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It’s Time to End the NHL’s Blackout Policy

The New York Rangers played a classic game against the Islanders on Tuesday night.  Chances are, though, if you live in the Albany area, you didn’t get to see it – the rivalry game becoming the latest casualty of an outrageous NHL policy that blacks out the New York area teams in lieu of games played in Buffalo, some 130 extra miles away from our universally designated New York market.

Indeed, unless you’re lucky enough to have NHL Center Ice, and the money it costs to buy such a package, you were, on Tuesday night, left watching the Sabres or the World Poker Tour or boxing reruns or whatever else MSG was forced to televise over the team for which you actually root.

On the subject, the NHL had these words to say:

Albany is part of the Sabres market as well as the Rangers, Devils & Islanders.  Since it is considered Sabres territory, the Rangers are only permitted to air 50 of their games in the Albany area (NJD & NYI are allotted 41 games) during the season on MSG/MSG+. However, all of the Rangers/Devils/Islanders games are available in the Center Ice in that area.

In the interest of openness, let me say this:  I’m a Ranger fan.  I’ve been one since I was 5-years old and watched, with my father, as the Rangers lifted the cup for the first time in 54 years.  The magic of that cup run, the guarantee by Messier in the Conference Finals, Mathieu, Richter stoning Bure on the penalty shot in game four, Leetch’s goal in game seven, it all came together and coalesced into what is, even to this day, a passion for the game of hockey and its first New York franchise.

It’s the beauty of the sport: one playoff season, one game, one play can create life-long fans.

Unfortunately for me, though, this life-long hockey and Ranger fan is also a life-long member of the Capital Region and, as such, am consistently disappointed by this game I love.  Because while they’re the closest geographically, and while the NFL and NBA and MLB say I live in a New York market, the NHL does not; the Rangers – nor any of the New York teams – are not the area’s primary hockey team and we simply aren’t given enough of their games on television.

I know first hand how quickly can be sparked an intense, burning passion for this game. So why does the NHL – a league begging for support – insist on keeping that opportunity from a large swath of its fanbase, and how can they expect to keep fans or attract new ones when limiting their product so dramatically?  What are was fans without the ability to watch our team?  How many more blackouts do they expect us to roll over and accept?  I love the game, and I love the Rangers – when I get to see them – but the fact that I don’t, that I didn’t get to see the them play Tuesday night just a two hour train ride from my house is infuriating and, more than that, sad.

What’s sadder and more infuriating, though, is that I’ve written this article before.

Everything above – including the NHL’s statement – is plagiarized from an article I wrote two and a half years ago, before the league’s most recent lockout.

And that, in truth, is what’s most sad, and most infuriating.  That we’re ignored.

Columns have been written, complaints have been lodged and voice boxes have been stressed, each for too long, and each met with the same indifference or outright disregard from the league who should still be begging for its fans forgiveness.

How much longer can they expect us to be neglected before choosing to neglect them?

I’ve sent an email to the NHL offices every few months for the past few years, but now I’m sending it once a week.  It’s time for the NHL to finally do something for its fans.

When will they answer?  I don’t know, but if history – its relations with fans and, considering the lockouts, with its own internal parts – is any indication, not before its too late.

Good morning. My name is Joe Bianchino, I’m a producer for ESPN Radio in Albany. We were hoping to speak with someone regarding the NHL’s TV market assignments – specifically, the decision to assign Albany a Buffalo Sabres market and black out many Rangers, Islanders, and Devils games.  We would love to be in touch with someone, could you point us in the correct direction?  Please accept my apologies if this inquiry was not directed to the correct avenue.  Thank you very much for your time.

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