Sunday, March 16, 2014

Verizon fan program recap


Several months ago, I was approached with the opportunity to participate in the Verizon Fans Voices program. The conditions were pretty simple: receive a Droid Maxx smart phone, plus another device (which turned out to be a Samsung Tab 2 (7.0) tablet), and six months of service, in exchange for my honest opinions about the products.

Along the way, I've had to opportunity to give away some cool products, and also had the chance to try out some other products along the way: notably, the Fitbit® Force™, and the BlackBerry Mini Stereo speaker. 

I've had the Droid Maxx phone the longest; I wrote about it previously on this blog. After six months of constant usage, I still feel mostly pretty happy about the phone. If I had to pick out one complaint about the phone, it's the built-in camera. When compared to other current smart phones (most notably, iPhones), the Maxx's camera isn't quite as sharp as some competitors, although it has improved over previous versions of the Maxx (including the Razr Maxx, my previous phone). 

The camera does best in well-lit conditions, whether it is artificial or natural lighting; with good lighting, both scenic and close-up pictures can be quite good.

Droid Maxx photo: Coors Light Stadium Series, in snowstorm, at Soldier Field, Chicago

Droid Maxx photo: floral close-up in full light

However, I have noticed that when taking "selfies" - that is, using the camera on the face of the phone, versus the usual lens on the back - that the quality of shots degrades faster the lower the light gets. In full light, it does just fine, as shown by the picture below, taken at the Winter Classic in snowy conditions:

Droid Maxx selfie... apparently, I really enjoy sitting around in the snow, watching hockey games

Although I would like higher-quality/better resolution photography out of the phone (stats list it at 10 megapixels, but in lower light, picture quality gets grainy), one of my favorite features about the Maxx is directly related to the phone: you can turn it on by just flicking your wrist a couple times. This makes it easy to take pictures when you need a quick reaction time. I've gotten so used to this feature that when I use my old Razr Maxx, I find myself automatically shaking the phone to turn on the camera! Additionally, you can touch anywhere on the screen to take a picture, making it easier to pick what you want the camera to focus upon.

I also bought the NETGEAR Push2TV - a device smaller than a pack of cards - from my local Verizon store. This little device is easy to set up, and allows you to project anything from your phone to your TV. Want to show off a photo slide show, watch a streaming video, or even just read your mail on a bigger screen? Push2TV lets you do that. 

I've found the phone's speed to be excellent; the 4G is faster and more reliable than my home DSL - for example, I have had relatively little lag streaming videos or watching games via NHL GameCenter. One of my favorite features about the phone is its outstanding battery life. While I haven't been able to get the advertised "up to 2 full days" of heavy usage, I can generally go a full day of solid use before needing to plug it in for a charge. The Maxx also can be charged wirelessly, but I have not had an opportunity to try out a wireless charger.

Overall, I've really enjoyed having the Droid Maxx, and find it to be a fun phone.

* * *

Midway through the program, we received Fitbit Force, billed as a "Wireless activity and sleep band". (Note: Fitbit has recently discontinued/issued a recall for the Force, due to people having allergic reactions to the wristband.) The Force retailed for about $129, and is designed to motivate you to exercise by tracking your exercise and progress. You can use either the Fitbit website or their phone app to plug additional information into your Force, including water intake. 

Overall, I liked the Force and found that yes, it motivated me - and continues to motivate me. I think it's cool that I can look at the app and see I've logged half a million steps since I received the Force! I also found that the ability to set up to 8 silent (vibrating) alarms on the Force is very helpful, whether it's to keep yourself on pace during a workout, or whatever other purpose you might need to have for alarms. If you're a light sleeper, you might find the vibrations to be enough to act as an alarm clock. I didn't use the sleep monitor feature much, but it did give me a sense of my sleep patterns, at least.

On the other hand, for the suggested retail price, I think the Force could do a lot more - specifically, I think it should have a heart rate monitor. It's possible to buy pedometers and wrist-based heart rate monitors for as little as $30; so for $129, I would expect the Force - and frankly, any of its competitors at a similar price point or higher - to contain both. The wristband also has a clasp that snaps together, which is not the easiest thing to put on your wrist, and easy to snag off your wrist. If Fitbit adds a heart monitor and redesigns the wristband, I'd rate it as pretty awesome. 

We had a bit of competition between the various bloggers participating in the program, and I won a BlackBerry Mini Stereo speaker. This wireless speaker is about the size of a deck of cards, and can be used to boost the volume of a call on speakerphone or when you're playing music or streaming video. The sound is pretty decent, and it's very portable and easy to set up. As I don't have a stereo, I've found it's useful to play music off my phone.

