MLS had to pay to be on ESPN2 for so many years, because that’s what gets and keeps you on the general sport fan’s radar. On the other end of th spectrum, the NHL refused a revenue-sharing agreement, one without a big fat rights fee, with ESPN last year and chose to go to the more obscure Versus network. Now, we’re treated to posts that ask "Is ESPN killing the NHL?" Before we proceed, let me say I have nothing against Hockey as a sport, although I’m not a fan myself.
It seems to me, that the NHL owners had to have considered the effects of not being on carried on ESPN’s networks. To not have thought it through is either delusions or incompetent, so to try to blame ESPN for the lack of interest in the NHL rings a bit hollow. Its also naive to complain that ESPN doesn’t promote hockey enough, when it is in its own interests to promote programming that it carries. Ask any soccer fan how much they promoted MLS before this year to see if this behavior should come as any surprise.
The NHL is in the same position as MLS, a niche sport with a passionate fan base, but limited appeal to casual fans. Hockey had the good fortune to fly close to the sun, and certainly enjoyed big cash and exposure. Its just a pity that the fall back to earth is so painful.
The post that started it all – Negative Press: Is ESPN is Killing the National Hockey League by Influencing Public Attitudes?