ESPN, One Of The NHL's Biggest Partners, Says Hockey Teams 'Don't Count' When Discussing Championship Cities

Hey hockey fans, it's good to see that the NHL's biggest broadcast partner, ESPN, clearly cares a great deal about your favorite sport.

Stephen A. Smith and Molly Qerim welcomed broadcaster Michael Kay on ESPN's First Take for a discussion of which New York area team will be the next to win a championship.

It all started when Qerim did what she does best: tee up prepared questions.

"Which team in New York do you think wins a championship next?" she asked.

Kay wasted no time, slamming the table to punctuate his answer: the New York Rangers.

You're on ESPN, Michael; that's the wrong answer.

"Oh lord..." Stephen A. opined.

Kay tried to make his case with a ham-fisted joke about Patrick Kane and Abel but was shouted down by Qerim.

"They don't count, they don't count, ask Stephen A.," in fairness, she was abiding by house rules.

It was at that point that Stephen A. trotted out one of his favorite lines.

"The only thing I know about hockey is that the puck is black and I love Gary Bettman," he said (though I'll concede, I didn't expect that second point).

Qerim explained to Kay that they didn't mean any disrespect to the Rangers or Kane, but that for Stephen A.'s sake, stick to football, basketball, or baseball.

Now, no one is under any illusion that any of the First Take regulars are hockey experts, but saying a hockey team doesn't count when discussing the next New York team to win a Championship, is a bit much.

Especially when ESPN, shelled out so much to broadcast and stream the bulk of the NHL schedule.

I get that ESPN ignored hockey for years after the 2005 lockout because they didn't broadcast games. That makes complete sense, but it's crazy to me how short of putting a little ad in the corner or airing occasional promo spots, they still kind of blow off hockey. At least when you consider that they are the league's primary broadcast partner.

I think when the NHL negotiated their latest rights deal, they got excited about reconnecting with the "worldwide leader in sports." Back in the day, the NHL on ESPN was incredible. I mean, the music alone was classic. At least they brought that back.

That was one of the few good decisions they've made.

ESPN Isn't Growing Hockey Or The NHL, It's Reluctantly Airing It

However, ESPN hasn't really done much to grow hockey, despite branding itself as the "home of hockey."

If they're the home of hockey, why would they practically ignore it, or not want to discuss it?

According to The Athletic, ESPN pays the league $400 million every year to broadcast games. By comparison, they pay the WNBA $12 million to broadcast the WNBA.

If you're running a sports network which one would you prioritize? Probably the NHL.

Yet what does ESPN spend more time pushing on shows like First Take? The WNBA.

Why wouldn't they want to put more effort behind getting a better return on investment from the NHL — something they pay 40x more per year for — than the WNBA? The only answer to that is wokeness.

There's a reason people say "go woke, go broke," and it's not just because it rhymes. It's because wokeness requires companies to ignore normal business practices and even economic principles.

The NHL has a bigger audience, and they paid more for it, yet the "diversity" and the fact that it's women playing moves the needle with the progressives, whose minds have been picked apart over the years by parasitic wokeness.

How does that decision translate to money, which is the entire purpose of operating a business like ESPN? It doesn't.

That decision is up to ESPN. If it — as a TV network — wants to prioritize something no one watches over something people do watch that's its prerogative. It's stupid. But they're allowed to be blithering idiots.

It should be noted that it isn't like the NHL — which has had its own bouts with woke ideologies — isn't giving ESPN a good product to promote. Look what TNT is doing with their broadcasts. They've taken the formula from Inside The NBA and translated it to the ice. They had fun and did something interesting with the league.

Meanwhile, it sometimes feels like to ESPN, NHL coverage is a chore. They've got some great talent too. John Buccigross, Barry Melrose, Linda Cohn, Mark Messier, Chris Chelios, Kevin Weekes, P.K. Subban. Yet the network treats the sport like its Sunday morning public service programming. Like, they're saying "We don't want to broadcast this, but we have to."

Unfortunately for the NHL, ESPN has broadcast rights through the 2027-28 season. Hopefully next time around, the league doesn't get starstruck by an ailing, once-great cable network and makes a deal that actually benefits the league, and more importantly, the sport.

Follow on Twitter: @Matt_Reigle

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Matt is a University of Central Florida graduate and a long-suffering Philadelphia Flyers fan living in Orlando, Florida. He can usually be heard playing guitar, shoe-horning obscure quotes from The Simpsons into conversations, or giving dissertations to captive audiences on why Iron Maiden is the greatest band of all time.