* * *



I received the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) a few weeks ago. I'm not used to having a tablet, so I've been trying to use the tablet for when I would usually use my phone (streaming video, playing games, etc). I bought a stylus (pictured above, red) for use with the tablet; it's been very helpful when trying to negotiate screens with small text. It charges relatively quickly, and the battery life is around 11 hours with use (up to 190+ on standby mode). I also bought a Belkin leather protective cover, which is also designed to allow you to prop up the tablet for easy viewing. 


In terms of size, the Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) has been the perfect size for me - it measures 7.63" tall x 4.82" wide, and less than half an inch thick, making it small enough to easily stick in my purse or my camera bag when on the go. It's about the size of my older model Kindle, but I can do a lot more with the Kindle app on my tablet than I can do with my actual Kindle. (No wonder the tablet easily usurped my Kindle in my tech library.)

The picture quality is very good, whether it is browsing web pages or streaming video. It takes decent enough pictures, but I haven't used it in enough lighting conditions to know how overall good or bad it is when it comes to its camera. Below are a couple of screen shots from the NBC Sports Live Extra app during Olympic coverage; as you can see, the video quality is pretty sharp and you can pick out plenty of details.




As mentioned, I've streamed a lot of video on the Tab 2: NHL GameCenter, HBOGO, DirecTV, Olympic coverage, and more. I finally set up my home DSL service for its wireless modem; I hadn't had a need for it prior to getting a tablet - and most of the time, Verizon's 4G service ran faster/more smoothly than keeping the tablet connected to my in-home WiFi! (Of course, streaming video is very data-intensive, so it's smart to run WiFi when streaming video or other heavy data-usage apps, when you can.)

There's some neat features to the Galaxy Tab 2. You can use the Peel Smart Remote feature to control your TV, DVR, and surround sound; it can even make personalized TV recommendations based on your usage. The Media Hub allows you to stream movies and TV shows (mostly for a fee). Google Chromecast ($34.99) allows you to stream content from your tablet to your HDTV. I did not purchase one of these, so cannot speak for how smoothly it might work; but it works similar to the Push2TV device I mentioned in relation to my Droid Maxx.

I'm looking forward to figuring out more of what the tablet can do, as this is my first tablet. Although it comes pre-loaded with several useful apps, I'm still discovering apps to increase its usability and to find news uses for it beyond using it as a phone, Skyping, playing games, streaming video, and reading books via the Kindle app. Overall, I like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0).

* * *

I'd like to thank Verizon for making me a part of its Fan Voices program. I've been a Verizon customer for many years prior to participating, but with newer devices, I was able to see how smooth Verizon's 4G coverage can be. I traveled a number of times over the years I've had Verizon, and the company's extensive nationwide network has probably been the top reason for sticking with them as a carrier. It has been fun to be a part of the #VZWvoices program, and I'm glad to have gotten the chance to check out the newest devices.



Saturday, February 15, 2014

This isn't your daddy's Olympics

"When you pull on that jersey, you represent yourself and your teammates.
And the name on the front is a hell of a lot more important
than the one on the back!"

- Herb Brooks, Miracle (2004)



It is nearly 34 years to the date of the famous "Miracle on Ice" U.S.A. versus Russia game.

We all know the story. On February 22, 1980, an American team full of unknown collegiate players, average age 21, beat the heavily-favored Soviet powerhouse team. It wasn't that game that won Team U.S.A. gold in that Olympics - that would happen after the Americans went on to beat Finland. But it was by far one of the most memorable games played in hockey history.

Television technology wasn't the same as today. Many people thought they saw the game live, when in fact it was on tape delay from that afternoon.  

Things were different then. The U.S. and the Soviet Union were still in the Cold War. President Jimmy Carter had proclaimed a grain embargo against the U.S.S.R. in January. Six American diplomats escaped from Tehran, posing as a Canadian film crew (chronicled in the 2012 film Argo), just a few weeks earlier. 

For the United States, the "Miracle on Ice" game was absolutely huge for the American psyche. Here was the underdog of the men's 1980 hockey tournament, beating the world's most dominant hockey team. The Soviets had entered the 1980 Olympics as four-time defending gold-medal champions, and they would go on to reclaim gold in 1984 and 1988. 

At a time when relations between the two nations were strained at best, the game was cathartic, a milestone, and its effects would ripple through the American hockey world right through until current day.

