Growing TV presence signals bolder, brighter future
The days of televising only the major college hockey events (the Beanpot, the conference championships, the national tournament) are long behind. That goes for the women’s game as well as the men’s.
The sport’s TV presence has gone from specialized to season-long, and in some ways from regional to national. Look no further than the regular-season telecasts on ESPNU and CBS College Sports. Add the syndicated broadcasts on the American Sports Network and the Fox College Sports family.
October has already seen two significant announcements in as many weeks regarding college hockey TV coverage. Both bode exceptionally well for the sport’s future.
First, the WCHA has renewed its partnership with Fox Sports North for a second season and will now include both of its leagues in its broadcast slate. Six women’s games will be televised, including the conference postseason championship game.
“We could not be happier or prouder to continue partnering with FOX Sports North to increase exposure both for the WCHA and the sport of women’s hockey,” said WCHA women’s commissioner Katie Million in the press release. “The women in our league are amazing and play exceptionally high-quality hockey that needs to be televised broadly – especially in a year when many of their WCHA predecessors will skate in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.”
Particularly for women’s hockey, this announcement is a welcome addition to a sport that needs to reach a wider audience. Last season, only Wisconsin, Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota averaged more than 1,000 fans per contest. Elsewhere in the nation, six schools could not even garner 100 spectators per contest.
To be sure, there are many fans, especially alumni and the families of current student-athletes, who would attend if they could. For many of them, there is always the modern convenience of audio and video webcasts.
But without the same bona fide TV coverage the men’s game receives, women’s college hockey could continue to stagnate. While the New England Sports Network has long covered the Women’s Hockey East championship, there is plainly more a given network-conference tandem can do.
The WCHA’s commitment to growth is exactly what other leagues should emulate, especially considering Fox Sports North reaches two million homes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas. Many of the events it carries also hit households in the other 45 states if their TV subscription includes Fox College Sports.
The major highlight for women’s college hockey TV coverage this year is Jan. 20’s St. Cloud State-Minnesota outdoor tilt. This will be the first-ever televised outdoor women’s game in the 12 years of Hockey Day Minnesota.
This comes on the heels of the Women’s Frozen Four ending a long absence from genuine TV coverage by airing on the Big Ten Network. BTN, which is also available on digital cable packages across the nation, made the 2017 national title game the first of its kind to air on a physical TV in seven years.
Based on its remarkable success in its first year, one should anticipate a significant jump in Year 2, which could soon expand to other women’s conferences.
Perhaps this announcement, coupled with the birth of the magazine show, College Hockey Nation, could spur increased attention to college hockey across the country.
College Hockey Inc. released the details of the program, which ESPN will distribute to its on-demand customers, this past Tuesday. Beginning this Sunday, it will run bi-weekly installments featuring behind-the-scenes stories.
The teasers for the first episode foreshadow lofty quality material in this show. The premiere will package a story on Michigan coach Mel Pearson following legend Red Berenson’s footsteps and Arizona State goaltender Joey Daccord’s decision to go to the upstart Sun Devils rather than a hometown New England program.
The quick trailers hint at many mic’d-up, in-depth glimpses of practices and other day-to-day game preparation. That alone shrewdly mimics the documentaries we have seen on NHL teams, such as 24/7.
And the imprint of John Buccigross and Rival Films, both of whom have influential track records in promoting the game, make the program’s promise self-explanatory.
“We know the passion college hockey fans have for their teams and the game as a whole,” said Rival Films managing partner Matt Fults in the statement. “With ‘College Hockey Nation,’ we will be able to feed that passion in a new and unique way. The college game has never been stronger, between the parity across the nation and the success of NCAA alumni in the NHL. That makes this the perfect time to deliver a show like ‘College Hockey Nation’ to new and existing college hockey fans.”
These initiatives only play into college hockey’s goals of trending upward as its looks to expand the number of Division I programs. Investing in greater college hockey TV coverage, both at and beyond game time and for both the men’s and women’s game, is simply a commonsense next stride in that direction.