One of the promises of FS1's flagship highlight show Fox Sports Live was that unlike ESPN's flagship show SportsCenter, they were going to show plenty of hockey highlights and treat the NHL like a major North American sport. Deadspin studied SportsCenter for a year and found just 2.7% of its airtime was dedicated to the NHL, placing it behind golf and just ahead of NASCAR. They also found the word most associated with "hockey" were the names of anchors Linda Cohn and Steve Levy, speaking to just how rare hockey coverage is on ESPN.
The lack of hockey on ESPN and the combative relationship between hockey fans and ESPN is nothing new. Bristol's belief that hockey "doesn't translate to a national discussion" opens a door for Fox Sports 1 to better serve hockey fans with their own highlight show. And given how disappointing ratings have been for the upstart network, they need all the viewers they can get.
ESPN and FS1 anchors are even competing over who's going to be showing more hockey. Check out this interaction between ESPN's John Buccigross and FS1's Jay Onrait after an Onrait tweet to a Colorado Avalanche player.
— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) October 2, 2013
So with three games taking place on the NHL's opening night, did Fox Sports Live live up to expectations? Did they show more hockey highlights than SportsCenter? We compared the 1 AM ET episodes of Fox Sports Live and SportsCenter head to head. Here's what we found…
Time dedicated to hockey
Fox Sports Live: 8 minutes, 8 seconds
SportsCenter: 3 minutes, 45 seconds
Fox Sports Live analysis
At the start of the 1 AM program, FS Live made it clear hockey highlights are going to be a pillar of the show moving forward. The first words spoken by Charissa Thompson before handing it over to Jay & Dan for Reds-Pirates highlights were these:
"Can the Blackhawks repeat last year's magic plus the Pirates and Reds finally settle things, I'm Charissa Thompson. Coming up on Fox Sports Live, plenty of hockey…"
That's right, FS Live led with a hockey tease.
The first segment of the show consisted of Pirates-Reds highlights and a full panel discussion as well as news on Josh Freeman. 15 minutes in to FS Live, the entire second segment of the show was dedicated to highlights of all 3 NHL games with Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole. Both Caps-Hawks and Leafs-Canadiens were given about a minute while Jets-Oilers got about 20 seconds of highlights. After the highlights, Chris Chelios joined Dan O'Toole to spotlight his top goalies, defensemen, goalscorers, and young players this season. And they even joked that Chelios was going to pick all Red Wings players. Thankfully, he didn't, nor did he call them "our team" so that was a step in the right direction.
A full segment of hockey highlights and analysis is definitely an indication of FS1's commitment to more diversified highlights. Charissa Thompson's intro was an immediate statement to hockey fans to kick off their shoes, make themselves at home, and try out the hors d'oeuvres.
Believe it or not, SportsCenter did hit hockey highlights faster than Fox Sports Live did. 9 minutes into the show in the first segment, Barry Melrose joined Neil Everett. After brief idle chit-chat, SportsCenter aired 90 seconds of Caps-Blackhawks highlights, definitely the longest for any single game.
After Barry Melrose listed his fantasy hockey team, the segment was over at the 2:40 mark.
42 minutes into the show, SportsCenter returned to hockey with a Leafs-Canadiens highlight focusing on the news of George Parros' scary fall and concussion in a fight. That highlight lasted 1:05 bringing the total time SportsCenter dedicated to hockey highlights at 3:45.
It's only one night, but Fox Sports Live had more than twice the amount of hockey highlights in comparison to SportsCenter. They also showed Jets-Oilers highlights while SportsCenter neglected to do so. Perhaps that's an indication you'll see more NHL games mentioned on FS Live and not just the big market, big star teams that SportsCenter is likely to focus on.
The biggest test in this study will come in November and December when the NHL is going up against the NBA and college basketball on a nightly basis. If FS Live continues to give NHL prominent placement on a more crowded sports night then they'll have a great case to make for any hockey fans still watching SportsCenter to make the switch.