The oldest player on the 2014 U.S.A. team - Ryan Miller from the Buffalo Sabres - wasn't even born when 1980 Olympics were in full swing; he was born in August 1980. The youngest player on the team, Justin Faulk (CAR), was born a month after the 1992 Winter Olympics (Albertville). 

Despite that none of the current Team U.S.A. players were alive when the U.S.A. won gold in 1980, these players all are influenced the 1980 Olympics. Thirteen of the twenty players of that 1980 U.S.A. team eventually went on to play in the NHL. 

There's the most obvious ties: alternative captain Ryan Suter (MN) is a second-time U.S. Olympian. His father, Bob Suter, was on the 1980 U.S.A. team. While drafted by the Los Angeles Kings and signed at one point by the Minnesota North Stars, Bob Suter never played hockey at the NHL level, although his brother Gary did. 

Paul Stastny, also a second-time U.S. Olympian, is also the son of a 1980 Olympian - although in his case, his father, Peter, played for Czechoslovakia. Peter Stastny would later defect to Canada, and Paul was born in Quebec. His father eventually played for the St. Louis and later became a scout for the Blues; Paul and his brother Yan now both hold dual Canadian-American citizenship.

Team U.S.A.'s captain is Zach Parisé. While his father had no relation to the 1980 game, J.P. Parisé played for a national team as well - although in his case, it was Team Canada, and he was part of the 1972 Summit Series team. Six of the Soviets that J.P. Parisé faced in that Soviet Series went on to be part of the 1980 Soviet team.

As for the rest of Team U.S.A., they are a generation of American hockey players who grew up in the long shadow of that 1980 team. They are players who grew up dreaming of their own moment of Olympic hockey glory (plus, of course, Stanley Cup championships). They are the players who grew up in an American youth hockey system that greatly flourished after 1980, one that took many lessons from Herb Brooks' coaching style in the Lake Placid Olympics.

As Americans, we look at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics with great fondness and national pride. There's hardly a hockey fan out there that cannot quote from Miracle, the 2004 Disney film that has endeared itself with sports fans of all ages, whether it is the demanding "Again!" from the bag skate scene or Herb Brooks' "Great moments... are born from great opportunity" motivational speech.

As Team U.S.A. takes on Team Russia on Saturday afternoon Sochi time (7:30 a.m. EST), the specter of that 1980 game in Lake Placid hangs in the air, but this is not their fathers' hockey game. 

Only two of the current Russian Olympic players were alive for that 1980 game - Pavel Datsyuk and Andrei Markov. But they, too, grew up in the shadow of that game. For the Russians, however, they feel that Canada is more of a rival, since the Canadians are the only team that holds as many gold medals as they do. And from the Russian viewpoint, the 1972 Summit Series was more of a national turning point for them than Lake Placid. 

Russia is no longer the mighty Soviet Union. One of the Russian players, Viktor Tikhonov, 25, was named for his grandfather, who was the coach of that 1980 Soviet team. 

But the younger Tikhonov grew up in a far different Russia than his grandfather did. For starters, when he was born in 1988, the U.S.S.R. still existed; it broke up in 1991. The city where Tikhonov was born, Riga, is now part of Latvia. Tikhonov grew up in Los Gatos, California, and Lexington, Kentucky, because his father was a goalie coach in the San Jose Sharks system. As a teenager, he returned to Russia to play in the Russian Hockey League (not to be mistaken with the KHL)

Today, Russian players are a regular part of the North American hockey scene, with 26 players spread across 15 NHL teams from Edmonton to Tampa Bay, Los Angeles to Montréal. Some of them are among the most popular in the league, like Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Pavel Datsyuk. They are teammates to many of the players they will face across the ice this morning. 

The United States and Russia have mostly-friendly relations these days. Their best hockey players play side by side in the best league in the world, sharing both triumphs and defeats. 

Team U.S.A. is no longer full of fresh-faced collegiate players. Instead, it is loaded with NHL superstars, exciting players like Patrick Kane, who define the face of U.S.A. hockey today. The Americans won silver in 2010 at Vancouver and have their sights set on gold this time.

As for Russia - studded with NHL and KHL players - they are under the pressure that home ice defines, but they are also considered one of the favorites for potential gold. 

For both sides, it is a very different world than their fathers and grandfathers played in, and the 2014 athletes want to write their own chapters in the Olympic history books. 

