Monday, December 12, 2011

NBC Sports, the NHL, and Philadelphia Flyers favoritism

Sports Business Journal 50 Most Influential People in Sports Business was released today, and the number one most influential man, Steve Burke, is apparently a genius in his work as President and CEO of NBC Universal Holdings. He attained his current status after Comcast bought NBC Universal in January of 2011 from General Electric. His duties include TV and cable programming, as well as other aspects of the company, which most importantly includes NBC Sports. Upon the completion of the merger, Burke went to work to finally bring a sports network on par with ESPN to his Comcast empire. NBC Sports, which hasn't launched yet, is the culmination of years of Comcast trying to find a way to attract the key demographic of sports fans that ESPN, owned by Disney, dominated. VERSUS had been a haphazard attempt to attract sports viewers after Comcast signed a hefty contract with the NHL. With the addition of NBC Universal, Burke apparently went right to work in negotiating contracts and replacing executive personnel.

Like Comcast, Burke is from Philadelphia. He spent several years as COO at Comcast. The point I'm trying to make ultimately ties into the fact that Comcast, which owns VERSUS and NHL Network and now NBC Sports, controls the American broadcast and exposure of the NHL. Considering that Comcast is Philadelphia-based and have a majority share in Comcast Spectator - which owns the Philadelphia Flyers - there seems to be a suddenly clear path between the Flyers and their television exposure and special treatment in the Winter Classic setting, for example.

Another recent and infuriating display of Flyers bias was against the Tampa Bay Lightning in a game that was nationally broadcast but ended up being two teams standing still for large portions of the game. Both teams were probably at fault, but VERSUS coverage overwhelmingly placed the blame on Tampa's shoulders and commended Philadelphia. I was flabbergasted to say the least, as I could not understand how anyone could say Philadelphia had any right to refuse to play a game that the Lightning have been playing for a while. Just because the Flyers got sick of it one night, it became a huge deal within the NHL community, and suddenly the Lightning were destroying the fabric of the game. In reality, the Lightning strategy can be combated and still create exciting hockey (see the Conference Finals series against the Bruins), but the Flyers refused to adapt and instead acted like spoiled brats. Yet, the commentators for NBC and VERSUS saw no fault in the Flyers. Steve Yzerman shared my thoughts:
The harshest critics came during the intermission of the game, which was broadcast nationally in the United States on Versus, from studio analysts Keith Jones and Mike Milbury who called Tampa Bay’s style of play “embarrassing’’.

Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman questions the motives of the criticism coming from the Versus analysts. “Versus is owned by Comcast, Comcast owns the Flyers, Keith Jones is a broadcaster with the Flyers and is hardly impartial,’’ Yzerman said. “I think that anybody that looks at that objectively should be saying, “Did Tampa do the right thing or Did Philadelphia do the right thing’’ and you can make an argument both ways.’’
The overhaul of Comcast sports and its expensive, carefully calculated emergence into what will be NBC Sports, centering around the NHL, which centers around the Philadelphia Flyers, who Comcast subsidiary Comcast Spectator holds a 67% majority share of (with founder Ed Snider holding 33% share).

It's no coincidence that the Flyers have again been selected to headline the Winter Classic - a huge spectacle for NBC that also now coincides with 4-part HBO documentary series following the teams throughout the season up until the Winter Classic in January. The Flyers already participated two years ago, but HBO only became involved last year, raising the stakes that were already in favor of the Flyers organization.

Comcast's subsidiaries and direct connections to ownership of both the Flyers franchise and all US television broadcasters for the NHL on a national scale are now essentially condensed into one self-serving entity: NBC Sports.

Philadelphia Flyers favoritism will only become stronger with the launch of NBC Sports for at least the next 10 years under the $2 billion contract NBC Sports Group and the NHL signed in April.

(links found at puck daddy) (also find here)

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