Two announcements regarding TV deals came out of the Southeast division this week and neither of them featured good news. Well one of them did -- sort of.
The Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers both announced the basics of their local television coverage for the season, and both will have only 65 of 82 games available to fans in their local markets.
For the Panthers, 65 is the minimum number of games that Fox Sports/Sun Sports is required to show per their contract. So, when that contract expires, there could be bad news. I guess we'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, cutting down to the minimum -- from 70 games last year -- doesn't look good. Apparently Fox Sports is cutting down on coverage across the nation, mainly due to cost concerns, and that is now being felt by hockey fans. We all know that the market in South Florida isn't the best, but this is another small setback.
Things are a bit better in Raleigh, North Carolina. There the Hurricanes will feature 65 of 82 games on local television just like the Panthers. The difference there is that the coverage is up from only 55 games the previous year. So good news, yes, but still only 80% of games on the tube.
While these developments don't seem to be anything too new or earth shattering, especially for these two teams, it doesn't paint a bright outlook on the future. Down the road when the Panthers' TV deal expires will Fox look to lower the 65-game minimum? With the sports market for television continuing to grow and expand (look at all the new college sports networks, for example) will we see the lowest teams on the totem pole not even have TV contracts?
Right now this isn't a big deal. I'm really interested in seeing how this plays out in the future. That is mainly because for years I've been told one of the only things that kept the Islanders in New York through the 90's was an absurdly good cable television deal. Whether that's the absolute truth or not, I don't know. What I do know is that television means big money and being able to watch your local team has been a right -- not a privilege -- for fans for the last 10 to 15 years. If or when that changes, some of us could be in for a rude awakening.
Who knows, maybe in 10 years we'll all be watching games on Center Ice. Hell, we might all just be watching NHL.tv on our laptops. I think that may be the more likely scenario. Of course, by 2030 the games will be beamed straight into our skulls. But while we wait for that to be invented, there could be some potential issues with television deals that we'll have to deal with.