Angry TV announcer versus NHL: who’s right in debate over crazy-late start times?

Was Chicago play-by-play man Pat Foley justified in slamming the NHL for late start times for playoff games? Or is he wrong?

Hockey fans living in the central time zone and anywhere east of there may one day remember spring of 2016 as The Red-Eye Playoffs. The need to stagger games has produced some late start times, and we’re not just talking the usual Pacific Division fare that starts at 10:30 p.m. ET and only stops diehard East Coasters from going to bed.

This year’s post-season has produced the oddity of Central-time games being treated like West Coast telecasts. Game 5 of the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues’ Central Division semifinal Thursday started at 8:42 p.m. central and 9:42 p.m. eastern for the third time in the series. The wildly entertaining game was too good to turn off, so it sucked a lot of sleep from a lot of people. Among that group: Chicago Blackhawks play-by-play personality Pat Foley. He decided he was fed up with the scheduling and unleashed this rant, mid-broadcast, before a commercial break cut him off:

The local CSN Chicago feed was broadcast on NBCSN as well, and analyst Mike Milbury decided to quickly fire back at Foley, essentially telling him it was past his bedtime:



In Foley’s defense, Milbury misunderstood him. He attacked Foley as if Foley was whining that he had to stay up late. Foley specifically singled out the fans as the top priority. He was speaking first and foremost on their behalf.

That doesn’t make Foley right, however. The scheduling was clearly an effort to stagger start times and maximize continent-wide viewers’ ability to catch at least some of every game. Starting the Hawks-Blues tilt at a more typical 8:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. CT would’ve overlapped that game with at least two periods of the 7:00 ET starts, the Penguins/Rangers and Red Wings/Lightning tilts, not to mention the Ducks and Predators’ 8:00 p.m. ET start. It would’ve guaranteed a TV collision between all four games. The 9:42 ET start created breathing room.

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman addressed Foley’s rant Friday in New York at an annual meeting with the Associate Press sports editors. As the Chicago Tribune’s Joe Knowles reports, Bettman said Foley “didn’t have his facts straight” and that “Clubs are fine with the start times, and you can ask the Blackhawks.”

Bettman also explained that the league’s relatively new expanded national TV audience necessitates staggering the start times to accommodate viewers. He added that Hawks president John McDonough called him Friday and expressed displeasure with Foley’s comments.

So where do the rest of us fall in the debate? The opinion on this end is, hey, growing the game to its most prosperous era of American TV viewership means making certain sacrifices. Coverage can’t be tailored to each individual market. It has to serve the greater good. Is an 8:42 CT start time ideal? Obviously not. But this is the playoffs, and we’ll have fewer scheduling problems with every passing round as the field of teams dwindles.

To be frank: the attitude I take is to embrace the grind of the playoffs and enjoy the camaraderie it builds. The players, coaches, broadcasters, fans and writers like us – we’re all in this together. We’ll all sleep a bit less until the playoffs end. But there’s something fun about that. It’s a shared experience.

Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin