NBC’s Monopoly on Playoff Hockey Robs Team Announcers of a Legacy

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In June of 1994, while most people across the United States were listening to Gary Thorne and Bill Clement broadcast game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals between the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks, hockey fans in the New York-Metropolitan Area got to listen to two familiar voices call the game: Sam Rosen and John Davidson on MSG Network. The exciting game, which ranks among the greatest in the sport, was capped off by Rosen’s legendary call upon the final buzzer, “This one will last a lifetime!” You could hear the passion in his voice as he spoke for every single Ranger fan alive as 54 years of frustration and anger were about to go out the window. While Thorne and Clement were excellent in their own right, and the same could be said for the Canadian broadcasters on CBC, the only version of that final moment that ever gets shown in any replay is Rosen’s. He was, and still is, the television play-by-play announcer for the New York Rangers, calling nearly all of the 82 games his club plays every season. A few months ago, he celebrated his 30th year with the franchise, working games for MSG. However, given that all playoff games aside for the first round have been hijacked by NBC Sports Networks, I wonder how Rosen feels that if the moment were ever to arise again, he will never call another Stanley Cup Finals game in his lifetime—I use him as an example because I am a Rangers fan, but the same can be said for every hometown announcer around the league.

The guys who we love, who we come to know after inviting them into our homes 82 or more times during a season are suddenly cast aside once the playoffs roll around, if your favorite team were to make it past round one. That has been the case ever since the 04/05 lockout, when broadcasting rights switched from ABC and ESPN to NBC and their family of networks. In the past, a team’s regular home network was allowed to broadcast games in their normal region while the rest of the country watched on a national network. To me, this was perfectly satisfying, as we would get Thorne and Clement on ESPN while fans of the two teams playing in that round could hear their regular broadcast team.

In recent years, with Mike Emrick somehow becoming the Hockey God-ordained ultimate broadcaster of the sport, from the moment that occurred until he decides to retire, he will own every single Stanley Cup Finals call. Every big play, every historic game, every overtime drama will belong to him, and more importantly, NBC. The announcers who slave away for 82 regular season games are helplessly cast aside and rendered jobless for the playoffs, unless they are lucky enough to have their home network put them to work on a pre or post-game show, or even for their radio broadcasts, which remain the same. It is sad to think that guys who enter this career because they love hockey so much will never have a chance to gain a legacy with that big call. Sure, plenty of nice moments happen during the regular season, but it is the playoffs and Stanley Cup Finals that go down in history, the ones that we replay over and over again in highlight videos and in our minds.

If NBC had this monopoly in 1994, there would be no “This one will last a lifetime!”, a quote so famous that it was used as the title for Rosen’s 30th anniversary documentary special which aired on MSG. Now, I am not trying to knock down Emrick, who will no-doubt go down as the greatest announcer in the sport, despite his quirky calls. He brings an unmatched passion and enthusiasm for the game, but when your team is in it, when you are on the edge of your seat, nerves flying out the window, I believe we regain some comfort to hear our hometown announcers doing the game, at least in our neck of the woods, because they are on our side. This is so because we can feel their excitement and celebrate with them as our team moves on, and yes, always await the call that will forever be remembered. The NBC broadcast team is very good, but in the end, what this network is doing to the hometown guys is nothing short of robbery. Any announcer who enters the field probably dreamed of the day they would get to call a Stanley Cup Finals game and live forever with that legendary call. That is impossible now.

I do not know if anything can be changed, but I do hope that one day we can return to having our home network broadcast games locally throughout the entire playoffs. It is only right to the people who do this for a living, who are at the rink every day, immersing themselves in the team they cover. This has been bothering me for a while, and since the Almighty Dollar is all anyone cares about, I doubt anything will happen, but we can hold out hope that this trend will not last a lifetime, and we can give someone new a chance to earn their legacy.

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2 thoughts on “NBC’s Monopoly on Playoff Hockey Robs Team Announcers of a Legacy

  1. The network monopoly of the finals actually pre-dates NBC — 1994 was the last year that the finals were called by local announcers. Doc Emrick called the Devils winning the Cup in 1995, but it was on Fox. Local broadcasters did go later into the playoffs prior to the most recent NBC contract, but it’s been 20 years since local voices called the finals.

    All you have to do is look at ratings to understand why the local stations can’t do the later rounds any more. The local markets help drive the ratings, which is why NBC was quite happy that there are 4 original six (3 in US markets) team left in the playoffs, as well as Pittsburgh, who has the best local ratings of any NHL team.

  2. I remember way back in the 60s and 70s, when NBC broadcast the World Series, local announcers would join Curt Gowdy and Joe Garagiola in the booth. For example, Lindsey Nelson joined them for at least part of one game of the 1969 World Series. It would still be best for the local team to use its own broadcast, but given the current reality it would be great if something similar could be accommodated here. It might be awkward having two play by play guys in the booth, but they could alternate by period.

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