Sunday, June 1, 2008

The state of Hockey

I guess that it says something that after a tension-filled Game Four of the Stanley-Cup finals (which was won 2-1 by the Detroit Red Wings, giving them a three games to one lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins), this is what's on my mind. Gary Bettman was recently asked about NHL revenues, and he spouted off his usual idiocy. I really, really, REALLY can't stand the guy. He has been the worst thing for Hockey since, well, ever. Under him, the sport has gone from the fourth of the four "major" sports to a sport that that gets MUCH lower ratings than poker and reality shows on the Home & Garden Network. The NHL went from being on ESPN and ESPN2 to being on Versus, a network that many cable systems still don't carry. Great job, Buttman! If an exec ran a company in the "real world" this way, he or she would have been fired LONG ago.

Now we have revenues which are up for NHL teams in general, but to a much lesser degree for the American-based franchises. They have shot up for the Canadian teams, due in large part to the sharp increase in value for the Canadian dollar: http://www.cbc.ca/sports/hockey/story/2008/05/31/bettman-hnic.html. That doesn't explain everything, however. There are several U.S. teams which Buttman refused to name (of course) who are not doing as well--anyone want to take a guess as to which ones they are?

The fact of the matter is that Buttman's expansion has, by and large, been a failure. The "Southern Strategy" hasn't worked. The NHL was at its most successful when it played to its strengths--it is a regional sport and will never be anything but. It is NOT a sport that will succeed in the long term in markets such as Carolina, Florida, Nashville, Phoenix, Tampa, Atlanta, Columbus, etc. I don't think that the sport is working in Washington, either, but Alexander Ovechkin may give that franchise a chance at re-establishing itself.

If Buttman and his cronies really want a bigger NHL (something I don't think is good for the sport, but then again, I'm just a fan. What do I know?), why not have teams in markets where the sport really would appeal to the locals? If you want more American markets, put teams in Milwaukee (Wisconsin is a hockey-mad state), Seattle (long history of successful minor league hockey there), Portland (Oregon), Cleveland (the NHL never really gave the Barons a chance at success), and (going against what I said, I know, but hear me out on this one) Las Vegas--the NHL would be the first of the big sport to place itself in this virgin market, and it could establish itself ahead of the NFL, MLB and NBA. But, then again, why would the Buttman-led NHL want to do anthing that forward-thinking?

Of course, to me it seems obvious that the sport should "go back to its roots" and there should be more teams in Canada, where ratings and revenue are more or less guaranteed. Put teams back in Winnipeg and Quebec City. Move existing teams to "new" markets like Hamilton. I would even suggest that Halifax could support a team.

All in all, the state of the NHL is a sorry one indeed. Anyone who is bothering to read this is a fellow hockey-lovers. I throw it open to you--is there anything we as fans can to do reclaim OUR sport?

1 comment:

Americaneocon said...

I've got some big debates going on over at my place, BHG. Love to see you join in...