We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: it’s not often that the Federal Prospects Hockey League makes a decision that makes the SPHL look bad, and for the most part, when those decisions do happen, they aren’t massive game-changers.
Sure the Fed getting Columbus over the SPHL is bad for the SP, but it’s not the end of the world for the league, and it’s not like the SPHL was in desperate need of the market. And yeah the Fed had a 5-game championship series for a while, but that’s gone, and even that just mean one or two more games of hockey for the season. Again, a nice thing to have but not an absolute necessity.
Which brings us to the decision of the FPHL to put almost all its games for free on YouTube this season (almost because Port Huron puts theirs on Facebook, where it’s still free). When we broke the news about this switch, we laid out all the possibilities for what it could do to the league, and two weeks in, I think that post barely scratched the surface, and the streams on YouTube are a massive hit among fans at home and doing much better that even we could have predicted.
There have been hiccups, and not every stream has been great (most notably Battle Creek continues to have issues, and that is reportedly an arena issue), but teams are learning, and listening, on the fly to make things better each night.
Columbus had a quality stream for its first game, just a single camera, but it was clear, had good audio, and on-screen score graphics. For a free stream it was great. The next night they busted out a 3-camera setup with professional graphics and a broadcast that would have looked great on a local cable sports network. Danville had its issues Friday with a camera that was too low, not clear enough, zoomed way too far out, and awful audio. Rather than bash the fans (including us) who complained, they fixed all of that the next night and put together a quality stream that was clear and easy to watch and listen to. Then Watertown has had great streams that have everything you would want in one you have to pay for, but again, it’s free and right there on YouTube where you can watch literally anywhere you have internet access.
I bring all this up because the SPHL bills itself as the bigger and better league of the unaffiliated Single A hockey leagues in the United States. And they’re not wrong, one look at the attendance for either league, as well as how the players are compensated, and just the simple eye test on the ice to see the quality of play proves that.
But their streaming service pricing and quality is a disaster, and they clearly need to do something about it both for fans, and their respective teams who are trying to put these streams out there.
When a league that you didn’t/don’t view as a rival busts out all of the things we listed in the paragraphs above, and it’s 100% free, it makes you look bad when you have all of the same issues, don’t fix them, and then have the gall to charge $200 for it.
It’s entirely the reason why we at BLH didn’t subscribe to SPHL Live this season. Because last season it was the same issues. Streams that didn’t look good, or would cut in and out, or just plain didn’t work at all. And it was $200 to get that. And we’re apparently not alone in that sentiment.
I get that those issues are not entirely because of the teams, because the broadcasters and interns who work on game night to get a stream up for fans are busting it and doing all they can so people at home can watch, and it’s more likely an issue because of whatever third party the SPHL uses to host and transmit its games. And I also get that the SPHL or its teams are probably directly paid by that host for the right to stream those games, and you can’t just instantly cut out a revenue stream with no way of knowing how you might make that up.
But beyond money or the work that goes into the streams, it all comes back to this: They don’t work the majority of the time, and it’s expensive. Again, we had an account last season, and on different computers, phones, and tablets, and on the internet at one of our homes that was 400mps, it just didn’t work. Or if it did it was so pixelated you may as well have been watching someone play NHL 94 on the SNES.
And as far as we know and have seen, the SPHL has not said a peep about this issue, which is a major problem. You have a lower league that is so far running rings around you as far as streams go, and the SPHL is sitting there quietly as fans are getting ripped off every weekend there are games. And as you can see in the tweets above, fans are just straight up not paying for the streams anymore, and you really can’t blame them when there doesn’t appear to be a solution or compromise on the way.
We’ve had this discussion before on Twitter and Facebook, about what the SPHL’s response would be to the Fed making its games free and on a very easy to use platform, and so far it’s been nothing. It’s also led us to speculate what their plan may be after this season, because you can bet they aren’t going to issue a whole bunch of refunds or suddenly make the games free after some fans paid for them already. While we don’t know the particulars about their deal with the current hosts, you would hope that they’re looking for a way out after this season, either to put games on YouTube, or Twitch, or something like PlutoTV. Something so that even if a stream is bad, or doesn’t work, it isn’t costing fans $200 for the season, or $8 for each individual game.
Because as the season goes on and FPHL teams get better and better with their streams, while SPHL streams are either lousy or non-existant, and still cost money to watch, they look worse and worse in more ways than one.