No matter what happens, it should be a special and very exciting game, one worth getting up early to watch.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Contest! Win a BIG JAMBOX by Jawbone

Disclosure: I am participating in the Verizon Fans Voices program
and have been provided with a wireless device (Droid Maxx)
and six months of service in exchange for my honest opinions about the product.




The top football game of the year is this weekend, and the NHL has been kind enough to bless us with a whole string of outdoor games this season. 

And to help you enjoy your game day experiences, we're giving away a BIG JAMBOX™ by Jawbone® (retail value $299), courtesy of Verizon!


Details of the BIG JAMBOX™:
  • Stream hi-fi audio from any Bluetooth® device
  • Download new features, apps, and software upgrades right to your speaker
  • Built-in microphone lets you enjoy hands-free phone calls and video chats
  • Lasts up to 15 hours on a single charge
  • Wireless range: 33 feet (10 meters)
  • Connect via Bluetooth®, 3.5mm stereo input, or micro-USB

There are two ways to enter:
1) Reply to the question below on this blog entry. (If you are posting as 'Anonymous', be sure to use an identifier for your entry, such as your Twitter handle! I need to be able to contact the winner!)
2) Reply to my post about this contest my HockeyBroad Facebook page (same question, just different place to enter).
Entries will be accepted until midnight on Sunday, February 2nd (CST). I will announce the winner via HockeyBroad.com, Facebook, and Twitter (@HockeyBroad). Entries will be judged based on creativity, so have fun with this! (Please note: only US residents can win. Sorry to my Canadian & other non-US followers!)



To enter our contest, you just have to answer one question: 
Whether you're attending in person, tailgating, out at a sports bar, or just watching at home, tell us how you tie technology (phone, tablets, computer, etc) into your big game day activities.



Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Let's talk about ... mental health and hockey

As hockey fans, players, and supporters, we always feel like we're part of a big family.

But when it comes to mental illnesses, it can feel like you're battling things all alone.

If you're on Twitter or social media, you might have noticed the tag "#BellLetsTalk" and wondered what it is. It's a day to raise awareness via social media to start conversations about mental health. But Bell's effort is not just limited to today, it's every day - a "multi-year charitable program dedicated to mental health", focusing on four pillars: anti-stigma; care & awareness; workplace health; and research.

Four mental-health tragedies rocked the hockey community in 2011. Tom Cavanagh had been diagnosed with schizophrenia; he jumped to his death off a parking garage in January. In May, Derek Boogaard was found dead from an accidental drug and alcohol overdose; his autopsy revealed he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, both of whom had been struggling with depression issues for a few years, both committed suicide in late August of that year. Sixteen hockey players, both male and female, across various levels of the sport, from collegiate to NHL, have killed themselves since the late 1960s.

Mental health issues are very common, and they are not limited to just depression. It's very important to remember that as dialogues continue to increase about mental health. In fact, depression can be one sign of a much larger larger mental health issue.

Asperger's syndrome. Autism. Eating disorders. Anxiety disorders. Season affective disorder. Obsessive-compulsive behavior. Eating disorders. Substance abuse. Bipolar disorder. ADHS/ADD. Post-traumatic stress disorders. Social anxiety. Phobias. Tourette's. Stuttering. Separation anxiety. Erectile dysfunction. Insomnia. Sleepwalking. Hoarding. Panic attacks. Parkinson's disease.

What do these all have in common? They're all considered mental disorders. So why are some of them - like erectile dysfunction - so "easy" to discuss (hello, Viagra and other "male enhancement" medication TV commercials!), while many of the others are seen as shameful, not to be discussed?

For as much as we know about the brain, there is so much we don't know, so much we have yet to be discovered. We also don't know how all the chemicals and additives that are so prevalent in our society will influence us long-term, yet we continue to use and consume them.
* * *
I'm not going to put a time frame on when it occurred, but I'll share the following from my retail experiences. One day, we were joking with a customer at check-out about the upcoming holidays. The woman's face suddenly crumpled, and it was clear she was trying extremely hard not to burst into tears in front of us.

In talking with the woman, I found out it was approaching the one-year anniversary of her daughter's death by suicide. Nobody should have to bury their kids first, and like any death, the first anniversary was the toughest, and she was suffering more because nobody was acknowledging it.

She just wanted to be able to talk to somebody, anybody, about her beautiful, smart daughter that she had lost; and nobody wanted to talk about it, because the idea of depression and suicide seems too shameful. She was further burdened because her other child was also suffering from depression, and she was living with the daily fear that her son might take the same route his sister had.

