NHL on SportsChannel America was the presentation of National Hockey League broadcasts[1] on the now defunct SportsChannel America[2] cable television network.

Terms of the deal[edit | edit source]

Taking over for ESPN,[3][4] SportsChannel's contract paid US$51 million[5][6][7] ($17 million per year[8]) over three years,[9] more than double[10][11] what ESPN had paid ($24 million) for the previous three years[12] SportsChannel America managed to get a fourth NHL season[13] for just $5 million.[14][15][16][17][18][19][20]

The SportsChannel America deal was in a sense, a power play created by Charles Dolan and Bill Wirtz. Dolan was still several years away from getting control of Madison Square Garden, and Wirtz owned 25% of SportsChannel Chicago. NHL president John Ziegler[21][22] convinced the board of governors that SportsChannel America was a better alternative than a proposed NHL Channel backed by Paramount and Viacom that had interests in the MSG Network and NESN.

SportsChannel's availability[edit | edit source]

Unfortunately, SportsChannel America was only available in a few[23] major markets (notably absent though were Detroit, Pittsburgh and St. Louis[24])[25][26][27] and reached only a 1/3 of the households that ESPN[28] did at the time.[29][30] SportsChannel America was seen in fewer than 10 million households.[31][32] In comparison, by the 1991–92 season,[33] ESPN was available in 60.5 million[34] homes whereas SportsChannel America was available in only 25 million. As a matter of fact, in the first year of the deal (1988–89), SportsChannel America was available in only 7 million homes when compared to ESPN's reach of 50 million.[35] When the SportsChannel deal ended in 1992, the league returned to ESPN[36] for another contract that would pay US$80 million over five years.[37]

SportsChannel America took advantage of using their regional sports networks' feed of a game, graphics and all, instead of producing a show from the ground up, most of the time. Distribution of SportsChannel America across the country was limited to cities that had a SportsChannel regional sports network or affiliate.[38] Very few cable systems in non-NHL territories picked it up as a stand-alone service. Regional affiliates of the Prime Network would sometimes pick up SportsChannel broadcasts, but this was often only during the playoffs, and often to justify the cost, some cable providers carrying it during the playoffs only carried it as a pay-per-view option. SportsChannel America also did not broadcast 24 hours a day at first, usually on by 6 p.m., off by 12 Midnight, then a sportsticker for the next 18 hours.

Philadelphia[edit | edit source]

Since SportsChannel Philadelphia did not air until January 1990, PRISM (owned by Rainbow Media, the owners of SportsChannel, at the time) picked up the 1989 Stanley Cup Finals. Other than that, there was no NHL television coverage in Philadelphia except for the Flyers for the first half of the original deal.

See also: 1988–89 Philadelphia Flyers season and 1989–90 Philadelphia Flyers season

Lawsuit[edit | edit source]

As previously mentioned, the NHL would return to ESPN following the 1991–92 season. Shortly after the ESPN deal was signed, SportsChannel America would contend[39][40] that its contract with the NHL gave them the right to match third-party offers for television rights for the 1992–93 season. SportsChannel America accused the NHL of violating a nonbinding clause. SportsChannel America argued that it had been deprived of its contractual right of first refusal for the 1992–93 season. Appellate Division of New York State Supreme Court justice Shirley Fingerwood would deny SportsChannel America's request for an injunction against the NHL. Upholding that opinion, the appellate court found the agreement on which SportsChannel based its argument to be "too imprecise and ambiguous" and ruled that SportsChannel failed to show irreparable harm.

In the aftermath of losing the NHL, SportsChannel America was left with little more than outdoors shows and Canadian Football League games. For SportsChannel, the deal was a disaster overall. While the cable channel three years later, was available in 20 million homes (as previously mentioned), the broadcaster lost as much as $10 million on the agreement, and soon faded into obscurity.[41] Some local SportsChannel stations – which carried NHL games in their local markets – were not affected.

Coverage overview[edit | edit source]

Regular season coverage[edit | edit source]

SportsChannel America televised about 80–100 games a season[42][43] (whereas ESPN aired about 33 in the 1987–88 season). Whereas the previous deal with ESPN called for only one nationally televised game a week, SportsChannel America televised hockey two nights a week in NHL cities and three nights a week elsewhere.

