Tuesday, October 02, 2007


A whole other post

...it's just reality that, especially in the U.S., hockey fandom is tightly tied to individual teams. I happen to think the fact that the NHL (and most pundits) treat this like a bug rather than a feature is a big part of their problem, but that's a whole other post.

That was me on January 22nd of this year, and on the heels of RANGERS SUE NHL, it's a timely issue again. Alanah at Canucks and Beyond does a nice job of articulating the interests of each side:
I think the basis of the league’s efforts is well-founded, and probably a large part of the reason that the NHL wanted - even needed - to exert more control over the NHL as an overall brand. Whether they can do it or not, remains to be seen. (I’m not sure how possible it is to turn hockey fans into football fans of a type, that’s for sure.) But there is motivation to try—taking the league out of the perception that it is “niche” and increasing its national power.

But MSG has a point, too. They—and all individual teams, probably—know their market, their fans and their business better than the NHL does. If they can deliver the product better to their region without compromising the integrity of the league in general, they should be allowed to exercise more power than they’re being permitted at this time.

Longtime readers of this site will be unsurprised to hear that (per my excerpt at the top) I think the Rangers have the best part of this argument, and by a mile. The evidence is in, hundreds of times over, that the clubs are better innovators, and drivers of growth, than the league itself. If you can stand it, I'll quote myself again:
Every innovation in the past 50 years of the NHL has been initiated by a team, not by the league as a whole. (I use innovation not in the sense of "new technology", but rather "new idea designed to extract money from fans voluntarily".) Many of these innovations have been widely adopted, or even uniformly adopted as NHL policy, but the fact remains that they all came from businesses seeking to grow, improve, and gain profit.

Third jerseys, seat licenses, Pizza Hut in the concourse, game packs, coaches' radio shows, reserved parking lots, etc. etc. etc...none of these things came as a result of a partnership committee in the NHL offices. Individual teams initiated these things to grow revenue, improve their teams, and/or make more profit.

The BrandWeek interview Alanah links to (with NHL chief marketing dude John Collins) is a bright light on the mentality in the league offices. RTWT, and note these 3 items in particular:
  1. The overall theme that fandom being tied to teams is negative; i.e. a problem that needs to be solved. ("...our fans say they love hockey, but they don't behave like they love hockey. They behave like a million fans of the New York Rangers, a million fans of the Chicago Blackhawks. The passion they have is at a local level, but that doesn't translate to passion at a league level.")
  2. For all the chit-chat about opportunities and various initiatives, it always comes back to the traditional metric of a U.S. broadcast TV deal.
  3. Collins' "prime example" of "one of those opportunities for the league to be big" and showcase the NHL brand is -- surprise! -- an idea first conceived and implemented by an individual NHL team.
Whatever happens is going to happen, but I would urge you to set aside most of the reportage on this issue (Cracks Emerging! Who Will Win This Powerplay!), read MSG's letter to the other NHL owners (excerpted below) and consider their position on its merits. I find it compelling, even if I was willing to stipulate that the NHL really does have its shit together this time... which I'm not.

From Larry Brooks' Slap Shots, New York Post, September 30:
"The proper focus for the league is the growth of interest in the game as a whole, both in North America and internationally - and we support that focus.

"The League cannot be permitted, however, to accumulate team assets in the League office, growing centralized revenues at the expense of the clubs. Hockey is a distinctly regional game - unlike other leagues, most of hockey's revenue is generated locally - 93 percent of our revenues as a league are local.

"The League's continued efforts to take over club rights hurt each of us by taking away our ability to be responsive to our fans and react to changing business opportunities or events."

"[...] We can no longer stand by idly and let the League continue to impair our rights, force us to ignore proper growth opportunities and attempt to make us submit to central control and cede our right to compete individually," [MSG/Rangers CEO James] Dolan wrote in closing. "I welcome the opportunity to discuss our position with you directly."


When Bettman was fighting the PA, the owners were on board, BUT if Bettman starts fighting the most successful 'brands' in the NHL he's going to have his peepee slapped. A lot of this has been tamped down because of the lockout and its aftermath and because some of the traditional powerhouses (brand-wise); Chicago, Los Angeles and the Rangers have been in down cycles. If (and more probably, when) these teams begin to perform better on the ice and then at the gate and start to see their revenue streams siphoned off by the league, then it'll be, 'Lucy, you got some 'splaining to do'.

Smid got sent to the A along with Stortini!


Dennis should have a field day with that one

This reminds me of nothing if not the neverending federalism debates and battles in Canada and the US. The "feds" (NHL) and the "provinces/states" (teams) both think they can do it better, and depending on what "it" is, each can be right. In this case, given that hockey's traditional fanbase has been a region, rather than a country as a whole (in the US, that is), I do think a localized approach is simply more logical. I know Bettman thinks it should be otherwise, but if he wants the NHL to have greater control, shouldn't he first make sure that the NHL actually has the marketing power and reach to do this? It's a bit of a chicken and egg thing in some sense, but definitely, the NHL itself, as a larger entity, has to make itself more well-known in order for his marketing vision to work. They might start by actually showing teams outside the Patrick and Norris Divisions on Versus, maybe having more than one eastern game a week on nationally, maybe even having multiple national partners (say, a network with a universal reach like the World Wide Leader in Division II High School Male Cheerleading), but that's just me.

You mean the World Wide Leader in Poker, Scrabble, and the Spelling Bee?

I read the article, and the part where they talked about making fans of a team fans of the game by inundating them with highlights and scores from other games made me cringe. Just what I wanted--brainwashing!

I cheer for my favorite teams, cuss at my least favorite, and pay scant attention to the others until they figure in the playoff races. I can't be made to like a team enough to watch it by being swamped with highlights of that team, and the more you try to force it down my throat, the more I will resent it.

It's absolute bullshit the way the league can exert so much influence over how individual teams (and owners, buyers and sellesr). I don't konw much about Law but I certainly hope this case goes in favour of the Rangers.

Dolan is a complete dick. Therefore, he's wrong. QED.

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