Hockey East could be heading in a new direction when it comes to television broadcasts.
The current contract with Fox Sports Net New England winds up after this season.
And, for the second straight year, the Hockey East championship game won’t be shown live due to a Boston Celtics telecast. It will be tape-delayed.
Fox Sports Net New England’s contract with the Celtics is much more lucrative and, let’s face it, there are a lot more people interested in the Celtics than in college hockey.
Media relations director Noah Smith said the fact that the championship game won’t be shown live and that Fox Sports Net New England enjoys cable exclusivity to Hockey East broadcasts are two major sticking points.
Fox Sports Net New England enjoys two exclusivity deals with the league.
Games in Hockey East rinks can’t be shown on another cable network and, secondly, games played on the same night as a Fox game can’t be aired on any station. Period.
So WABI-TV of Bangor (CBS) can’t show a Maine game the same night Fox is airing another Hockey East game.
“What has happened is the league has gotten a bigger profile so some of the schools are finding more opportunities to get their own games on [and they want to explore them],” explained Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna.
Schools in urban areas aren’t going to be able to get a deal with a local network station like the University of Maine does with WABI-TV, so they have to seek cable affiliates.
Bertagna and Smith want to have their cake and eat it, too.
In a perfect world, they would like to keep their Fox affiliation and have several other games shown on other networks.
As well they should.
There will be 39 league games already in the books before Fox Sports Net New England begins its game-of-the-week coverage on Jan. 4.
The whole TV regular season schedule helps set up the post-season drama.
The Hockey East Tournament solidifies or weakens teams’ NCAA Tournament aspirations.
Hockey East isn’t going to change the time of its championship game to appease Fox.
It shouldn’t have to.
Smith said the league has a “very amicable” relationship with Fox and certainly the exposure the league has received from a network in 3 million New England homes has been invaluable.
One possibility, according to Bertagna, is following the WCHA’s lead.
“The WCHA markets their tournament and lets each team go after its own regular-season package,” explained Bertagna.
That’s not a bad idea, either.
The deal with Fox, according to Smith, is that the network gives the league free advertising in exchange for exclusivity.
So what kind of compromise can be reached?
Fox should retain exclusivity on the nights it televises Hockey East regular-season games but not in the postseason.
Schools should be able to develop their own TV packages, including postseason games.
And the league should be allowed to work out deals with other cable networks.
Games should be shown in November and December and that won’t happen with Fox.
Why can’t NESN show a Maine-New Hampshire game in November?
Hockey East has established itself as, arguably, the best league in the country.
It deserves a better TV deal.
Larry Mahoney can be reached at 990-8231 or 1-800-310-8600. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.