"Why won't anybody talk with me about her?" she asked, gazing at her daughter's picture on her phone. Her daughter had hid the full extent of her depression, too, until the day she took her own life. And here she was, crying on a stranger's shoulder, the only person willing to listen to her story.

* * *

Depression seems to be one of the toughest mental disorders to talk about, despite how pervasive it is in society. Statistically, it is believed that one out of ten Americans is dealing with depression at any time - and 80% of those suffering from clinical depression receive neither diagnosis nor treatment for it.

If you've never dealt with depression personally, it can be hard to understand. The most common reaction to it is, "Snap out of it!"

If only it could be so easy to simply turn it off.

Somebody with mild depression may not even realize they have it, dismissing the onset of symptoms as just feeling a bit under the weather or excusing it as feeling tired.

Depression is not textbook. Not everybody with depression spends their days moping in dark rooms, although there are certainly plenty of people who do. People with depression can be quite functional, throwing themselves into work and then losing themselves in an activity that keeps them from thinking or feeling too much.

I dealt with it when I first moved to Chicago. I'd heard of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but I didn't recognize it for what it was. Chicago is bleary and grey for much of the winter, from around Halloween until nearly May; and the days are shorter than I was used to from anyplace else I'd lived.

I was heading to work when it was barely light, and the sun had set nearly an hour before I headed home. Winters made me feel like a vampire, and my solution was to plunge into MMORPG gaming. I'd get up, go to work, come home, log on, get lost in a make-believe world for several hours, go to bed, rinse/repeat. I hardly went out to be sociable unless I could figure out a way to do it on the way home from work; I was cranky, and easily irritated over the stupidest things. I was turning insomniac, and was grinding by on barely five hours' worth of sleep a night. What took me so long to realize I was suffering depression was that I never "felt" depressed; I just simply felt like I was too sapped of energy to do much that required what seemed like a lot of effort.

What broke me out of depression was the scale. One day, I got on the scale, sat down at cried at the number I saw there, realized how much weight I'd gained in a couple years, and figured out pretty quickly that it was related to mindless eating while lost in the blur of work/gaming/sleep.

It was that moment that changed my health - both physical and mental - for the better. I went through my cabinets and threw out anything vaguely "junky". I started eating better; broke - then ended - my soda habit; and I signed up for the gym. I eventually quit the hard-core gaming cold turkey, and felt better for it. It's taken several years of discipline, but 125 pounds lost later, I can't begin to tell you what a different person I feel like now versus ten years ago. Better health, better diet, exercising - these things all help, not just physically, but mentally.

Going to my doctor for help with the depression also led eventually to the discovery of a sleep apnea issue. I was sleeping and exhausted all the time, and at first, I thought it was just depression-related. It finally reached a tipping point when I lacked any focus to function properly, even after sleeping a weekend away. I decided it was time to be re-tested for sleep apnea - and found out that it was a major problem. I had corrective surgery for sleep apnea several years ago, and I cannot even begin to tell you what a difference that it made in my life, being able to sleep properly and begin to feel normal once again.

I was "lucky"; my depression was mild to some other people's depression I've witnessed in my life. I'm thankful I was able to recognize signs within myself and get treatment; and in doing so, made changes in my life that made me a healthier person overall.

A few years ago, somebody I knew through the local theater scene chose to take their own life. Those of us who knew him knew he was prone to mood swings and could be quite "dark" at times, but mostly, he was very, very good about hiding his mood. He was funny and charming, and if he noticed you were in a funk, he would try to find a way to bring a smile to your face. Despite his dark patches and brooding, however, his death still shocked those that knew him.

What was particularly horrible about his death was the very public way he chose to go. Whether he thought about it long in advance, or whether it was just a sudden decision as he stood on the train platform, I guess we won't know; but there's little doubt that the people who witnessed it have to have been traumatized by it.

People will talk about those who suffer from depression or other mental illnesses, but it affects so many more people than just the person who's directly suffering from it.

To start with, there's the most obvious: depression and other mental-health issues cost the U.S. economy nearly $100 billion in lost work days, medical expenditures, lost productivity, and various other costs. That's huge!

Here's the positive part: up to 80% of those treated for depression show an improvement in six weeks or less of beginning medication or other treatment. So, while we may not fully understand what causes or starts depression episodes, it is very responsive to treatment.

The challenge is getting somebody who is suffering from mental disorders to get treatment. Denial often goes hand-in-hand with depression or other mental issues, even when the problem is obvious as a giant neon-green elephant.