It was very rare to have a regular-season game on SportsChannel America that wasn't a regional SportsChannel production from the Chicago Blackhawks, Hartford Whalers, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders or Philadelphia Flyers. The San Jose Sharks were added in 1991–92. As previously suggested, SportsChannel America for the most part, used the local telecasts. The dedicated SportsChannel America station was little more than an overflow channel in the New York area for SportsChannel New York.

Special programming[edit | edit source]

In 1989, SportsChannel America provided the first ever American coverage of the NHL Draft.[44] In September 1989, SportsChannel America covered the Washington Capitals' training camp in Sweden and pre-season tour[45] of the Soviet Union. The Capitals were joined by the Stanley Cup champion Calgary Flames, who held training camp in Prague, Czechoslovakia and then ventured to the Soviet Union. Each team played four games against Soviet National League clubs. Games were played in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev and Riga. The NHL clubs finished with a combined 6–2 record against the top Soviet teams, including the Red Army club and Dynamo Moscow. Five of the eight contests were televised by SportsChannel America.

All-Star Game coverage[edit | edit source]

SportsChannel America was the exclusive American broadcaster of the 1989 All-Star Game. The following year, they covered the first ever NHL Skills Competition and Heroes of Hockey game. SportsChannel America would continue their coverage of these particular events through 1992. In 1991, SportsChannel America replayed the third period of the All-Star Game on the same day that it was played. That was because NBC[46][47][48][49][50][51] broke away from the live telecast during the third period in favor of Gulf War coverage.

Year Play-by-play Color commentator Ice level reporter Studio host Studio analysts
1989[52][53][54] Jiggs McDonald Scotty Bowman Gary Thorne Denis Potvin and Herb Brooks

Stanley Cup playoffs[edit | edit source]

Divisional finals[edit | edit source]
Year Teams Play-by-play Color commentator(s)
1989 Montréal-Boston Rick Peckham Denis Potvin
Pittsburgh-Philadelphia (Games 1–5 aired on tape delay)[55][56] Mike Emrick Bill Clement
St. Louis-Chicago[57][58][59][60] Pat Foley Dale Tallon
Calgary-Los Angeles (joined-in-progress)[59][60] Jiggs McDonald Herb Brooks
1990 Boston-Montréal (Games 1–2 aired on tape delay)[61][62][63][64] Mike Emrick Bill Clement (Games 1–2, 4–5)
Peter McNab (Game 3)
New York Rangers-Washington (Games 3–5 aired on tape delay) Rick Peckham Dave Maloney
Chicago-St. Louis[65][66][67][68][69] Pat Foley Dale Tallon
Edmonton-Los Angeles (joined-in-progress)[70][71][72][73] Jiggs McDonald Herb Brooks
1991 Boston-Montréal[74] Jiggs McDonald John Davidson
Pittsburgh-Washington (taped delay) Rick Peckham Gerry Cheevers
St. Louis-Minnesota[75] Mike Emrick Bill Clement
Los Angeles-Edmonton (joined-in-progress) Pat Foley Dale Tallon
1992 Montréal-Boston (CBC's feed; Game 1 was joined-in-progress; all other games on taped delay)[76][77] Bob Cole John Garrett and Dick Irvin, Jr.
New York Rangers-Pittsburgh (Game 1 was joined-in-progress)[78][79][80][81] Jiggs McDonald Ed Westfall
Detroit-Chicago[82][83] Pat Foley Dale Tallon
Vancouver-Edmonton (Games 1–4 used CBC's feed; Games 3–4 were joined-in-progress)[84][85] Chris Cuthbert (Games 1–4)
Pat Foley (Games 5–6)
Harry Neale (Games 1–4)
Dale Tallon (Games 5–6)
Conference finals[edit | edit source]
See also: NHL Conference Finals
Year Teams Play-by-play Color commentator(s) Ice level reporter(s)
1989 Montréal-Philadelphia[86][87][88][89][90][91][92][93][94][95][96][97][98] Mike Emrick Bill Clement
Calgary-Chicago[99][100][101][102] Jiggs McDonald Herb Brooks
1990 Boston-Washington[103][104] Jiggs McDonald Bill Clement Mike Emrick and John Davidson
Edmonton-Chicago[105][106][107] Pat Foley Dale Tallon
1991 Boston-Pittsburgh[108][109][110][111][112][113][114][115][116][117][118][119][120] Jiggs McDonald John Davidson
Edmonton-Minnesota Mike Emrick Bill Clement
1992 Pittsburgh-Boston[121] Jiggs McDonald Bill Clement Mike Emrick and John Davidson
Chicago-Edmonton[122][123] Pat Foley Dale Tallon
Stanley Cup Finals[edit | edit source]
Year Teams Play-by-play Color commentator Studio host Studio analyst Ice-level reporter
1989[124][125][126][127] Calgary-Montréal Jiggs McDonald Bill Clement Mike Emrick[128] Herb Brooks[129][130]
1990[131] Boston-Edmonton Jiggs McDonald Bill Clement Mike Emrick[132] John Davidson[133]
1991[134][135] Pittsburgh-Minnesota[136][137][138] Jiggs McDonald[139] Bill Clement Mike Emrick[140] John Davidson
1992[33] Pittsburgh-Chicago[141][142][143] Jiggs McDonald[144][145][146] Bill Clement Mike Emrick John Davidson[147]
Notes[edit | edit source]

