This month, I got the bill for NHL Center Ice, the pay-per-view subscription package that lets hockey fans watch every out-of-market NHL game. For $160, it’s a pretty good deal. But like all things, it could be better. In fact, the NHL could make Center Ice a lot better without even trying that hard. Here are five changes that would make Center Ice go from good to awesome.
1. Every game should be in HD
Go to your local electronics store and tell an employee that you would like to buy a low-definition, analog television. You can’t.
And yet, many games on Center Ice – particularly those in Canadian cities – are not broadcast in HD. That is inexcusable.
Whenever I tune into, say, a Tuesday night game between the Jets and the Flames, I can count on it being a fuzzy, low-def broadcast that leaves the sides of my widescreen TV blank and much else to be desired. Although watching a Jets-Flames game leaves much to be desired anyway, like goal scoring.
Get with the times, teams and television stations. This is 2013. Broadcast all games in high-definition. You can still broadcast in low-definition too for the Baby Boomers who insist on using their TV from 1998; just don’t punish the rest of us.
2. All pre-and post-game shows should be televised
I’ve subscribed to Center Ice for six seasons now. Over time, I’ve come to follow the Colorado Avalanche – not because they are the greatest team (though they are off to a great start this season) – but because they televise both their pre-game and post-game shows when broadcasting a game. This has increased my appreciation of the team since I can get an inside look at the Avalanche usually enjoyed only by locals.
When watching other teams’ local broadcasts, I am not so lucky. The game’s feed on Center Ice will usually start a few minutes before opening puck drop, and cut out at the first commercial break once the game is done. No postgame interviews for you, out-of-market fans!
If teams are interested in growing fans in other regions, then they should strongly consider airing their pregame and postgame shows on Center Ice. Heck, the NHL should make it mandatory, as it would help grow teams’ fan bases in other cities.
3. Do not black out “foreign” commercials
When watching your own team’s broadcasts for 82 games, it is easy to quickly tire of the same commercials over and over. (Has anyone seen those terribly-boring Chevy commercials with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane during Blackhawks games?) So, watching commercials that are “foreign” to me is a treat – especially those from the great white north.
I’ve grown to appreciate how inventive some Canadian commercials are. A few years back, Scotiabank ran a commercial with then-Flames captain Jarome Iginla trying to get a free coin bank intended for kids. McDonald’s promoted collectible mini goalie sticks with commercials starring a one-foot tall, trash-talking goaltender. Don Cherry was in an entertaining commercial for a mortgage company last season.
Sometimes, though, a game on Center Ice will black out the commercials, showing a message stating that the game will be right back while playing awful lounge music. What is even worse is that sometimes games on Center Ice black out the entire 15-minute intermission, denying me the possibility of seeing fun, foreign commercials and between-period analysis.
Is this because the NHL is afraid my puny, American brain will explode if I see a commercial for Boston Pizza, like I am too stupid to understand that other countries have businesses I’ve never heard of? Guess I’ll just change the channel, then.
4. Hockey Night in Canada should be immune to local blackout
For those who have never had the pleasure of watching Hockey Night in Canada, it is basically the Monday Night Football of hockey, but on Saturday and with a better sport. HNIC is a high-quality production. It starts with a half-hour pregame show, followed by two hockey games, and then wraps up with “After Hours,” which recaps every game that night and features two in-depth, sit-down interviews with players or coaches from the second game.
In between periods and between the games, Don Cherry’s “Coach’s Corner” segments are always entertaining, regardless of whether you agree with him or not, as are other segments like “The Hot Stove,” where we learn the latest gossip from around the league. HNIC is six-and-a-half hours of televised hockey that cannot be beat. No other broadcasts – especially in the U.S. – come close.
But if you live in the U.S. and your local team is on HNIC, you are out of luck because it will be blacked out, forcing you to watch the local broadcast of your team. Yes, I understand that local advertisers want me to see the commercials they pay for. So I get why, say, a Dallas broadcast of a Stars-Blackhawks game would be blacked out on Center Ice in Chicago. But if the Blackhawks are playing a Canadian team and the game is on HNIC, an exception needs to be made and the game should not be blacked out from Chicago viewers.
Look, I watch plenty of locally-televised Blackhawks games, and most ‘Hawks fans watching the game on TV probably don’t have Center Ice anyway. Seeing my team on HNIC would be a treat. I want to see pre and post game analysis of the ‘Hawks by Kevin Weekes, P.J. Stock, Glenn Healy and the gang. I want to hear what Don Cherry has to say about the ‘Hawks, especially if one of them does something great or awful in that night’s game. Hockey Night in Canada is hockey’s flagship television show. It should never be blacked out. Period.
5. Include NHL Game Center Live with the Center Ice package
If I can’t be at a game, the next-best thing is to watch it on TV — although many would rightly argue that watching a game on TV is better than watching it in person. If I can’t watch a game on my big-screen, high-definition TV, then I might settle for watching it on my 15-inch laptop. Watching a game on my phone is not an appealing idea for me.
And yet, the NHL thinks that people want to pay $169 for a subscription to Game Center Live, which lets you watch games on your cell phone, computer or other internet-enabled device, like an XBOX attached to your TV. (They even made Upper Deck pimp the service with advertisements, like the one above, inserted in packs of hockey cards.)
So, what’s the point if I already have Center Ice? Why do I want to pay another $169 to watch games on a computer if I’m already paying $160 to watch games on my television?
What would make much more sense is if Center Ice was not just for your television, but for all of your devices with screens. One subscription for all devices. Even if this raises the cost of Center Ice by $20 or $30, it would be worth it to have a backup plan in case you cannot watch games on TV.
So, what are your thoughts on this? Do you subscribe to Center Ice? Do you have your own gripes you’d like to share? Feel free to post a comment below.