Some mental health issues, like autism, can manifest in very visible, hard-to-ignore ways. A friend of mine has a son with autism; she keeps a blog about the ongoing battle that is Life With Autism and their current goal of saving enough money to get a service dog for her son. It is not a pretty journey: is their daily struggle to deal with the unpredictability of autism, the tantrums, mood swings, dealing with the mental health system, and what happens when life throws you a curve ball of epic proportions.

TV's 60 Minutes recently had a pair of stories related to this same issue: Nowhere to go: Mentally ill youth in crisis and its follow-up story, The stigma of raising a mentally ill child.

Mental health issues don't go away if they're ignored. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength, of admitting that you need help.

People who are dealing with them need help, and they need to know somebody cares about them. If somebody is displaying behavior that concerns you, do something about it. You can save a life by speaking up. If you don't know how to deal with it, talk to a hotline or counseling center; they can help you figure out what you need to do.

If you need help yourself, remember there's always somebody out there to listen. Maybe you don't know somebody personally, but there's lots of hotlines, and counseling groups, and sometimes, even just random kind strangers who can lend you an ear, and maybe a shoulder to cry upon, or a much-needed hug.


 
Some resources:

Friday, December 27, 2013

Thoughts on ways for NHL Network to improve their content

Over on AwfulAnnouncing.com today, Steve Lepore wrote up an article about six of NHL Network's weaknesses, calling NHLN the league's "blind spot".

Some examples are pretty obvious. For example, if you compare TSN's Hockey Night in Canada's sets, graphics, and production to NHLN's own, the differences are pretty wide. No wonder that many American hockey fans wish that Canadian hockey feeds were more readily available south of the border.

He also mentioned that NHLN's on-screen talent pool needs to be deeper and better-utilized, which is also true. As a hockey fan (and not just a female hockey fan), I really enjoy seeing Kathryn Tappen on broadcasts. But why is she the only woman regularly representing the NHL on TV, when approximately 40% of the audience (and growing) is female? Quite a few of the male talents on NHLN are former hockey players - why not bring in some women who've had professional hockey experience?

Lepore pointed out that the league has a $37M profit margin on a product that:

  • is not as up-to-date looking as its competitors;
  • does not offer the most cutting-edge news for the league or its players (Canada's TSN breaks the majority of hockey news, especially when it comes to the off-season);
  • the current existing programming is boring. B-O-R-I-N-G, and that's from the viewpoint of hockey fans who would rather watch hockey than any other sport on the planet.
In addition, NHLN is not available to the majority of cable subscribers within lower-tier pricing packages. Some cable providers only start to include NHLN in their most expensive all-inclusive packages; some cable subscribers can only get it if they sign up for the CenterIce package ($169/year) or other Sports Package programming (average costs range $12-15+/month).

Maybe NHLN is trying not too compete too much with NBC/NBCSN, who carries a number of the league's games throughout the season. But it's not as if NBC/NBCSN is providing vast amounts of extraneous hockey coverage, but hockey fans can always hope.

Just imagine if NHL Network completely revamped itself.

While they're at it, as I've stated frequently in the past, they could completely overhaul NHL.com to make it easier to find news articles and video content. NHL.com's archives are vast and quite comprehensive, but incredibly time-consuming to search through. If you get too specific with your search terms, the site tells you it has no results. If you're too vague, you might receive thousands of results, with little to no way to further narrow the results down.

Gary Bettman should have sugarplum-fairy visions of dancing dollar signs dancing in his head for what spending some money revamping their "showcase" network could do for the league.

Let's look at the NHL from a business/marketing standpoint, for starters. NHL fans have not only long been recognized as the most tech-savvy among sports fans, but on average, they're also the best-educated and tend to be the wealthiest.

The female part of the fan base continues to grow as well, as stated above. It's worth repeating that when it comes to household spending, women hold about 80-85% of the spending power. (See articles from AskingSmarterQuestions.com, She-conomy.com, Time magazine, and TrendSight.com for more in-depth discussion about this.) Therefore, the NHL should definitely be doing more to attract and keep female hockey fans.

It is not surprising, therefore, that in addition to "natural" hockey partners such as beer companies, sports equipment manufacturers, and companies like Canadian Tire, the league is already able to attract strong family/female-friendly marketing partners like Geico, Kraft, Visa, Discover, Honda, Compuware, Bridgestone, and Kimberly-Clark.

