Monday, March 16, 2009

Adjusting faceoffs to accommodate fans

Years ago, the Blackhawks had a reputation for being indifferent to accommodating fans' schedules. Why did they care? They sold out Chicago Stadium almost every night. Now, of course, the Chicago sports landscape is quite different. Except for one constant: this season, the Blackhawks are selling out United Center every night! For a long time, there were no games on Friday or Saturday nights. This year featured just two Saturday night contests, a disadvantage that I hope changes next season. (The Bulls host a dozen this season. That is so unfair. The Chicago Tribune posted a letter I wrote making just that point.) A recent Blackhawks tradition, dating back to the debut of the United Center, I believe, is 2pm Sunday matinée faceoffs in the spring, including every Sunday in March. This tradition continues this year. For Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, April 5 and 12, the Blackhawks pushed back the faceoffs two hours to 4pm to allow its churchgoing fans time to attend church and enjoy the holiday meal before heading to the stadium.

Then NBC called. Not so fast, Chicago, said the NHL's network partner. The Peacock wants to telecast the Blackhawks' April 12 season finale against Detroit for its nationwide audience. That means a 1pm local start on Easter Sunday. Here is another example of local fans being inconvenienced for NBC Sports. Remember Bears-Packers Dec. 31, 2006? NBC pushed that game from noon to 7:15 (and it was freezing), ruining the New Year's plans of 66,000 people.

I understand that NBC pays the bills. But if I had bought my season finale tickets in October, when they were still available on the open market, and had invited two dozen friends and family for Easter dinner at noon (planning on leaving for the stadium at 2:30), I would be very unhappy.* I would need to choose between cancelling the party or selling the tickets. For me, that's just conjecture. April 12 is Pesach chol ha'moed--an intermediate, non-holy day of Passover. I could go to the game, and it doesn't matter what time it starts. But I'm understanding of those whose holiday is inconvenienced or ruined.

*Also, we could have pulled off a Cubs-Blackhawks tv doubleheader: Cubs at 1:05, Blackhawks at 4:07. Alas. Now we need two tv's.

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