Sometimes, the level of amateurishness displayed by the NHL in 2017 surprises me. The league held a celebrity all-star game on Saturday prior to the NHL Skills Competition. One player in the game was international pop sensation Justin Bieber. And yet, the NHL didn’t even bother to televise this game — not even on the NHL Network, which just ran a bunch of talking heads in that time slot.
The NHL streamed the 2017 NHL All-Star Celebrity Shootout on its website, and did a lousy job of it too, wasting the opportunity to raise the game’s profile and hopefully get a few new fans in the process.
The two teams — named Team Gretzky (home) and Team Lemieux (away) — had a lot of retired greats in the lineup, like Joe Sakic, Luc Robitaille, Sergei Fedorov, Peter Forsberg, Borje Salming and Larry Robinson. Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux served as the coaches. Current stars Patrick Kane and Connor McDavid played, too. Celebrities like actor Cuba Gooding Jr. and movie director/producer Jerry Bruckheimer also laced them up.
And did I mention singer/hearthrob Justin Bieber? Bieber has 91.5 million followers on Twitter — about 86 million more followers than the NHL. He even tweeted to his fans that he was going to play in the game.
— Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) January 28, 2017
Maybe if the NHL put the game on TV, a few “Beliebers” might have tuned in, liked what they saw and gave hockey a chance.
So, the NHL totally blew that one.
But they also botched how this game was webcast on NHL.com.
There was no play-by-play and no commentary. Try watching any hockey game on TV without play-by-play for a prolonged period of time. It’s difficult, especially if they are two teams you don’t normally watch and half of the players aren’t even hockey players. I didn’t know who was who when it came to the celebrities, since most wore full facial protection. I was able to pick out Bieber, because he is short, and Gooding Jr., who wore a bright blue bucket.
Instead, pop music from the past four decades was played continuously, underscored by a drum and bass loop, loudly during the game. If you thought you were sick of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” just wait until you hear it with a steady dance beat. If a goal was scored or a penalty was committed, then an announcer would chime in for a few seconds before the music resumed.
Also, the stream that I watched on NHL.com froze four times during the game, which lasted one hour and 15 minutes. I have a good computer and fast internet access, so I think the problem was with their website and the stream, and not on my end. Every time the stream of the game froze, I’d have to reload the page and watch a 30-second commercial. Then the stream would start from the very beginning, and I would have to keep clicking the “LIVE” button on the video player until it got back to the current point in the game. I cannot imagine a non-hockey fan putting up with that. Heck, many hockey fans would probably bail after two or three freezes.
I do not expect the NHL to televise a celebrity game on NBC, nor would I expect Doc Emrick to waste his breath on one. But the NHL has its own cable TV station, and a lucrative deal with NBCSN in the U.S., who does a pretty good job with its NHL coverage. Why not put the game on either of these channels, and then have someone do play-by-play and Jeremy Roenick chip in color commentary. That would have made this game more accessible to casual viewers.
The fact that the NHL was able to host a celebrity game, with big-name talent, that potentially had crossover potential is awesome. The decision to bury it on the web during the middle of a Saturday afternoon was very shortsighted. But given the NHL’s track record with such things, I guess that I really should not be surprised.
For those who had something better to do than sit in front of their computer and tolerate technical glitches, Team Gretzky (white) beat Team Lemieux (black) by a final score of 5-3. Cuba Gooding Jr. scored the game-winner. Justin Bieber missed a penalty shot, but assisted on a goal by Eric Lindros and added an empty-net insurance goal near the end of the game. ■