Majority of U.S. hockey market newspapers not covering Cup finals

6/2/2007 - NHL

OTTAWA -- U.S. newspapers are largely declining to staff the
Stanley Cup finals. So the NHL is trying to bring the game to them.

Already dealing with minuscule cable television ratings through
two games of the championship series between the Anaheim Ducks and
Ottawa Senators, the NHL anticipated a small turnout of
American-based reporters and took action to try to maximize

Of the 21 U.S. markets that have NHL teams, only nine were
represented for any of the first three games. That includes local
coverage in the Los Angeles area. The Daily News of New York
covered the entire series, while The New York Times sent a reporter
only to the opener.

"It's sad," Tampa Bay forward Vincent Lecavalier said Saturday
before Game 3. "If people are not watching it they are really
missing out. It's a great series and they definitely should cover
it. It's exciting and it's the Stanley Cup."

News conferences before the series opener were made available by
telephone -- the next best thing to being there.

"We did take advantage ... for staff-written stories about
Ottawa carrying the Canadian flag and a more general preview,"
said Ray Stein, sports editor of The Columbus Dispatch, absent from
the past two finals. "As much as I hate to jinx myself, I have yet
to receive one reader complaint about it."

The league also provided remote availability for commissioner
Gary Bettman's state of the NHL address before Game 1, set up phone
access to the top prospects in this year's draft and did another
conference call Saturday with statistical award winners Sidney
Crosby of Pittsburgh (scoring champion), Lecavalier (goal leader)
and Minnesota goalies Manny Fernandez and Niklas Backstrom (fewest
goals allowed by team).

The NHL's public relations staff also has been e-mailing
transcribed quotes from various interview sessions before and after
games as well as on off days.

We covet as much attention as we can get from every possible outlet and source. The newspaper industry is in a very challenging period. Editors, particularly sports editors, are looking to cut expenses every way they can. We are in changing and challenging times.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman

All six Canadian markets were represented.

"I wish everybody were here because watching our game in
person, particularly the final, there's nothing like it in
sports," Bettman said

While extra availability off site is good, the argument can be
made that such action provides less reason to show up.

"I think it's always wise for a league to make access easily,"
said Joe Sullivan, sports editor of The Boston Globe, which sent
reporters to Anaheim and Ottawa. "It can only help, not hurt."

"We feel it's an event our readership is interested in and
appreciates the Globe writers viewpoint," he added.

But that is the exception.

Detroit and Buffalo, its teams knocked out in the semifinals,
weren't represented in Anaheim for the first two games. Hockeytown
is getting its coverage of the championship series elsewhere, but
Buffalo joined the party in Ottawa for Game 3. It will bow out if
the series goes back to California for a fifth game.

"We wouldn't be [covering] if A: there wasn't a little interest
in Ottawa because the Sabres just played [the Senators] and B: it's
a reasonable drive for us," said Howard Smith, executive sports
editor of The Buffalo News. "We are a pretty good hockey town, in
general, but even here there is very limited interest once the
Sabres are eliminated."

Boston, Philadelphia, Tampa, Denver, and Phoenix also have
provided on-scene coverage.

"We did not cover the Stanley Cup finals last year because of
the sale of the paper and budget concerns," said Jim Jenks,
executive sports editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer. "I put it
back in the budget because I believe the finals of any major sport
should be covered."

The NHL debuted new events, such as the awards presentation and
a tribute to the six surviving members of the Montreal Canadiens
dynasty that won an unprecedented five consecutive Stanley Cup
titles from 1956-60.

The hope was that the opportunity to speak to Jean Beliveau and
Henri Richard would draw more coverage of the finals.

"Our numbers this year are about what they were last year,"
Bettman said.

But it is difficult to create a buzz with lower-profile teams
such as Anaheim, Carolina and Tampa Bay -- the two previous
champions that bookended the 2004-05 lockout -- facing Canadian
opponents Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa.

"It's something that obviously you want to improve, but
sometimes that's the way it is," said Crosby, the 19-year-old face
of the NHL. "I don't think it's anything to panic over. There's a
lot of reasons to be excited about hockey."

The cost of covering a series that requires long travel over a
two-week period makes newspapers think twice about committing
resources to an event that was watched in the U.S. on Versus by an
average of 485,000 households through two games -- a 20 percent drop
from last year.

If the series goes seven games in its 2-2-1-1-1 format, it would
take six cross-continent trips for someone on the East Coast to
cover it.

"All on short notice, which means no discount flights," Smith
said. "That might cost more than covering the entire Buffalo Bills
road season for a reporter."

Fans are relying on the Internet much more than in past years,
and game stories have become much less significant. The reporter
for the Star Tribune of Minneapolis is writing for the newspaper on
off days and for the Web on game days.

"We covet as much attention as we can get from every possible
outlet and source," Bettman said. "The newspaper industry is in a
very challenging period. Editors, particularly sports editors, are
looking to cut expenses every way they can. We are in changing and
challenging times."