But if you tune into NHLN after 11pm, you'd hardly recognize the demographic that the NHL is aiming for. Maybe it's the fault of the cable providers and not the network itself, but late-night NHLN viewers are treated to repetitive advertising for companies like FarmersOnly.com and various as-seen-on-TV "So, you've got this physical problem that you didn't know was repulsive until you saw our ad?" products.

Lepore mentioned that the NHL doesn't seem interested in improving its day-to-day or off-season programming. Even the most die-hard of hockey fans can be easily numbed by the repetitive, limited programming that the network currently offers up.

Currently, here's some examples of NHL's weekly/daily programs:

  • NHL Live (except, of course, when it's running as repeats) - described as "bringing hockey fans the latest news, notes, and buzz from around the league". We've already discussed that NHLN is not always ahead of other networks or news sources. Hockey fans should feel that tuning in to NHL Live will always mean the freshest content.
  • NHL On The Fly - billed as NHLN's "signature show", this show is meant to take you "inside the action", including highlights, "up-to-the-minute" hockey info, scores, interviews, etc. Any night that games are playing in the league, NHL On The Fly should be running mostly live all night with what's going on around the league.
  • NHL Tonight - highlights/recaps/analysis of each day's game. As Lepore pointed out, this show rarely encompasses things that might be going on in late (a.k.a. West coast) games. This show runs for an hour, and then is rebroadcast ad infinitum (or is it ad nauseum?) until NHL Live or NHL On The Fly kicks in the next day.

There's other shows like Plays of the Week, but that's just repackaging highlights from NHL Tonight.

Here's my suggestions for NHL Network to improve its offerings:

1. BROADEN DAILY OR WEEKLY HOCKEY COVERAGE PAST THE NHL


The NHL is not just about what is going on with the games and players that are currently in the NHL. Each team has its ECHL and AHL affiliates, as well as prospects spread out through various leagues across Europe, North America, and Russia. Fans are interested in these players, but it's challenging to keep up with them unless you invest hundreds of dollars - and hours - into various Internet hockey programming packages, and searching through hockey news.

NHLN should carry some games from these other leagues, especially on nights when NHL game choices are slim. Extended coverage of World Championship games, including both US and Canadian teams in particular, have increasing interest from hockey fans. Championship-round playoff games for the Calder Cup (AHL) and Kelly Cup (ECHL) trophies, KHL games, CHL games, the World Championship, Spengler Cup, and the European leagues (especially SM-liiga and the Swedish Hockey League) would all provide more interesting and comprehensive hockey coverage.

After all, these leagues are affiliate leagues with the NHL. And one of the NHL's corporate marketing partners is The Hockey News; so what makes more sense than having a general Hockey News broadcast?

Ideally, NHLN could start by broadcasting a 60-minute highlights show/newscast covering other leagues 3 times a week; and if successful, it could eventually run 5-7 times per week. The primary focus should emphasize the AHL, ECHL, and CHL, where most current NHL prospects play, but a ticker at the bottom of the screen could stream game scores and player stats. The program could be filled out with interviews and player profiles.

Leading up to the Olympics, it would be great to see some programming related to the history of hockey on the international stage, and more discussion and analysis about the international-style hockey game.

2. EDUCATE THE FANS THROUGH PROGRAMS

This expands further on the ideas in point #1. Not all hockey fans grow up with the sport; some are "late-blooming fans". But even long-time fans of the sport have plenty to learn about hockey.

Old-time games can be great to watch. But how about a weekly/biweekly show that shows highlights from particular games, and talks about the influence of that game on the sport, or a given season? Or gives additional analysis from a more modern point of view?

Some other shows that could air weekly or a few times per week, year-round:

  • Hockey Biographies : profiling players and personalities who shaped the sport. A one-hour show could be dedicated to anywhere from one to three people involved with hockey; perhaps one player, one coach, and one "other" person (broadcaster, reporter, team owner, etc) per show.

  • Hockey 101 : a weekly or biweekly, half-hour or one-hour show that discusses hockey rules, drills, nutrition, and exercises to make recreational players better, but also helps educate fans about the game and what it takes to succeed. It would be pretty cool to see somebody like Gary Roberts contribute segments to a show like this. Tie this program in with the NHL Learning Center on the NHL website.
  • Women in Hockey : a bi-monthly show about women's hockey: profiles and interviews of those who play it, those who have had an influence on the game in general, and coverage for women's hockey, especially for the Olympics, the World Championship, and the Canadian Women's Hockey League.
3. HOCKEY IS FOR EVERYONE - SO SHOW IT

Canadian hockey viewers know that that Hockey Night in Canada provides a Punjabi edition, which helps appeal to Canada's large Indian population.

