Saturday, January 22, 2005A Tip of the Cap..
The league's stance is simple -- they need a salary cup. The player's stance is simple -- they don't want one.
My stance is a little more complicated -- The cap isn't the issue, the crap is.
Let's be honest, fans could care less about salary caps, revenue sharing, collective bargaining, etc. They want cheaper tickets and more bang for the buck. Fact is NHL tickets are extremely high for the quality of play out there. Teams are choosing to build with brawn over skill, the days of the pure goal-scorer have passed. Who wants to pay $250 for his family of four to watch a 2-1 snoozefest with 37 total shots? No one I know.
The odd thing about this lockout is that the players have no actual leverage. Fan reaction to the season gone by has been lukewarm at best. ESPN's TV programs have shown a surge as there are many more viewers who enjoy watching poker and college basketball. And don't think the Worldwide Sports Leader isn't using this as leverage for a reduced TV schedule if and when the league returns. So the players aren't marketable on or off TV and the league isn't drawing in enough money to justify Bobby Holik's horrible salary.
Now, the bright side is that the NHL can still be successful with new leadership, new rules and a totally new marketing approach. So let's start fixing.
Bye-Bye Bettman: Gary Bettman was great for the sport, now he's killing the sport. My suggestion for NHL Commissioner would be Wayne Gretzky and apparently I'm not alone. If the NHL is going to rebuild, what's a better way to start than to bring in the most popular and most decorated hockey player of all time? Gretzky, however, will have to give up his obligations with Team Canada and sell his ownership stake in the Phoenix Coyotes.
Gretzky will quickly propose major rules to open up the game -- Restricted goalie pads, wider nets, wider ice, eliminate the red line...Basically he'll go fully international with the exception of automatic icing, one of the few (only?) rules that the NHL has an advantage over the international game.
Gretzky will also eliminating fighting altogether because he's going to market the NHL as a family product. Hockey "purists" will hate this rule but the casual fan hates the sport as is and they buy the majority of tickets. This will also change the way NHL players are being developed because the farms will have to emphasize skill over brawn.
So the ice is open is the play will be much faster so the goal scorers will come back out to play. Gretzky knows that the best way to draw mainstream attention is for a player to challenge a scoring mark or scoring record. If Jarome Iginla has 48 goals by the All-Star break, the league can sell the TVs on his chances of breaking Gretzky's record of 92. Records are a great (and legitimate) marketing tool that every league isn't afraid to shill (see Peyton Manning).
Eliminate the Tie: Today's fan wants wins and losses and in typical NHL fashion, they added onto the standing rather than eliminated. So Gretzky will abandon the tie in favor of the shootout. Again hockey "purists" will scoff but the fans will quickly learn to love the shootout and it will be an exciting way to end each game.
Get out of the ESPN TV Deal: For now, because when the league returns the network will reduce the schedule even more and the new rules will need more exposure. Instead the league should try to extend its deal with NBC to include CNBC and MSNBC....
On Saturdays CNBC shows nothing but paid programming all day, a perfect spot for a Saturday doubleheader. A dream schedule would be a midweek night game on MSNBC, Saturday doubleheader on CNBC and NBC shows games on Sunday. And when the playoffs come, the NHL will have three networks for playoff games, the same as they do now with ESPN.
And ESPN doesn't need the NHL, the network seems extremely happy with extending the poker brand and college basketball. The higher-rated programs also bring in more ad dollars.
Use an NFL-Style Playoff format: 12 teams, six in each conference. Top 4 seeds get a bye and the first round is best of five. The NHL playoffs are grueling and downright sloppy as they get deeper.
The quality of play really suffers in the conference and Stanley Cup finals as injuries have taken their toll. I want to reward the best teams in the regular season with first round byes and make the lower seeded teams work through more adversity to reach the finals.
Too often teams have sludged through the season, especially if a 6 seed will allow them to draw a weaker division champion. Now sludging through the regular season will put a team at a 3-5 game disadvantage against a well-rested opponent.
Hockey isn't dead, but it's on life support and in order to revive the spot many parts have to be replaced. Fans want more offense and more action, I think hockey has the potential to scrap the current product and finally give fans what they want.