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New WCHA should shun airwaves, embrace Internet

February 20, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

While Northern Michigan University hockey fans weren't treated to a victory in Ann Arbor this weekend at the University of Michigan, Wildcat supporters did have the pleasure - or displeasure, I guess - of seeing both CCHA games on television.

Friday night the 'Cats fell to the Wolverines 4-1 on Big Ten Network and Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss came on Fox Sports Detroit.

The back-to-back games aired on television were the final two of five regular season NMU games broadcast this season on BTN, FS Detroit, FS Detroit Plus and FS Wisconsin with all five games coming against Big Ten opponents - Wisconsin on FSW, Michigan State on FSD and FSD+, and UM on BTN and FSD.

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Come 2013-14, when the CCHA dissolves and everyone goes their separate ways to the WCHA, National Collegiate Hockey Conference and Big Ten, chances are the Wildcats and the rest of their future WCHA brethren will be lucky to get one game on television a year, let along back-to-back games in a weekend.

To find any bit of air time, the new WCHA - NMU, Michigan Tech, Lake Superior State, Ferris State, Bowling Green State, Alaska-Fairbanks, Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State and Minnesota State-Mankato - will need to get creative and think toward the future.

The WCHA could form a scheduling agreement with another smaller league like the ECAC in hopes of piggy-backing off the popularity of its Ivy League schools - Cornell, Dartmouth, Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Brown.

That kind of deal could draw a game or two on NBC Sports Network or CBS Sports Network, but the exposure would be minimal and meet the same fate as the old WCHA-Hockey East agreement, the costs would out-weight the benefit.

Like the NCHC's 18-game deal with CBS Sports Network and its 44 million subscribers, a WCHA-ECAC package would be nothing but a feel-good deal for the league and a false sense of accomplishment.

The only real attractive TV deals in college hockey right now are the regional agreements struck by teams with the Fox Sports networks or Notre Dame's deal of having every home game broadcast by NBC Sports Network to its 57 million viewers.

The Big Ten Network and its 40 million subscribers shouldn't scare the rest of college hockey either, especially after how poor of a show the regional network put on Friday with its broadcasters screwing up the names of schools from a studio in Chicago.

If NMU - not UNM as BTN was calling the 'Cats - and the WCHA really wants to gain some solid exposure, give the fans a quality experience and get a jump start on the rest of college hockey, it should shun the airwaves and take to the Internet.

From the NHL to the USHL, professional and amateur hockey teams are producing affordable, attractive online broadcast packages that allow their fans to watch games on their iPods, smartphones, tablets, Apple TVs, Roku boxes, Playstations, XBoxes, laptops, etc.

No longer are fans locked to living rooms, couches, recliners or the local watering hole. An $80 a month cable or satellite package is no longer required to watch all the hockey you want.

Right now for $80 a year, you can get up to 40 NHL games a week on your PS3, iPad, iPhone or Android device and more.

Major League Baseball, the NBA and many other leagues offer similar deals with HD broadcasts ranging in price from $125-$170.

Currently, many schools like NMU offer online streaming packages, but the production is lacking at times and the price in no way justifies opening up my wallet.

An NMU all-sports, all-season pass through America One runs $125, an NMU hockey season pass will set you back $75 and individual games cost $7 a pop. Those prices may bring NMU a few coins here and there, but it does nothing to increase the school's exposure.

What NMU and the WCHA needs to do is create the "NFL Sunday Ticket," of college hockey online. Give fans an affordable package and access to as many games as possible.

Charge $2.99 per game, offer a nightly pass that features access to every WCHA game for $6.99 or a WCHA weekend pass for $9.99. These kinds of deals will cater to the casual fan or those from other leagues who may be visiting a WCHA rink.

Reward the hardcore WCHA fan base and other college hockey addicts with a season pass for $59.99 that gives customers access to league action on as many devices they can dream of, from their Apple TV to their computer to their smartphone.

To make these broadcasts worth every penny, schools should go beyond the one-camera view, radio play-by-play setup and tap into the student body. Northern Michigan, for example, has a tremendous broadcasting program that has put together top-notch productions for Wildcat football and hockey this year.

Lets give these students a chance to not only further their future broadcasting careers, but to advance the careers of their classmates on the ice as well, while also giving the university some valuable exposure.

It's a win-win business plan not only for those on the ice, but off the ice as well. If it is done right, it will make the WCHA the envy of all in college hockey.

The league's nine 2013-14 members may have been left playing catchup during the summer of realignment, but a strong online streaming package will make it the media front runner in the sport for years to come.

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.



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