In a recent game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers, there was a disputed play that required video review to determine if the Flyers had scored a goal. The call on the ice was no goal, so the situation room in Toronto needed conclusive evidence to overturn that ruling. Fox Sports Pittsburgh was the primary telecast that night so they supplied all the replays that were seen in Toronto as well as by the viewers watching at home. None of the replays showed the puck across the line so the ruling on the ice stood: no goal for the Flyers. At some point after the puck had been dropped and the ruling was therefore official, another replay was shown that was not previously aired. It clearly showed the puck across the line.
For those of you who don’t know, a television production truck is a very hectic place during a live sports event. It’s possible for a replay to get overlooked and not make it to air. But, it’s not clear that was the case here. The producer for Fox Sports Pittsburgh, Lowell McDonald, was suspended indefinitely. Did he know the replay was there but decided not to show it because he was protecting the home team? It may be hard for fans to believe, but this is a situation that has existed in local sports television for many years. Producers, directors and/or announcers are employees of teams in many cases and whether they’re directly employed by the team or not, their financial welfare is often directly tied to the team’s success. Many people in the industry are paid by the game. The more games you work, the more money you make. The best way to make more money is for “your” team to make the playoffs. There’s nothing wrong with this setup, until you ask one of these people to make a decision that could influence the outcome of a game. Lowell McDonald is a respected producer in the industry and, more importantly, a respected person. Was he simply trying to protect the people that pay him?
The NHL needs to get together with all their local broadcast partners and formulate a policy that takes this kind of power out of the hands of local TV people. The only reason this came to light was the fact that Fox Sports Pittsburgh decided to air the conclusive replay. If they were trying to hide something, I’m not sure why they would show it. But, the point is that you have to believe this has happened before. Who knows what replays have existed that never made it to air? And let’s remember, we’re not just talking goal and no-goal situations. What about a camera behind the play showing a player committing an offense that may warrant a suspension? Would you blame the local crew for not showing that replay?
I was the TV play-by-play announcer for the Detroit Red Wings in 1992 when video review was used for the first time to determine the outcome of a playoff game. It was Game 6 in Minnesota of a series between the North Stars and Red Wings. The North Stars led the series three games to two. In overtime, Sergei Fedorov took a shot that appeared to go in but play continued. At the first stoppage, referee Rob Shick skated over to talk with the replay official at the Met Center. On our telecast, we aired the overhead camera replay that showed the puck hitting the back bar. It was a goal and the series went back to Detroit where the Red Wings won Game 7. The only reason we had that replay was the fact that the home North Stars’ show, produced at the time by John Shannon, had installed those cameras. In fact, they were the first team to install them. If they had decided not to provide that replay, we never would have known for sure that Fedorov’s shot went in.
The integrity of the game is the most important thing. We shouldn’t have to worry in sports if managers or referees are betting on games. Nor should we worry that someone else with a rooting or financial interest is making any decision that could affect the outcome.