Wednesday, February 20, 2008

NHL Red-Faced As It Learns Versus Not REALLY A Network At All

New York, NY (Feb. 20) - The National Hockey League, for years trying to find a foothold in the medium of television, suffered another humiliating blow to its already-fragile credibility when it was revealed that Versus, the tiny network currently carrying NHL games, is not really a network at all.

"I'm most dreadfully embarrassed," said league Commissioner Gary Bettman at a news conference yesterday. "We were misled."

Versus, it turns out, is instead a public access cable station based out of Teaneck, NJ that was able to use an old microwave uplink from 17-year-old Danny Whalen's dad's former communications consulting company to transmit the "network's" signal to the over 10,000 homes that receive Versus.

"That Whalen kid ... pretty damn slick," Bettman said, sighing and shaking his head as he could barely bring himself to make eye contact with reporters.

An embarrassed-beyond-belief NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman tries to explain how the league could have been duped by some teenagers into thinking it was broadcasting games on an actual network for almost two seasons

Whalen and his friend, 16-year-old Seth Husted, pirated game broadcasts and, using a MacIntosh computer program, placed the totally made up Versus "logos" and graphics over them.

"It started out as a joke one night," Whalen said on his way home from Teaneck High School yesterday. "Seth says, 'You think we can do this?' He's always up for some sort of reason to use this new Mac software he bought."

According to Whalen, the ruse began a year ago September, when his older cousin, Bernie, tabbed some actors from his community theater group to play the roles of Versus executives. A meeting was arranged with the TV-hungry NHL, and the league quickly agreed to go with Versus, failing to do even the slightest due diligence.

"When Bernie texted me that he was sitting in Bettman's office, I about s**t my pants," Whalen said, giggling. "I was like, 'We might actually pull this off.' "

Of course, getting Bettman's approval was only Step One. Next, the youngsters had to put into motion the technical part of the plan, which involved Husted's computer genius.

Before long, the boys were "broadcasting" games on the bogus network.

"Network" on-air talent such as Bill Clement, Keith Jones, and Brian Engblom assumed that their work was being seen by millions, when in fact it was just 8-10,000 per night -- depending on the reliability of Whalen's dad's outdated microwave transmitter.

"Some nights we can hit 10 K, but if it's bad out, it's more like 6 K," Whalen explained.

Bettman announced the firing of media buyer Leslie Thornblatt and her assistant in the wake of the revelation, which came after Whalen "couldn't keep fooling the league anymore" and sent an e-mail to NHL offices.

"To our thousands of fans, I apologize," Bettman said. "You expect more from us."

Not really, according to sports analyst Bill Berg.

"The league hasn't really disappointed here," Berg said. "In fact, this is pretty much par for the course."

Whalen said he and his friends would continue to broadcast games on "Versus" thru the end of the regular season, to help the NHL save face.

"I guess we owe that much to them," Whalen said as he tossed his backpack onto the kitchen counter.

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