Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Blackout!

By Graeme Perrow

I travelled with my wife and sons to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario this past weekend for a family thing, which meant that I wasn't able to travel to Buffalo to see the Toronto Rock's victory over the Buffalo Bandits. I knew the game was being televised on TSN2, so I was hopeful that I would be able to watch it at the hotel. I checked in advance and the hotel did have free wifi, so worst case, the hotel doesn't get TSN2 but I'll be able to stream the game over the internet, right? Wrong.

Blackout

When we arrived at the hotel, one of the first things I did was to check to see if they got TSN2. No such luck. We went about our family stuff and after dinner on Saturday, we returned to the hotel where I planned on firing up the ol' laptop to watch the game. I connected to nll.com, clicked "Watch Live" as I have done so many times this season, and waited in anticipation to see the score, since we had missed the first quarter. The game came up, I saw a score of 6-4 Rock, and a second later the screen went blank. A message came up saying something like "The content owner has blocked access from your current location, you LOSER", and it was then I remembered the whole blackout thing. When Rock games are televised on TSN or TSN2, they are generally blacked out in Canada on the NLL Network. I have never really paid much attention to this before, since I am at the home games, and I watch the away games on TV. This time, I'm over nine hours away from HSBC Arena and I can't watch on TV, so the internet is the only option.

I ended up "watching" the game by bringing up the boxscore from NLL.com and hitting Ctrl-R now and again to refresh it. This was less than satisfying so I tweeted NLL Commissioner George Daniel asking why. To his credit, he responded quickly. Here is our short conversation:

@GraemePerrow: . @NLLCommissioner Why is the Toronto/Buffalo game blacked out on NLL.com? It's impossible for me to watch the game any other way

@NLLCommissioner: @GraemePerrow should have only been blacked out if you are in Canada because game was on TSN2

@GraemePerrow: @NLLCommissioner I'm in Sault Ste. Marie ON, in a hotel on the river. I could throw a rock and hit Michigan. My hotel doesn't get TSN2

@NLLCommissioner: @GraemePerrow sorry about that but we did publish the blackout in advance on nll.com.

Mr. Daniel was absolutely right, they did publish the blackout in advance, I just didn't pay attention to it. And the fact that my hotel was a few hundred feet from the American border was irrelevant – they have to draw the line somewhere, and if you're on the wrong side of that line, too bad. (OK, so maybe I couldn't throw a rock from the hotel and hit Michigan. But if I walked down towards the water a little, I could definitely hit the cut-off man.) I suppose I could have driven across the border to Sault Michigan, found a Starbucks with free wifi, and watched the game from there.

But Andrew McKay from The Laxist also chimed in, saying "IMO, shouldn't be blacking out game that's on an opt-in digital channel." But he quickly changed his mind: "actrually [sic] I take it back. Agreement makes sense because TSN does move games to main channel." I was a little disappointed that Andrew had pulled his support for my predicament, and we had the following exchange:

@GraemePerrow: @apmckay IF they move it to the main channel, fine, but otherwise it shouldn't be blacked out

@apmckay: @GraemePerrow yeah but I can see signing blackout rights in return for main channel possibility.

There it is. That's the thing that made me change my mind and see reason. The NLL must have negotiated a deal with TSN that says "All games televised will be blacked out in Canada. In return, the occasional game will be televised on TSN rather than TSN2." I believe that Rock owner Jamie Dawick paid TSN to televise Rock games during the regular season, so I don't know how the regular season blackouts worked. But I did confirm with Mr. Daniel (again, via twitter) that the Championship game rights were negotiated with the league, not the Rock. I would assume that deal included all the playoff series.

So yes, it sucked that I couldn't watch the Rock-Bandits game last weekend, especially since it sounds like it was a great game. (On the upside, I did get to visit the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre, which is much more interesting than it sounds.) But in the end, having lacrosse televised (even occasionally) on the most-watched sports network in Canada is worth a little inconvenience.

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