At the Stanley Cup Final Games 3 and 4 in Pittsburgh, it was interesting to watch the ESPN crew operate.
They had the back of the press room -- using their announcer voices while the reporters banged away at keyboards -- and would work through their analysis of the game and its highlights in rehearsals before committing them to video. They're also afforded some benefits (as is the case with other television networks) that the print media is not, such as one-on-one postgame interviews with players.
The quality of that analysis is frequently less important for many fans than when they get to hear it. The placement of stories on ESPN's SportsCenter (the evening edition) remains a vital barometer of importance around the sports world.
Sports Business Daily's blog The Daily has compiled a game-by-game summary of ESPN's coverage of the Stanley Cup Final between the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins, and the results are quite interesting. Make of this what you will:
The Penguins' dramatic 2-1 Game Seven win led Friday night's broadcast with a seven minute, 13 second (7:13) report from ESPN's Steve Levy, Barry Melrose and Matthew Barnaby, who were at Joe Louis Arena. The broadcast also included more highlights, postgame interviews and player press conferences. The total time devoted to hockey coverage was 11:47.
Game Six aired on June 9th, the same night as Game Three of the NBA Finals from Orlando, and despite going head-to-head with the NBA, Game Six led the two-hour broadcast with a 6:18 report from Melrose and ESPN's John Anderson. The first NBA Finals Game Three highlight appeared 1 hour into the broadcast, as soon as the game on ABC ended. But despite the NHL leading the broadcast, total coverage of the NBA Finals was 42:32 while NHL coverage was 9:24.
ESPN's coverage can't be judged by SportsCenter time alone. ESPNews had postgame press conferences after many of the Final games. With Pierre LeBrun, Scott Burnside and E.J. Hradek on-site for most (if not all) of it, ESPN.com produced some of the best beat coverage of the series.
Besides, the disparity of the coverage between the NBA and the NHL after Game 6 of the SCF can be easily explained away by the fact that ESPN has its hand in the hoops cookie jar. The WWL's self-promotion isn't exactly a state secret; ask the XFL (NBC) and the WUSA (Turner, then PAX) about how much love a sports property with little association with ESPN receives. Well, ask the people who used to work for them, that is.
This brings us back to a classic debate here on Puck Daddy: Would games being on ESPN increase that percentage of SportsCenter coverage? Because that association didn't lead to overwhelming coverage the last time the NHL was on ESPN.