SportsChannel America's national coverage of the 1990 Stanley Cup Finals was blacked out in the Boston area due to the local rights to Bruins games in that TV market. NESN televised Games 1, 2, and 5 in the Boston area while WSBK had Games 3 and 4. In 1991 Stanley Cup Finals, SportsChannel's Stanley Cup Finals coverage was again blacked out in the Minnesota and Pittsburgh areas due to the local rights to North Stars and Penguins games in those respective TV markets. In Minnesota, KMSP-TV aired Games 1, 2 and 5 while the Midwest Sports Channel had Games 3, 4, and 6. In Pittsburgh, KBL televised Games 1, 2 and 5 while KDKA aired Games 3, 4, and 6. Had there been a Game 7, it would have aired on KMSP-TV in Minnesota and KBL in Pittsburgh respectively. Finally, in 1992, SportsChannel Chicago aired the games in Chicago. In Pittsburgh, KBL televised Games 1 and 2 while KDKA aired Games 3 and 4.

Production[edit | edit source]

A fair number of times in their first season, they would use their own production services for games. But very rarely would this sort of practice occur in the last three seasons. Since programming was so sparse otherwise on SportsChannel America, usually the games were replayed immediately following the live telecast.

For playoff coverage,[148] if any of the aforementioned teams made the playoffs, SportsChannel America focus on those teams, using their facilities. For example, SportsChannel Chicago produced the SportsChannel America coverage for the Blackhawks' 1990 playoff run. Because of Hawks owner Bill Wirtz's disdain for free and basic cable home telecasts of his games, the road games were shown in Chicago, with the home games only given short live look-ins as "bonus coverage". The same occurrence happened in 1992, but this time, Blackhawks' home games were broadcast on a pay-per-view basis via "Hawkvision".[149] Sometimes, they would use the CBC feed for other series (the Boston Bruins–Montreal Canadiens series, for example).

For the Stanley Cup Finals, SportsChannel America used their own facilities. They would also use their own facilities for any Conference Final series that did not involve one of SportsChannel's regional teams. In 1989, both Conference Finals series involved two of SportsChannel's regional teams. SportsChannel America's master control was at a Cablevision studio in Oak Park, Illinois with its NHL studios located at Adelphi University on Long Island.

John Shannon was the senior producer of The NHL on SportsChannel America.

Announcers[edit | edit source]

Bob Papa[150] and Leandra Reilly were the studio hosts during the regular season coverage. Denis Potvin was the studio analyst during the regular season coverage. For the Stanley Cup Finals, Jiggs McDonald[151] called the play-by-play, and Bill Clement was the color commentator. Also during the Stanley Cup Finals, Mike Emrick[128][152][153] served as the host while John Davidson[154] served as the rinkside[155][156] and studio analyst[157] (Herb Brooks filled that role in 1989).

Play-by-play[edit | edit source]

Color commentary[edit | edit source]

Studio/ice level personalities[edit | edit source]

Commentating crews[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

Chicago Blackhawks seasons[edit | edit source]

Hartford Whalers seasons[edit | edit source]

New York Islanders seasons[edit | edit source]

New Jersey Devils seasons[edit | edit source]

San Jose Sharks seasons[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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External links[edit | edit source]

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