I promised myself I’d leave NBC well enough alone after penning a backhanded screed against their network, but after a solid night of NHL Hockey that ultimately ended much better than it started in terms of nothing but sheer game quality...I need to pull out my knives for
First things first; ESPN didn’t spend their time messing around, which in hindsight kinda makes TNT’s first game look a little...well...worse in hindsight? For one thing, the games were broadcast in their entirety without interruption. Big plus in their favor.
But the second thing they did was acknowledge the league and the network’s past. And it was a fruitful one back then. They made it clear that some ground, however much, had been lost.
And they made sure we remembered why people got excited about this in the first place. The theme, sure...but also why it mattered. For so many people, that theme just said “It’s time for hockey”.
And guess what? That was back and as wonderful as ever. Here’s hoping they find Gary Thorne out in the woods for the playoffs.
And then they cut to the first game, Tampa vs. Pittsburgh. Was it a taped segment? Sure, it was 7:30 on the east coast when the game began, so I’m not going to hold it against the team. But you want to know what I saw?
Tampa. As it is. Did you know Amalie Arena’s right by the harbor? I didn’t see nearly that many angles of that on NBCSN! Say what you will of ESPN’s business to this point, but they understand how to frame a city. They made it look absolutely gorgeous for game one of a new season. I’d argue it was the nicest Tampa’s ever looked on television. Tampa out in the wild on a sunset, from different angles aside from a drone cam or from right outside the arena. It looked...good! And then the games began and you know what?
Their scorebug? Their graphics? The way they presented this game?
It was so much better than anything that NBC Sports had ever done. The bug was unobtrusive, it was clean, it was fantastic. It made the game look fresh and exciting, rather than this stiff, boring sport that it could be.
Hell, even the panelists during the first game, full of guys who could very easily have just re-tread old ground that we heard a million times before, could’ve easily screwed this up for everybody. They did fine! Hell, I’d argue they did their jobs very well! It’s such a nice breath of fresh air after years of Milbury.
Experimenting made it interesting, even if some experiments were less useful than others
One thing that was...back and forth in my opinion was the change of camera angles. While obviously Level 7 cam is now industry standard for showing games, they switched to different, closer-to-ice angles to try and solve the very obviously tricky problem of “the way we keep fans from suing us out of oblivion is also kind of difficult to film.” I’ve been there, ESPN.
While some of the angles were interesting and frankly I welcome their choice, I do believe there are some that could use some work, namely the skycam. NHL arenas are an interesting “choice” for such a thing, but unless you’re using the not-broadcast worthy cameras under the jumbotrons for center ice faceoffs, I don’t think there’s much room for such things. It just kinda makes everyone a little motion sick.
But hey, games one and two. Work it out over the season.
More importantly, what happened after the game?
You wanna know what happened? You wanna know what happened on SVP right after Kraken-Knights finished up?
They showed hockey highlights. They talked about the game. They had an extended segment of discussing what had happened, and then they called up Torts to ask him questions about the season ahead. It was the first thing that happened on ESPN after the games. The actual live hockey content ended on ESPN around 1:00am EST and they had a solid 40 minutes after just talking about what happened.
Yeah, they went back to talking about baseball and basketball preseason and y’know what? They own those rights too, they deserve the time too. But one thing that unquestionably got done was that Hockey finally showed up on ESPN...and then was discussed like it was just as big as any other sport.
For so many, it feels like Pigs should be taking flight.
Now let’s just get one thing out of the way; this was game one. They kind of needed to impress on hockey fans that ESPN cares about this after spending a shitzillion dollars on the league and also on putting it on every ESPN+ subscription in America. Further, with the way the NHL got treated in the past once they left for the ““““““greeener”””””” pastures of NBC, one could be forgiven for believing that ESPN’s “A-Game” was required for this one. And I’m glad it was! Are they gonna do it for Sabres games? I sincerely doubt it! But if this is where they start? I’m willing to give them a chance.
...But I’m watching them like hawks.