Five months ago I wrote up suggestions for modernizing the content of hockey shows produced by Sportsnet. They deserved a lot of flak for simply dressing up Hockey Night in Canada with glitter and flashing lights, and not using their resources to really change the broadcast. They shoehorned in George Stroumboulopoulos to deliberately not do what he does best. It was a mess.
There was a lot of work to do, and, I admit, they have made some improvements. I like Campbell-Pascal’s colour commentary. I like David Amber. I like how we aren’t being thrown around a giant 2 story set. I like how Glenn Healy is no longer there to tell me I am an idiot, pretending that his hot-take contrarianism is not an unoriginal affectation of broadcast talent.
What happened was mostly what I anticipated. The flash was cut and they reverted to a “safe” broadcast. The panel is simply people talking about the game and the league, plus Cherry rambling about whatever he wants.
However, I noted that “safe” isn’t good enough in the long run. They need to evolve and bring in real changes to how they present the game to reach an audience that is going all-in on alternative sources to learn about the game.
This hasn’t happened yet.
A great example is how in 2016, HNIC still has someone standing in the hallway outside the rink for a 30 second segment asking players how hard they sportsed. Scripted softball questions are lobbed out for players with generic responses in an extremely constrained time — which is not adding any value. Sometimes the players have literally only a few seconds to answer the questions.
They can’t add value for their viewers by asking Nazem Kadri to summarize the first two periods of the game for them in eight seconds. The best response they can hope for is an empty phrase like “We’re down one going in to the third, so we’re in an OK spot.” [Being down any number of goals on Carey Price is never a good spot to be in, Naz.]
These silly interviews have become so widely mocked there is even a comic about it whose fame rivals Don Cherry’s.
One of my suggestions to Sportsnet was to look to the Swedish Hockey League and how broadcaster C More Sport handled their intermission segments. I noted players are interviewed by people in studio, the panel asks questions that can’t be answered with simple responses, and they show the players the video the audience is watching and have them break down the play. Most importantly, the segment has enough time to unfold naturally, so it doesn’t feel rushed and scripted.
It turns out you don’t need to visit another continent to see this. It’s already being done in the NHL.
This past Saturday I was intrigued by a similar intermission segment during the Tampa Bay Lightning @ Flyers game. It was broadcast by Tampa Bay’s home station, Fox Sports Sun.
Yes, you read that correctly. FOX Sports. That same network that brought FoxTrax to hockey 20 years ago for people who couldn’t follow the puck.
They have come a long way from those dark days.
Let’s compare two interviews. The first is the aforementioned Tyler Johnson interview on FOX Sports Sun, and the second is the Nazem Kadri interview on Hockey Night in Canada.
FOX Sports Sun
Interview: Tyler Johnson
Interviewers: Paul Kennedy and Bobby Taylor
Duration: 1 minute 45 seconds
Q: “What a great way to start after having to kill those penalties, Tyler. Take us through how you were able to bring it through the neutral zone and find Valteri Filppula, and then off you go.”
A: “We kind of had a little ad-lib on the power play because we were in the middle of a change there on a breakout. I don’t remember if it was Killer that got me the puck in our zone, but then I was kind of able to find Fil[ppula] stretching there. [Showing play on screen] Then he made an unbelievable play at the blue line right through to Killer, and then Killer made another great play right to me and... you can’t really miss that [laughs].
Q: “Tyler, one of the things that was very important in that first period was the penalty kill. You’ve won a number of big face-offs in that penalty kill situation. Is that a real thing that you have to concentrate on to get out of that trouble?”
A: “Ya. I think face-offs are always pretty important, but they’re especially important in the power play and penalty kill. If you can ice the puck on a PK right away that’s probably another 20 seconds off a penalty. Anytime you can do that it’s huge. It takes everyone to battle though. They have that extra guy to be able to win the puck so everyone has to contribute.
Q: “They are the second highest scoring team in the NHL - the best power play right now in terms of generating goals - what’s top of mind, the number one point of emphasis going in to the second and third period tonight, Tyler?”
A: “Well I think for us we’d like to see ourselves not be on the PK quite as much. I got in trouble there once. We got too many [penalties] there. They’re a good PP like you alluded to so we don’t want to keep giving them chances but for the most part it’s just playing our game. I think we can play a pretty fast, skilled game and when we do that we’re on top of it. We just need to continue doing [that].
