ESPN kills hockey


Sam Prestipino

Graphic design made by Aynsleigh Penland using Canva’s presentation software

Sam Prestipino, Editor-in-Chief

Hockey media as we know it died on July 7, 2021. That was the final time that the sport was aired through NBC. It has since been brought to the public by the ESPN family of networks. This has been a total disaster.

This was highlighted recently on one of ESPN’s most popular sports talk shows “First Take.” On Thursday afternoon’s edition of the show, the host of the program, Molly Qerim, posed the following question to the two debaters (Stephen A. Smith and special guest Michael Kay).

“Which team in New York do you think wins a championship next?”

Kay paused for a moment and then slammed his hand onto the desk and answered with the New York Rangers, which was fair to say considering their current positioning in the NHL standings compared to other New York teams in their respective leagues. 

Qerim proceeded to shout, “They don’t count!” Smith then stated, “All I know about hockey is that the puck is black.”

The two went on to clarify that the questions should only be directed to football, baseball, and basketball. Not hockey. 

This is simply a slap in the face to hockey fans everywhere. How can the NHL’s biggest broadcast partner take a massive shot at them on their most popular show? And how can ESPN claim to be trying to grow the game of hockey while allowing this kind of thing to happen on the air? Does Stephan A. know, in all his infinite wisdom, that the Rangers were in New York over 30 years before the New York Knicks were even founded?

This shouldn’t come as a shock to hockey fans, as they have been completely abandoned by the network. When the NHL signed this deal initially, it looked like an exciting opportunity to make it easier than ever before to watch the NHL. Not only is it not easier, but it’s also even more difficult than before. 

When the NHL aired on NBC, you could always count on quality games being on national television regularly throughout the season. With ESPN, this simply doesn’t happen. Early and midseason broadcasts are few and far between, and while the number of physical broadcasts picks up later in the season, the quality of games does not. 

Oftentimes it seems like ESPN is out of touch with the league because they constantly put teams like the bottom-feeding Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks in these nationally televised games, rather than contenders like the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils. That sure isn’t a good way to brand the sport.

Another issue with ESPN’s presentation of the NHL is the ESPN+ and Hulu situation. Too many games are exclusively featured on these streaming services, making it even harder to expand the sport and build a brand. Local fans can’t even watch their favorite team at all because of blackouts when games air on ESPN+ and Hulu, whether they fork over the money for the subscription or not. 

What makes no sense is why ESPN is trying so hard to short-sell the sport. It’s one of the most interesting and most competitive sports to watch, which non-hockey fans wouldn’t know because it’s almost impossible to get into due to its current media coverage and access to games. It also certainly doesn’t help that Bally Sports went bankrupt, which could cause issues for the team’s local broadcasts throughout the league, including the local Carolina Hurricanes. 

ESPN should use this opportunity to expand its coverage of hockey, rather than continuing to let the spectacle that is the NHL continue to be mocked by some of the biggest personalities on the network.

Dear ESPN, hockey is a real sport and you pay $400 million a year to broadcast it. Act like it.