Hockey like it oughta be

Hey, look! They finally put a team in Soldier Field worth showing up to watch.

That’s not a shot at the Bears --- OK, not as cheap a shot as I usually take --- but more off a comment on the difference between football and hockey, and after watching Blackhawks-Penguins on NBC on Saturday night, here it is:

Hockey is the best sport to see in person. Football is probably the worst.

Hockey is the worst sport to watch on television. Football is the best.

The worst place to watch a football game is in a football stadium. The worst place to watch hockey is on television.

The best place to watch hockey is at the venue. The best place to watch football is in your den.

Clear? That’s just about every which way I can say it.

Football is the perfect television sport. Hockey is a mess on the tube, no matter how flat, wide or high-def your screen is.

The football is bigger than the puck. Duh, I know. But start with that. A football is easier for a cameraman to follow, while hockey is a guessing game. Hockey requires more anticipation on the viewer’s part. Football coverage finds the ball easier and has a lot of time to follow it in the air.

What’s more, the time between snaps allows everything to be replayed. That’s how we’ve become trained to watch football --- the play in real time, then the play in slow motion, then the next play. That’s not the way it works in a stadium.

Televised hockey, however, is about replaying far fewer moments --- goals, saves, penalties. Hockey, then, is more about live action and more of a flow --- elements far more satisfying when shared with 22,000 of your closest friends.

But television is where all the money is, and televised hockey being played in perfect conditions can be impossible to follow because the players are so good, the passes so slick, the shots so quick. Newbies can get intimidated.

But the TV problems faced by hockey changes significantly when it moves outside.

For the NHL, bad weather is good news.

The game looks cooler when snow is falling, a visual that can’t be underrated when trying to draw in new fans.

But more importantly, bad weather slows down play and makes it easier to follow on television.

Specifically, the elements make it easier for the casual fans to follow, and the casual fans are the people the NHL needs.

The kind of elements the Hawks and Penguins faced Saturday forced players to make more straight-line plays and more pass-and-shoot plays, creating the kind of game that’s easier to follow, mindful of the table-top hockey games we grew up playing.

NBC used a floating overhead camera that created some unusual looks, and hard snow looked like pucks flying everywhere at times, but when you combine the look of a pond hockey game and a pace that isn’t intimidating to track, then you’ve got a product that grows the brand.

The league believes it gets that kind of exposure by participating in the Olympics, but I think that’s a crock. I’ve yet to find tangible evidence of that. I believe this year’s stadium series and the Winter Classics make for better exposure and greater benefits because provincial tops nationalistic.

First of all, we’re talking actual franchises, not jingoistic fantasy teams. We’re talking sweaters the league shows off all season, and the season after that and so on.

Second, these games might be in your town someday. When the Kings and Ducks can play in Dodger Stadium, there’s no city that isn’t a candidate.

But the important thing is seeing Jonathan Toews playing with, not against, Patrick Kane. He’ll do that all season. That’s what you want fans to buy. That’s what you want casual fans to get used to, and it’s easier to get used to the fastest sport when when weather slows it down just enough to make it easier to follow on television.

A hockey game in a football stadium in football weather ---the NHL got this tradition right.

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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