So where is a Spanish-language broadcast in the US?

There are more than 38.3 million native speakers of Spanish in the US. Among the top 15 cities with the largest number of Spanish-speaking citizens, there are several NHL cities: the greater LA/Orange County (Kings, Ducks) area tops the list (over 35% of area population speaks Spanish). Other NHL cities within the top 15 are: NYC/Tri-State area (Rangers, Islanders, Devils), Miami/Ft. Lauderdale (Panthers), Chicago (Blackhawks), Dallas (Stars), Phoenix (Coyotes), Bay area (Sharks), and DC/Baltimore (Capitals).

Since NBCUniversal owns Telemundo, it would naturally make plenty of sense for the NHL's existing broadcast partner to work on producing a hockey show at least once per week. 


It is also worth noting that three of the largest Spanish-speaking population centers - Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, Dallas, and Phoenix - have hockey teams that have struggled to draw fans into their buildings in markets that are more strongly dedicated to basketball, football, and college sports. Expanding hockey's reach through Spanish-language programming might help improve interest and attendance in these markets.

Additionally, NHL.com should expand their fan reach by providing a Spanish section to their website, the way that they have included sections in French, Russian, Finnish, Swedish, Czech, Slovakian, and German.

4. PROMOTE ORIGINAL PROGRAMMING PROVIDED BY TEAMS BETTER

NHLN currently carries original programming produced by various teams around the league, such as Oil Change (Oilers), Becoming Wild (MN Wild) and BHTV specials (Blackhawks). However, it is erratically scattered throughout NHLN's schedule, instead of being found in regularly-scheduled slots. Even if the only regular slots mean 2 p.m. or 1 a.m., at least make the timing consistent, and make more effort to drum up interest in the shows. Fans love these insider shows and eat them up, even if it's not their own team. (Just look at the success of 24/7.)

5. BOOST THE SIGNAL OF NHL PODCASTS BY SIMULCASTING ON NHLN

Did you know that Ken Hitchcock does a weekly podcast for NHL? How about Bobby Holik? Do you know where to find all of the league's teams' podcasts in one place? If you hunt around long enough on NHL.com, you can find the link over to their podcast directory (P.S. Not everybody is interested in subscribing to SiriusXM radio services.) Take some of that podcast material and integrate in into some live shows. 


6. BUNDLE CENTER ICE/GAMECENTER, AND PRICE IT MONTH-BY-MONTH

Not all fans are willing to cough up $169 at one go (or even $43/month for 4 months) to buy Center Ice OR GameCenter; how many fans are willing to pay for both? For those on a budget, it's easier to say, "Ok, I'm going to be paying $15-20/month" versus the idea of putting out so much money in one shot.

It would also be helpful if NHL.com could put more information on their website about broadcast regulations and explaining how/why programming blackouts occur. Fans in several areas of the country fall into grey areas between two (or sometimes more) NHL teams, and end up with blackouts on games that are supposedly "local" for their area.

And while it may be difficult to believe, not everybody owns a TV. So a fan might buy GameCenter, thinking they can use the program package to watch their local team ... but oddly enough, local broadcasts are often blacked out on GameCenter! 

Strangest of all, people who subscribe to GameCenter find themselves blacked out of games that air on NHL Network. After all, NHLN runs GameCenter - it seems incredibly odd that NHLN can't broadcast the game that is running on their own network on their own app!









There are plenty of ways that both the NHL Network and NHL.com could improve their content, but these are some starting ideas.




 

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On a side note regarding GameCenter: I've been using the GameCenter app on my Droid Maxx phone which I received through the Verizon Fan Voices program. Verizon is a partner with the NHL and as a result, there's some "exclusive" content on the NHL phone app if you have Verizon as a partner.

I have been watching a lot of games via the GameCenter app lately and I'm generally very pleased by the quality of content streaming, especially when using Wi-fi. But the broadcast blackout restrictions are at times quite frustrating to me, especially when I cannot watch a local TV broadcast of a game I want to see, but it's blacked out via the GameCenter app. (The radio broadcasts are never blacked out; just the TV ones.)

Aside from that issue, I otherwise really enjoy having GameCenter and the quality of video my phone provides to watch it; but the blackouts (yay, broadcast restrictions! woowhee...) are annoying at times.


Disclosure: I am participating in the Verizon Fans Voices program
and have been provided with a wireless device (Droid Maxx) and six months
of service in exchange for my honest opinions about the product.