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.

Your TV Guide and Open Thread For Night 16 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs

This will appear every night to inform you of the TV networks and announcers that will be covering the games during the playoffs.  Enjoy all the local and national info, after the jump.

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