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lordstanley

Blow Up The NHL!

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Every game thread seems to end up a discussion about poor attendance. So I say yay for low attendance!! People paying today's prices are enablers; empty seats should send a message, but it's probably in vain thanks to the known pig-headedess of the NHL and the NHLPA. And I say this as a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist, not a commie.

NHL fans got absolutely no "peace dividend" from the settlement of the labor strike. Any other sane business would have lured fans back with lower prices, promotions, coupons, etc. Bums in the seat and bums in front of the TV.

Instead, in classic myopic short-term thinking, the league decided to prop up team's immediate income statements (positioning them for sale, as a few teams went on to do) and maintain player's champagne tastes. With relatively few revenue streams apart from box office receipts, the only way to do this was on the backs of ticket buyers. 41 home dates X 20,000 seats gives you set amount of potential revenue, and most teams decided it was economically feasible to set ticket prices 33% above what the market would bear even if meant a 15% drop in attendance. Except in the medium-term the league is going to be left with an aging fanbase.

Ticket prices are higher than the NBA, NFL or MLB and that has no correlation with demand. Hockey is much less popular than those 3 sports and teams have no business charging so much and players have no business earning salaries as high as the average NFLer.

To hell with the NHL and to hell with the staid Wings marketing gurus and beancounters. It's always something. Always some excuse. It's been a shoddily run league since the John Ziegler era if not earlier. They've gotta get off their frickin' asses and make something happen. Show us they value our business. There is no reason the Joe can't be filled every night.

But give me a reason why a team of houseleaguers should be taken to an NHL game instead of to a Junior A game where you can park for $5, get in the door for $15, pay $2 for a dog,$3 for a beer and see hungry young teenagers race for the puck and slam each other into the boards. If the Wings marketing department hasn't enough brains to target aggressively the 500,000 Canadians who live an hour from the Joe in Windsor-Chatham-Sarnia and are enjoying a decent economy and soaring Canadian dollar, then boo hoo for them. If the NHL bows to the Lou Lamorellos of the league and maintains an unbalanced schedule because they can't afford airfare and tries to fake us into supporting phony rivalries, then boo hoo to them. If they valued an extra journeyman's salary per team so much as to choose Versus over ESPN 2 years ago and couldn't foresee the ramifacations, then boo frickin' hoo some more. And everyone is ignoring at their peril Europe becoming an NHL alternative.

Blow the damn NHL up. Keep the Stanley Cup and the jerseys of some of the Original Six teams and nothing else. Start over from scratch. And do it friggin' right this time.

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I completely agree with you, so many valid points. I hate to say it, but as long as you have a non-hockey guy trying to run the league, it will never prosper. Hockey is a niche sport, and needs someone in charge who has actually played the game. Not some ex-NBA guy like Bettman.

The strike/lockout proved nothing. Two years later - salaries have already crept close to pre-lockout levels, attendance is down league wide, they have no major tv deal, scoring has not improved and the game has no more flow due to so many penalties.

The short term pain of the lockout has lead to zero long term gain.

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I'll give the view of an outsider. I used to be a big Red Wing fan, backup in the 80's and early 90's. I lost interest when the game changed. I used to like the toughness/fighting hitting, but they legislated the Stu Grimson's of the world out of the league.

Now what passing interest I had is totally gone, I barely know the Wings team, let alone all the players in the NHL like I used to. There is no WHL to bring a new style of play and excitement to the league, where is todays Edmonton Oilers going to be coming from.

The league does need to go back to its roots, they have way too many teams, seriously they have teams in Carolina/Columbus/Atlanta/Nashville, are franchise fees that important to this league?

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If they valued an extra journeyman's salary per team so much as to choose Versus over ESPN 2 years ago and couldn't foresee the ramifacations, then boo frickin' hoo some more.

This is the one I care about.

Amen to the 10th.

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it's a cliche now but.....

Blame Gary.

Hockey's a great niche sport and it should have stayed that way. It's ok to have fewer fans than the NBA because the fans were much more hard core. It was fine the way it was. They really need to contract some teams. Not because the talent isn't there but because the support isn't there.

