Thursday, August 16, 2007

Dreams Do Come True

If anybody caught my post on my Centre Ice Online trials and tribulations, then you'll be happy to know that I will suffer no more.

Shaw Communications, one of the big 2 cable providers here in Saskatoon, has finally reached an agreeement with the NHL and will be offering the Centre Ice package to its subscribers. I threw my hands up in the air like I just won the lottery when this was announced. Might have pulled a muscle too but it's all good.

In the past I've followed the Avalanche with a hodge-podge of methods. Some as lowly as radio, others via Sportsnet West/TSN at home and also n Versus in my boss's basement. And of course the brief aforementioned stint with Centre Ice Online.

Today is a glorious day and I truly can't wait for the season to start now!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Why Doesn't the NHL Want People to Watch Hockey?

I was responding to a post by jibblescribbits and realized I was going on and on and on and on...and on. So I figured that since things were boring on the Avs front, I'd put up a post here describing the trials and tribulations I went through trying to get Centre Ice Online.

Check out Jibble's post here on the actual television package troubles he had:
Horse...Doody (had to clean it up jibble, sorry ;)

I've had a similarly bad experience with the the Centre Ice Online deal. I signed up with about 15 games left in the season unfortunately. I didn't sign up sooner b/c I didn't know it existed until then. For the longest time I was going "Why don't they offer their games online?" They finally do and do you know how I heard about it? And it wasn't due to some great marketing by the NHL. No, I found it in a post on the Avalanche forum. I guess they think it'll "go viral" or something. Well done NHL marketing team.

The price at the time (we'll come back to the "at the time" part later) was $149USD. So about $175CDN. There were about 10 Avs games I'd be able to watch due to local restrictions, etc so I'm paying nearly $20/game. I was ok with it because the Avs were just starting their incredible run and I couldn't handle missing it and didn't want to keep bothering my boss to watch games at his place.

To begin with, signing up was an ordeal that took about 2 days. The signup form kept giving me an error message of, I kid you not, "Unknown error". Their support page was only visible to logged in members so that was incredibly helpful. There was no phone number anywhere. There was no "I'm having troubles signing up. Who do I contact?" FAQ entry. Hint to the NHL, when offering a service that you sign up for online, that's FAQ entry #1.

After tracking down a support form on, which was just a general support form, I sent a message saying how I was trying to give them my money but they didn't seem to want it. Within a day someone got back giving the usual "clear cookies, what browser verion, blah blah". I'm in the web industry so I know the standard troubleshooting lines. It was none of those things. Their processing form was just broken. That was confirmed when I just repeatedly hit Submit about 100 times until it finally processed.

So I'm in! Success! No more troubles, right? Completely wrong. It turns out that logging in causes just as much headache as signing up does. And I have a hunch that it all boils back to them trying to check and ensure that you aren't sharing your login with anyone else (which I was NOT doing). Well that's all well and good but when it's causing troubles for your legit paying customers, it's time to re-think the system.

So I wanted to get in touch with someone about my log in troubles. I click the Support link on the login page. I get redirected to the login page. Awesome. So back to the form indicating that I was trying to get in, it was 20 minutes to gametime and I really wanted to see this game. No dice. 2 days later I get a response saying "clear your cookies and try logging in again". Very helpful but I humor the request even though I'd cleared cookies many times trying to get this to work. It didn't work. They even sent a link to their support page. You know, the one you have to be logged in to to view. I think they were trying to see how frustrated I could get.

Finally I try to log in on my desktop the day of the Vancouver game in March. I was going from my laptop so I could sit on the couch and watch rather than on my aging computer chair. And I'm in! What? Are they checking for laptop computers and denying them or what? Anyways, I'm in. The Vancouver-Colorado game is on the way in 5 minutes. Sweet! The link becomes available. I click it. Nothing. The game doesn't start. Using Firefox I'm able to find the link to the stream, plug it into Windows Media Player and...broken link.

So off to the support page, which I can access now that I'm logged in, and I report a broken link. Then I resume trying but never could get in to see the game. 2 days later I get a response from support. "clear your cookies and try again". Well that's all well and good but I don't know if they know that hockey games end after 3 hours in the regular season.

I got to watch 2 or 3 more games online depending on if I could log in or not but it certainly was nowhere near the amount I'd expected to see. That fact was troublesome enough. Couple it with noticing that, exactly 3 days after I purchased it for $149, it was now being offered for $43! Obviously that doesn't seem fair that the price would drop so significantly after just 3 days so I decided to send a message to them. I simply asked why the price drop and that, with all the troubles I'd had, I don't see why I shouldn't get some sort of refund. They could have given me $20 back and I'd have been happy. No response. So I sent another message. No response. One more. No response.

So let's wrap up:
- Response time when giving them money: 24 hour turnaround
- Response time when unable to watch a game: 48 hour turnaround
- Response time when asking for money: Infinity

Why wouldn't they put extra effort into making an offering like this look more than a 2-cent add-on? Watching games on TVU was a better experience, though the stream quality was less. The first thing you have to do when offering a package that costs money is to make it better than the free offerings that exist. Or that did exist before the lawyers were about to get lawsuit happy. Lawsuit happy over "watching" games on a 240x180 player on my computer screen. Yeah, that's how fans *want* to watch games. No Gary, it's how some fans *have* to watch games.

Seems to me like they care about the money and not about fans actually watching the games. Which is sad because how do you expect to get and maintain fans if they can't even watch whatever game they want to watch? There are now 30 teams in the league. That's a lot of choices for a first-timer who says "Hey, hockey seems interesting. I wonder what team I should root for?". I guess Bettman figures you should just cheer for the team you're closest too since their games will be on local television anyways. Thanks Gary, but I don't want to cheer for the Flames or Oilers.

Unless the NHL and its marketing team pull their collective heads out of their collective butts, hockey will remain a tier-two sport in the USA and abroad. Canadian fans will always be there for it b/c we're stupid that way. We even put up with Pierre McGuire just to watch hockey. Some fans even convince themselves that they enjoy his commentary. That's how desperate we are to watch hockey. So why won't you let us?