Commentary

Forget Hockey ESPN, Cycling Is All the Rage

With the news that the NHL owners are locking out the players, and the threat of the season possibly being cancelled, press reporters wonder what ESPN is going to do while the sport is on ice.

I don't know - applaud, maybe? Throw hats onto Madison Avenue?

With NHL ratings free falling over the last few years, it seems like ESPN is getting a break. It could do better with other programming.

The sad story for the league isn't just with declining viewership. Four of the league's franchises are in bankruptcy. The NHL commissioner Gary Bettman reiterated the owners demand for a salary cap - just like in the NBA. So the decision for a lockout was easy and virtually unanimous, Bettman said.

For ESPN, it'll now sheepishly get to air something else - something that has better ratings than the NHL. If the lockout does indeed postpone or cancel the season, it'll run extra college football games, which, sadly does twice the ratings than the NHL. College basketball is also generally cheaper programming to buy than a professional sports league.

ESPN is just a lame-duck NHL network, anyway. Next year ESPN will pass the puck to NBC as the new rights holder of the NHL.

So who gets hurt? Endemic NHL TV advertisers - many who buy ESPN as a supplement in spending significant millions as NHL sponsors. Some would move to college basketball or college football on ESPN or onto a plethora of other sports programming that is available.

Here's a suggestion for ESPN: Run advertiser-friendly sports like Tour de France and other cycling programming!

With cycling, advertisers generally call the shots, as they essentially own the teams. Cycling sponsors aren't so dependent on ratings. Sponsors names and logos on biking shirts are the real value; it's the original product placement that has existed on European TV for decades (along with European soccer). What's more, it has an inspirational sports figure in Lance Armstrong as its model sports citizen.

No fights, no ice, no hard-to-see puck, only a lethal combination of big crashes, road rage, and fattening French food. You can even have the same international hockey language.

Just as they say in Montreal -- Bonne chance!

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