Could the Possibility of a World Cup Bring ESPN to the Bidding Table Next Time Around?

We forget why we didn’t put this in our Doc Emrick tribute post awhile back.  We really should have.  It’s Emrick at his absolute best, calling the biggest non-“Miracle” win in U.S. hockey history.  It’s hard to believe that game aired on an even pre-“Son of the Beach” FX Network.  FX’s broadcast of World Cup of Hockey 1996 was supposed to show off the network as a future cable home for the NHL, but we all know what happened to that.

Anyway, I wanted to show that because it’s a great segway to talking about one of the lost traditions in hockey: The Canada/World Cup.  The last one took place in 2004, prior to the lockout, and was largely forgettable, aside from providing Jeremy Roenick a chance to break into the TV analyst biz:

“They eat nice pills all the time”.  Thanks for making us look like geniuses, J.R.  

I bet you all couldn’t help but notice that event being televised by ESPN.  As hockey bloggers, it is our sworn, solemn duty to keep talking about the NHL and ESPN coming back together until it actually happens.  Which brings on the question:  Would this new World Cup the league has been proposing recently in place of the Olympics get ESPN to pony up more cash then VERSUS for rights to the NHL?

The league has been championing the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as the last time for NHL players.  I agree with this line of thinking.  The Olympics, while getting people to actually watch hockey, (to the tune of 10 million viewers for the Gold Medal Game in Salt Lake, and 3 million for the 8 AM Sunday morning Finland-Sweden final in ’06) has not gotten them to watch NHL hockey, which is the key reason why Bettman and co. are pulling out.

I like the idea of a World Cup better anyway.  It guarantees that there will be mostly NHL players on the rosters, playing the brand of the sport that is most familiar to it’s fans.  Plus, the tournament would take place in September.  Just in time to cure the Summer hockey jones we go on by the time August rolls around. 

Obviously, a few World Cup games would be thrown NHL Network’s way, likely some afternoon-in-the-U.S. European games from faraway places.  But you’d bet quite a bit that the NHL wants Team USA, and to a lesser extent Team Canada and any opponents those two have, to get maximum national exposure.  It would guarantee a bidding war between CBC and CTV/TSN north of the border.  But would it generate the interest of U.S. broadcasters?

I think so.  I think – and this is purely a guess, but one I wouldn’t be shocked to see happen -, when the NHL begins renegotiating it’s TV deal (Think early 2010, possibly right out the Olympics), ESPN is going to ask for everything.  Regular season, Stanley Cup Playoffs, all of the finals, All-Star game, the works.  With the BCS already committing to the network, the Worldwide Leader likely sees the NHL as the next league to monopolize.  I’m not saying it’s a good thing for fans, but it would likely best satisfy ESPN, the owners (who would likely get more money from ESPN than VERSUS if they offered the entire package) and the fans (who spend tons of time whining about ESPN not airing the games anyway). 

So look at it this way:  To sweeten a bidding war between Disney and Comcast, the NHL throws in rights to all the important games of a World Cup that would likely feature A.  Crosby and Ovechkin in their prime, B. A even better Team USA than will likely show for 2010, and C. The cavalcade of young talent, which the NHL and it’s fans have never seen before, all shown off in one big hodgepodge of talented, skilled play.  

A World Cup in 2012 or 2014 would have a chance to be the best international hockey tournament ever played.  You can bet that ESPN would want in on it, and anything else hockey-related that they can keep away from rival networks.

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One Response to Could the Possibility of a World Cup Bring ESPN to the Bidding Table Next Time Around?

  1. Pingback: World Cup 2011: Why It’s Happening in 2011, and How We’d Like it to Look « Puck The Media

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