Off the top, I have to admit my guilt as a bit of a multi-tasker when it comes to watching sports. While my regular duties as the sports editor for The Townsman had me watching the Kootenay Ice take on the Regina Pats Wednesday, I also happened to have a little bit of National Hockey League action streaming alongside.
When Rogers Communications struck a 12-year-, $5.2-billion national broadcast rights contract with the NHL in November 2013, I was a bit concerned. After one night of momentarily glimpsing at the Calgary Flames-Vancouver Canucks broadcast, I haven’t gleaned a large enough sample size to comment on whether or not the deal is going to be good for fans.
But I can tell you what did jump out at me in my brief steals of NHL viewing last night — the referee cam.
If you happened to be watching, you are already well aware. If you don’t care about the NHL, now is a good time to stop reading. If you had priorities to take care of and were crying deep inside because you were missing the opening night of action in the 2014-15 NHL season, allow me to enlighten.
NHL on-ice officials debuted a new piece of equipment opening night. Mounted ever so grandly, like a crudely fashioned crown, atop the domes of each NHL referee was a camera. Yes, that is correct.
A new perspective.
A new view.
An opportunity to see exactly what the zebra sees. Or doesn’t see. Oh my.
I must admit, I was turned off at first.
It seems like an eternity ago Fox Sports experimented with the disastrous glowing puck in the 1990s and surely, this referee camera schtick is nothing more than another gimmicky fad that will pass.
But as the game wore on and I saw more shots from the zebra cam, it began to grow on me.
I was a supporter when TSN strapped players with microphones. To hear the chatter on the bench and in the crease opened fans up to a new side of the game they had never heard before. My only complaint is I can’t subscribe to an unrated broadcast where I get to hear every last beak and chirp. But I digress.
Every hockey fan thinks he or she can do a better job, on a nightly basis, than Joe Official who has dedicated his life to becoming the best referee he can be. Yes, I am talking about you. I am even talking about me. We all think we see the game better than refs, most of whom have literally bled to reach this point in their career.
Just you wait until there is a penalty shot awarded and you leap from your chair, throw your popcorn in disgust and scream at the TV as your favourite player is flagged for the infraction.
“That was not a clear-cut breakaway! He had the angle on him! If anything, that should just be a tripping penalty! No way that is a penalty shot!”
Queue the zebra cam, which reveals your beloved defenceman was beaten by three steps, had no angle and no choice but to trip up his opponent, therefore taking away a legitimate and clear-cut scoring chance on a wide-open breakaway.
A new perspective.
A new view.
An opportunity to see exactly what the zebra sees, revealing to you he did make the right call and you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.
As much as this as a great opportunity to defend officials and prove to fans refs are competent sheriffs, there is a flip side and that is the only part that worries me.
Officials will now be under a greater microscope than ever before. When you can see exactly what the referee sees and he does something wrong, you have the record to prove his error. Ultimately, this should be a good thing and one can hope it helps increase the performance of officials who can now go back and look at exactly what they saw, or didn’t see. Kind of like a team looking at game tape to figure out why the power play didn’t work, the referee can go back to his footage when he missed a goal that was instead awarded by video review.
At the end of the day, the zebra cam is a win-win-win for fans, the league and officials. The only loss comes in the aesthetics category, because man, do those things look bulky and gross perched atop the referees bucket.
Maybe Rogers could strike a deal with Google to develop some sort of camera visor instead?