperate for attention?  Something isn’t right. If I can have so many great free options for hockey content, from blogs to podcasts, live internet “radio” to real time scores, why do I have to be restricted so heavily by services that I pay for?

And if the question comes up, which would I rather do, watch a game on the computer or on the TV, the TV wins every time.  Some of us don’t have the option.

What are your horror stories? Mine include not having Versus at my apartment in Tampa last year during the playoffs, and having to go to the hockey bar (Hattricks), when they were actually open, to see any hockey.  How about you?

Update: I have no idea who said it, but one of the announcers on NESN during the Bruins broadcast mentioned that the next Bruins game would be on Versus, and told those who did not get Versus to “Write Gary Bettman” about it. Which made me laugh, because I can not remember the last time Bettman listened to the fans.  He even has a radio show specifically designed to take calls from the fans and tell them that he thinks differently from them.  What a league.

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5 Responses to What Do You Do Without Versus?

  1. Brian says:

    I just spent four nights in Detroit. (You know, “Hockeytown”)

    The hotel didn’t have Versus. (It had been replaced by Fox Business Channel) It did have CBC from Windsor, but most games were on TSN this week. It had a pay per view NHL Center Ice deal, but couldn’t connect to the one game it offered. (Game 7 CAR vs. NJ)

    Online, the NHL wouldn’t take my money…because the games I wanted were on Versus. TSN wouldn’t because I was not in Canada.

    I am so glad to be back home tonight with my DirecTV and VS. Not perfect but better than nothing.

    As for real horror stories…..late 70′s with no network TV deal and just about no hockey all season, every season.

  2. Keith says:

    my horror story was sophmore year in college, where I couldnt watch anything other than the rangers, isles, devils and the 5 nbc games that year which was the the 1st year after the lockout. thats y I ended up moving off-campus the last two years and made sure I had Versus on my package

  3. Mike says:

    I still don’t understand that as a subscriber to NHL Gamecenter online this season that I was blacked out from games that were on the NHL network. I don’t have the NHL network or NHL Center Ice available on my cable system (According to them the NHL insists that they carry the NHL network if they want to carry Center Ice so they dropped it). It makes no sense to me that I’m paying the NHL to be able to watch live games yet that doesn’t include games on their own network.

  4. Joel says:

    I grew up in Chile. For a long time there was the odd game on ESPN at 2 AM (tape delayed), which i would tape or wake up early for. So I’d probably get to see a maximum of 25 games a season including playoffs. After the lockout, ESPN quit showing hockey altogether. The first season back all I could do was download the odd torrent here and there and watch a two day old hockey game. The next two years, many free streams were made available, which was incredible at the time.

    For those frustrated with not having VS and what not, check this site out: http://www.myp2pforum.eu/nhl-icehockey/

  5. Alex says:

    I went to Central Michigan U for four years and it didn’t have Versus at all so I missed all of those games.

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