Thank you, NBC Sports
Several years ago, when I was still in high school, ESPN had a contract with the NHL and developed their own theme music for games that became iconic. It is still hard for me to sit down to watch a hockey game and not hear that music in my head.
The theme music even made it into the ESPN NHL 2K5 hockey video game, which was fun to hear, even if the game was not all that great to play.
It has been 14 years since that game came out. In that time, NBC negotiated for, and received, the rights to televised games in the United States. I was one of many fans who was extremely disappointed with the NHL’s decision to work into an exclusivity deal with NBC, even if, provided my memory holds, ESPN had actually not negotiated in good faith with the NHL, leading the self-proclaimed “best hockey league in the world” to turn to other suitors more interested in actually broadcasting games.
NBC and hockey games had a tenuous relationship in the early years. NBC would not start actually broadcasting games on the main network until the stretch run, and then only on weekends. All other “national” games were on a network that not everyone had access to.
Starting in 1995, NBC launched Outdoor Life Network (OLN), a curious place to stick hockey games, as OLN was also home to fishing, hunting, and outdoor adventure programs. OLN became better known for the Tour de France than hockey.
In 2005, NBC acquired the NHL’s broadcast rights and a year later, they rebranded OLN as Versus. Versus broadcast hockey along with a number of other sports, everything from NASCAR to Arena Football and much more.
In 2011, NBC and Versus announced a new 10-year extension with the NHL. As part of the new deal, Versus was rebranded again, this time to NBC Sports.
Now, if you are wondering why I have spent all that time on that backstory, it is because of what my son and I experienced last weekend.
My son graduated from his early college program at Baker College last weekend, meaning that he graduated from high school and from Baker College with an associate’s degree simultaneously. We made the trek down to Grand Rapids Saturday, due to the fact that his ceremony was set to take place on Sunday.
It had been a few years since I had been to Grand Rapids, so I had a general idea of how long it should take to get there. Even with that knowledge, it felt like it took longer than normal for us to get there.
After checking in at our hotel, we met up with my son’s mother and her husband for a nice dinner along with my daughter and her boyfriend and another woman who I found out was a family friend. We followed that up by joining them all at their hotel for a small gathering that included some time in the hot tub. Fortunately, my son and I had not really been to our hotel yet, so we had our swimsuits with us.
My son was concerned about how much time we were about to spend with his mom, not because he does not like her, but rather due to the fact that my beloved San Jose Sharks were set to play Game Five against the Colorado Avalanche at the same time. I figured out how to get on the Wifi in my ex’s hotel, and since NBC Sports has an app for the iPhone, I would be able to watch the game and hang out, so there was nothing for him to worry about.
Of course, I also assumed the pool and hot tub would be on the main floor, like 98 percent of hotels I have ever stayed at in my travels. Naturally, this was not one of those hotels.
The pool turned out to be a level below us, so naturally, the Wi-Fi was spotty at best. I said to myself, “It’s okay, I have LTE. Oh, and I have lots of built up backup data, I can just stream it that way and blow some of that data.”
Yeah, that didn’t work either, because of things like concrete blocking the signal.
I did find out that Kevin Lebanc had given the Sharks a 1-0 lead, but by the time we got back to my ex-wife’s room, the goal had been called back. My ex-wife put the game on the TV in their room and I watched the remainder of the period there.
At the same time, my daughter texted me asking if I would run her and her boyfriend to Meijer to make a snack run. I told her that I would run them after the period ended. They waited patiently until the end of the period and away we went. We listened to the intermission broadcast on Sirius/XM on the way over and back. After dropping them off back in the hotel, my son and headed back to ours, still listening to the game.
Soon after arriving, we got my iPad hooked up to the Wifi in the hotel room and watched the second half of the second period and all of the third on the NBC Sports app, which turned out to be enough time to see the Sharks’ Tomas Hertl score a pair of goals to help the Sharks take a 3-2 series lead thanks to a 2-1 victory.
Two nights later, in yet another hotel room in Auburn Hills, my son and I watched the Sharks blow Game Six in overtime, 4-3, forcing another Game Seven at home.
While it may not have been the most ideal way to watch critical games in a conference semifinal hockey series, I am very thankful to NBC for the way they have made their live broadcasts accessible through their apps so that I can watch my team’s playoff games on nights were I am not at home, watching games on my own TV.
When the NHL and NBC first announced their broadcast plans all those years ago, I, like many hockey fans, was deeply disappointed at the loss of ESPN and their competent broadcast team. However, over a decade later, I am content with much of what NBC does now. Of course, their broadcast teams need some work, but that is a subject for another time.