Earlier this week, Ben Koo rightly pointed out the problems with ESPN almost completely ignoring Monday’s NHL trade deadline. However, there are also perils at the other end of the spectrum, as demonstrated by the way many Canadian media outlets hype up the trade deadline for months in advance and then deliver wall-to-wall coverage with very little action on the day itself. Much as it was with Linsanity, the differences between the coverage of a significant sports event in two adjacent countries are remarkable. The best solution may be somewhere in the middle.
There’s never any shortage of NHL trade deadline coverage in Canada; in fact, the opposite is true. Two sports television networks (TSN, which is 20 percent owned by ESPN, and Rogers Sportsnet) do day-long deadline shows full of analysts and discussion on their main channels, many sports radio stations (most of which are affiliated with either TSN or Sportsnet) pretty much follow suit and the print and online media regularly jump into the fray with their own live blogs, reporting and analysis. If you’re a Canadian with any interest in sports, the larger issue frequently isn’t finding trade deadline news, but avoiding being swamped by it.
On the one hand, this massive coverage of the deadline isn’t all bad. There’s plenty of interest in the trade deadline even when there aren’t a lot of massive moves made, as was the case Monday. Despite a slow day of trades, TSN’s 10-hour broadcast averaged 259,000 viewers, and it reached a peak of 544,000 viewers at 3:50 p.m. Eastern near the actual deadline. Those are pretty remarkable numbers, higher than some lower-tier live sports up here (such as an average MLS or NBA game), and that’s particularly impressive considering that this came during a day when most of the country’s at work. (The cubicle-trapped still made an impact, too, particularly on the web where TSN hauled in a record 20.8 million pageviews and 240,000 people watching their streaming broadcast.) Hype helps, sure, but you need some genuine interest in the subject to draw numbers like that, and there’s no dispute Canadians have plenty of interest in hockey moves.
On the other hand, devoting this kind of time, money and attention to what’s really a relatively minor sports topic carries its own set of problems. Sure, NHL trades matter, but the growing trend in recent years has been that less and less memorable ones are made right at the deadline, and it’s difficult to pinpoint many deadline moves as playing massive roles in the playoffs in recent years. With that in mind, it’s still problematic to completely ignore it the way ESPN did, but the Canadian media overkill isn’t perfect, either. When few crucial moves are made, you wind up with a lot of analysts standing around and making the same points over and over again in more and more dramatic fashion, and that doesn’t tend to produce great television. Moreover, the constant trade deadline hype may fire up some hockey fans, but it excludes a lot of people, too: plenty of non-hockey-obsessed Canadians were avoiding Twitter and sports sites Monday to get away from the endless barrage of trade talk, and that’s understandable, as it was quite difficult to find discussion of other sports on many Canadian sites. Thanks to the amount of coverage it’s received, the deadline has become a divisive topic, and one many either love or hate.
The ideal solution may be the best of both worlds. There’s clearly a large audience for TSN and Sportsnet to keep doing their day-long shows, and even if they’re often not great television, they get information across to those looking for it. If ESPN’s pretending the trade deadline doesn’t exist, though, many Canadian media outlets are pretending other sports don’t exist on Trade Deadline Monday, and that’s more problematic for those who want news, analysis and coverage of those leagues. It’s difficult to find a happy medium, but a few promising steps could involve ESPN pulling in some of TSN’s panelists via satellite link for that evening’s SportsCenter (TSN often does this for college football and the NFL, and they even brought in ESPN NHL analyst Pierre LeBrun for a segment Monday, so it presumably can go the other way), or Canadian media outlets in general dialing down the hype a little bit. Ideally, we’d find a balance where those who care about the deadline can get all the information they want in whatever format they prefer regardless of where they live, while those who want other sports news can find that. It’s unclear what NAFTA says about hockey trade deadline coverage, but it’s one area where a cross-border trade of ideas could perhaps benefit everyone.