I love how natural Johnson sounds. He isn’t pressed for time, spitting out canned answers. He gets to watch the same video we do at home, and he does a play-by-play from his point of view on the ice. The goal scorer actually walking us through his play during the intermission interview?! The future is now!
Johnson elaborates on his thoughts, he gives honest answers, and he even admits he screwed up on one shift. The way he casually uses his teammates nicknames while narrating the play-by-play of his goal is so endearing.
He is enjoying talking about the game.
He’s not rushing to simply get it over with. The interviewers, Paul Kennedy and Bobby Taylor, act the same way. They aren’t speaking at 500 words per minute out of a necessity to fit in a constrained segment. It’s a casual and friendly conversation. They are enjoying what they are doing! We, the viewers, learn something.
Johnson doesn’t make any game-shattering revelations, and I wouldn’t expect him to start dishing out Cooper’s playbook or something like that. It’s simply useful facts and insight from his point of view told in an easy to digest manner.
Hockey Night in Canada
Interview: Nazem Kadri
Interviewer: Kyle Bukauskas
Duration: 30 seconds
Q: “Nazem you got the power play marker to cut the lead to one for Montreal. What did you make of your guys’ response after going down by two after the second?”
A: “I thought it was good. I mean, obviously they pushed back a little bit to start that second period and I felt like Freddie did a good job grounding us, and we were able to get one on the power play. We’re down one going in to the third, so we’re in an OK spot.”
Q: “You once again are engaged physically here tonight. How would you gauge the intensity between these two teams here on the ice this evening?”
A: “It’s very intense, obviously; Toronto, Montreal, Saturday Night. Games are always played at a high [level of] emotion and intensity, and I expect no different in the third period.
Hockey is intense. Thanks for this, Naz. I want him to troll these interviews like he trolls opponents on the ice.
“It’s really relaxed, obviously. Gally and I are making plans to hit up Stock Bar to check out the show and do some tequila rose shots later tonight.”
Kadri is asked what he thought about his teammates’ play after they were down by two goals, and has to respond to that in under 10 seconds. We learn he thinks Frederik Andersen has been good since they went down by two. Well, yeah, when you look at the game only from after the last time your opponent scored, the goalie usually looks pretty good. By definition he has let in no goals.
Let me be clear, this inanity is not the fault of Kadri or Bukauskas. They are tasked with the impossible: making a 30 second filler segment crammed into the middle of a 5 minute commercial break into something worth our time. Both sound rushed, blurting out the questions and the answers as fast as they can. As a viewer, it feels like they are both watching the clock because they have more important things to do and don’t want to be there.
They can’t win because there’s no way to make that segment worth the viewers’ time!
There is, of course, no magical format for a perfect informative hockey player interview. I have no idea how players are even selected for these segments; whether they volunteer, or are voluntold to do it, I don’t know. [Maybe whoever got the last penalty? - Acha]
I accept there is a possibility the player has little interest in talking, or actually doesn’t have anything meaningful to say. A later interview by FOX Sports Sun during that same game with Ondrej Palat fell flat, though Palat appeared to be struggling to fully express his thoughts in English, and Kennedy and Taylor tried their best to help him. Palat’s 1.5 minute segment was still more informative than the Kadri interview.
The point is Sportsnet is turtling here instead of innovating. This outdated interview format - cramming in two questions to a player in 30 seconds by some guy in a hallway - is not worth watching in the “second screen” era. I have real new content available to me every few seconds on our own GDT, on Twitter, etc...
That Johnson interview came on during our Marlies meet-up pre-party and we were all shocked at how there is such better coverage out there by a random Florida FOX sports affiliate. It was refreshing to see a more sophisticated alternative to what we have been stuck with on HNiC for YEARS.
Sportsnet should take a step back and have a good long look around at how others are already doing hockey broadcasting better. Why is a business that spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year on a proprietary asset not continuously tweaking and improving it?
If you are going to do it, then be the best at it!
Otherwise dump the hallway interview segments completely and use that time for a 31st thought from Elliotte Friedman.