Growing up in the State of Hockey, it’s easy to take for granted the wealth of youth, amateur, and professional hockey that surrounds you. And in terms of broadcasting, the same can definitely be said. I’ll always remember my fiancé’s father’s delight when he managed to find the 2009 Minnesota State High School Hockey tournament playing while vacationing in Florida—impressive, though not unheard of. Indeed, hockey seems to spill plentiful from both parks and television (local and national programming) alike. But the tangled web that is professional sports broadcasting doesn’t always dish the puck when you find yourself outside of your team’s home state.
While I was at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, I enjoyed a unique programming phenomenon: both Fox Sports North and Fox Sports Wisconsin were available with the basic local cable package. Wild and Gopher games were always playing on FS North and my roommate caught his Milwaukee Brewers on FS Wisconsin as often as he liked. It was as peaceful a household as you can imagine – NFL dramatics aside.
But after graduating in December 2012 I moved east to Madison, WI for work. My fiancé and I had agreed that we’d forgo cable, and I decided to turn to NHL Gamecenter for my Wild fix. However, I soon discovered that Madison is blacked out from Wild games, despite being well outside of Fox Sports North’s programming bubble. After reaching out to Maggie Kukar, Manager of Broadcasting and Production for the Minnesota Wild, I found out Fox Sports Wisconsin simulcasts a majority of FS North Wild coverage (In Eau Claire, WI FS North blacked out FS Wisconsin’s coverage, so I didn’t see the simulcast). For the rest of the season I danced around Madison bars catching games when FS Wisconsin aired them or, when the Brewers or Bucks blocked out the Wild, on FS North, which one bar had access to (that bar would close before the playoffs). On the whole, it was a small/minor hassle and resulted in plenty of bar tabs and only a few broadcast disappointments — until the Wild made the playoffs.
If you watched the Wild’s playoff series on TV (first of all, high five for catching the series) and you were living in Minnesota at the time (here’s another high five), you were likely watching FS North or possibly its affiliated FSN Plus channel. But much of the rest of the country was watching NBC Sports for the same series. In Wisconsin, Wild games were consigned to a mythical FS Wisconsin Alternate Channel due to conflicting Milwaukee Bucks games and other programming. Hand to God, there was not one bar in town that had this channel, even the bars with powerful DISH Network and DirecTV packages. So, short of owning a lavish cable package that included out-of-market Fox Sports channels or the imaginary alternate FS Wisconsin channel, Wild fans were resigned to those dark corners of the Internet, where even the lowest expectations of tolerable streaming are met with disappointment.
Ultimately, the one game aired on NBC provided that in-home fan experience I’d been missing, but this wasn’t much of a consolation. I like to think the Wild didn’t take the series seriously because they figured a whole slew of fans in Madison weren’t able to enjoy the games –in case you were still looking for an alternative explanation for that 1-4 beauty of a series. With Fox Sports Wisconsin soon to release their Minnesota Wild programming schedule, you can be sure I’ll be sitting here in Madison weighing the differences between bar bills and cable bills.
And soon, let’s hope that I’ll be stressing out about how to watch the Minnesota Wild’s next playoff run!