To use another cliche, Bettman's always put the cart before the horse. Look at Nascar. It's not got broad appeal. People make fun of it. But those who are fans of it are die hard fans. Hockey's priced out the die hard fans. There's no reason a hockey ticket should cost as much as an NFL ticket but they've boxed themselves in with the salaries and lack of a TV deal that's worth anything.

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The rule changes is what has hurt the NHL the most, I think. That and a TV contract with VS. I honestly agree with everything that has been said before me.

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Another cliche....Canadians eat, breathe and sleep hockey. Yet Bettman has failed to understand and grasp the passion that Canadians have for hockey. Why else would he move two franchises out of the most passionate, hockey crazed market in the world? And time after time, continue to spurn expansion back to Canada in favour of places like Florida, Nashville and Atlanta.

His overzealous pursuit to make hockey a national sport in the U.S. is his biggest critical error. You try and place your product in the best markets, which in hockey's case is Canada, the U.S. Northeast and the U.S. Midwest, not Florida, California or Arizona.

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LordStanley: Great expose' guy. I couldn't agree with you more. Not sure if your Canadian or American, it doesn't matter. What matters is you hit the nail right on the proverbial NAIL. God Bless. And I hope your message, rings true in someone's ears. SOMEONE, that is, that understands what exactly HOCKEY means to people, loyal fans, kids, families, guys too old like myself who love the sport, used to play, and wished they could again.

Bravo! Thanks for the message and GoD Bless.

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As in just about everything today, the Corporate heads, Bean Counters, and other myopic visionaries, and suits in the suites ringing the hockey arenas around the league, they're ruining it. Maybe I'm just a cynical old fool (actually I'm not that old -- only 55), but I'm sick and tired of smoke and mirrors.

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What turned me off to hockey? I don't know. But I will never, ever, ever give a crap about Nashville, Carolina, Atlanta, Florida, Tampa Bay, Columbus, Phoenix, Anaheim, etc etc.

I couldn't care less when the Wings play those teams or when anyone plays those teams. No matter how good they are.

I'd rather watch a piss poor Montreal team play a piss poor Rangers team than watch the best players in the world play for Columbus and Atlanta. I just don't care.

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it's a cliche now but.....

Blame Gary.

Hockey's a great niche sport and it should have stayed that way. It's ok to have fewer fans than the NBA because the fans were much more hard core. It was fine the way it was. They really need to contract some teams. Not because the talent isn't there but because the support isn't there.

To use another cliche, Bettman's always put the cart before the horse. Look at Nascar. It's not got broad appeal. People make fun of it. But those who are fans of it are die hard fans. Hockey's priced out the die hard fans. There's no reason a hockey ticket should cost as much as an NFL ticket but they've boxed themselves in with the salaries and lack of a TV deal that's worth anything.

Everything is mostly fine with what you said, except Nascar is no longer a niche sport. It's the second biggest sport in America right now (at least in terms of TV ratings). Nascar has successfully went from a regional sport, to a nationwide/worldwide sport, whereas the NHL has gone the opposite direction in roughly the same time frame.

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Another cliche....Canadians eat, breathe and sleep hockey. Yet Bettman has failed to understand and grasp the passion that Canadians have for hockey. Why else would he move two franchises out of the most passionate, hockey crazed market in the world? And time after time, continue to spurn expansion back to Canada in favour of places like Florida, Nashville and Atlanta.

His overzealous pursuit to make hockey a national sport in the U.S. is his biggest critical error. You try and place your product in the best markets, which in hockey's case is Canada, the U.S. Northeast and the U.S. Midwest, not Florida, California or Arizona.

AMEN. Winnipeg and Quebec should get their teams back, Keep Ottawa and put Atlanta in Hamilton. Building the Canadian and northern tier of the US is where he should have focused. But the Whalers back in Hartford..the only show in town. Heck you could even argue that places like Milwaukee, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indy, and Baltimore would have been better NHL cities than Atlanta, Carolina, Nashville and Phoenix.

