Sports Leagues, Their Networks, & The Fans

This week the NHL announced that its NHL Network can now be seen on cable and satellite outlets in the United States.  The NHL Network has been available to Canadian audiences since 2001.  This is good news and bad news.

Being a hockey fan, I like the idea that the NHL is joining its NBA and NFL brethren in creating programming for its loyal fan base.  This will help spread the word about the league as it tries to re-connect with fans lost during the lockout of 2004-2005.

The concern I have is that (albeit slim at this point) the leagues may be tempted to shift more of its games to these networks and lock out a good portion of the country who don’t subscribe to these networks through their local cable or satellite outlets.  Most providers offer these league networks as part of a separate premium sports tier at an extra cost to subscribers.

The NFL Network is telecasting 8 regular season games later this season.  NBA TV offers a comprehensive slate of regular season games as well, although they are normally simulcast through the local telecasts of their clubs. 

I am not advocating, as others have, forcing cable companies to move these networks to the basic programming tier.  Looking down the road, however, the leagues need to keep all fans in mind before they decide to shift more regular season games exclusively to their television networks.  That would do more harm to their image than good.

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