Hockey and the BBC in Sochi

Today’s gold medal clash between Canada and Sweden marks the end of a fortnight’s worth of international hockey on our TV screens.

The BBC has shown every game, or as damned near as, on one format or another. That’s EVERY game from the men’s and women’s tournament.

Apparently showing 52 games isn’t good enough for some though.

Sad Sochi Bear

‘Complaints’ have ranged from not showing full games, to cutting to and from games, to the commentary, to what is and is not on the red button and finally to what is being shown instead.

Frankly, some of the complaints come across as, well, ‘crackpot’. Not liking curling is apparently a reason to complain when that is on BBC2 and the hockey is on the red button…

The fact Great Britain had a serious chance at a medal in both the men’s and women’s competitions (ultimately they won silver and bronze respectively), as well as what appears to be a wider interest in the sport during these Olympics, means it already has a significant advantage over the hockey.

The same goes for numerous other sports, where just having a British participant gave it significant advantage over the hockey. Slim hopes of a medal in slalom skiing, or similar, instantly give that more appeal to the BBC than the hockey does.

I’m not saying this to run British hockey down, but the only British interest in either side of the hockey tournament was Joy Johnston being there as an official. That really doesn’t help the ’cause’; and it’s a problem that will remain until IHUK, or the British game as a whole, gets its finger out.

So any coverage is based purely on ‘interest’. The British hockey fan base is passionate, but I’d seriously question the interest in hockey among the general population – outside of highlights packages – and I do genuinely believe events like the bobsleigh are more appealing to the wider population.

Claims there are ‘millions’ of hockey fans in the UK are tough to back up. Not everyone who has a passing interest in the NHL cares for the Olympics (a bit like how not every EIHL fan cares for Team GB…), and that’s the great balancing act the BBC has to deal with – covering as much as possible, getting the ‘right’ things on to the appropriate screens and making it all accessible.

Which brings me to complaints about the commentary.

Brent Pope and Seth Bennett will have covered 38 full games in Sochi. They have the unenviable task of catering to two wildly different audiences – those who ‘know’ hockey and those who do not.

Complaints that commentary is ‘dumbed down’, by fans who are already initiated in the ways of the hockey world, are massively unfair.

I am damned sure Pope could break down a powerplay to a much higher level than 90% of viewers would understand – whilst some might find this tactical breakdown educational, for the vast majority it would be utter gobbledegook and an instant turn off for a sport that is already tough going on TV, especially for those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of it.

Sadly this is something some people still do not seem to have learnt from – instead they’d, again, rather run for their pitchforks and accuse Pope and Bennett of being banal.

Bennett has probably done more for the promotion of the sport in the UK over the past two weeks than the ‘powers that be’ have for a decade.

Clamouring for more CBC feeds only caters for the tiny percentage of people who already know who Jim Hughson is, and ignores some pretty sizeable external factors.

I’m not claiming coverage was perfect – there were frustrations with the scheduling at times as the BBC seeks to fit in as much as possible across its TV channels. But the 15 odd periods they have shown on BBC2 is the largest proportion of live hockey on terrestrial channel since, well, since Vancouver 2010…

They’ve also embraced technology by showing games via their website and mobile apps. The end result was viewers had unprecedented access to both the men’s and women’s hockey tournaments during these Olympics.

For a minority sport, with limited interest among the population at large and no playing representation in Sochi, ice hockey has done pretty damned well out of the BBC at these Olympics. And whilst I am all for hoping for more, bombarding the BBC with tweets and emails complaining about the best coverage the sport has seen in years is mind boggling.

Some people need a reality check as to the status of ice hockey in the UK, and realise just how well we’ve been catered for these past two weeks.

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About Rob

Software engineer by day, Elite League Media man by night, Rob also blogs about cricket for One Stump Short, hockey for In Goal Magazine and video games for Outpost Delta as well as hosting the One Stump Short Podcast.

Posted on February 23, 2014, in British Hockey, Hockey, Olympics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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