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I agree that Bettman must go. But he's not that much more than a figurehead, and is a convenient lightning rod for fans' frustrations. But the owners have kept him in his job and are presumably satisfied with what he's done. They gobbled up and became dependent upon expansion franchise fees rather than treating it as extraordinary non-recurring revenue, they gave him the mandate to shut down the 2005 season to achieve "cost certainty", they've enjoyed Tampa and Nashville being sold to suckers for $200mm sales prices within the past year, etc. And it's not like they've learned their lesson about expansion into non-traditional markets - look at all the talk last year about the Penguins maybe settling in Kansas City. So I'm afraid that if we think that a Bettman departure would signal a new golden age for hockey, that optimism is unfounded. Like I said, the NHL has been run by nincompoops since at least the late '70s.

In fact, it was for that reason that I was cautiously optimistic about Bettman when he was first hired and wanted to give him a chance. The NHL had been a very insular, clubby organization that was on autopilot business as usual for years and years, so the potential of a fresh view and fresh approach was appealing to me. I feel some of the initial resistance to Bettman was largely driven by knee-jerk anti-Americanism by the xenophobic "it's our game" faction of Canada (my country). Many places south of the Mason-Dixon had supported minor-league hockey for decades with crowds of over 10,000 not uncommon, albeit at lower ticket prices. And there were pockets of success at the NHL level in the '90s and through today- Denver, San Jose and Dallas cannot be considered anything less than successful franchises. I'm also not opposed to one team in L.A. and one in Florida and maybe one in a big city of the South like Atlanta. But Nashville? Columbus? Carolina? Tampa? Anaheim?

As for a niche sport, it was far more than that not only in Canada of course but also in cities where the NHL team has traditionally competed favorably with the NBA team (Philly, Detroit, Minnesota) and in cities that did not have an NBA team for the longest time (Buffalo, Pittsburgh, St.Louis). Add to that a strong and passionate if limited fanbase in cities with rich histories like the Original Six markets of NY, Boston and Chicago.

But it was the dilution of talent through expansion, the high ticket prices that hindered the development of grassroot demand, the allowance of a style of play that turned the players into faceless armored gladiators, the arrogance shown in even thinking about let alone following through with 2 strikes/lockouts, the obsession with a network TV deal that diminished the NHL playoffs through afternoon games and June starts and 90 degree temps to avoid May sweeps when the games wouldn't be allowed anywhere near prime time, the Cup victory parades in parking lots and shopping malls, and more recently the final straw for me - the unbalanced schedule that sees Sidney Crosby visit Phoenix just once every 3 years, the Toronto Maple Leafs visit teams in Western Canada only once every 3 years, and the Red Wings hosting the Rangers and Habs only once every 3 years. Why in the world would anyone want to be an NHL season ticketholder?!

I'm fed up. And if I am fed up and barely make it through half a period of a non-Wings game - a guy who was on skates by 2 and playing in leagues by 5 and who remembers the Joe rockin' with one fan literally banging his head against the glass in the '84 playoffs against St.Louis and who raced up stairs at the Forum on Saturday nights to grab standing room spots for Montreal vs. Quebec and who flew home for the Captain hoisting the Cup in June 1997 and who has attended Team Canada games overseas - then what hope is there of finding and retaining new fans.

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I don't think the talent was diluted through expansion because at that time you saw the infusion of overseas talent into North America.

The NHL needs to put teams in places where they know they'll get consistent attendance, even if it's only 10-15K.

I saw a proposal on slate.com which suggested the NHL should go to a Premier League style system. First, decide the optimal # of franchises. Then get rid of more teams that you'd need to meet that number. Then to get the difference elevate the top minor league affiliates and go through a relegation process every year.

The NHL needs a true leader. With so many owners you are going to get different philosphies and opinions on what needs to be done. But since they own the league and set the policy it's dysfunctional.

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What turned me off to hockey? I don't know. But I will never, ever, ever give a crap about Nashville, Carolina, Atlanta, Florida, Tampa Bay, Columbus, Phoenix, Anaheim, etc etc.

I couldn't care less when the Wings play those teams or when anyone plays those teams. No matter how good they are.

I'd rather watch a piss poor Montreal team play a piss poor Rangers team than watch the best players in the world play for Columbus and Atlanta. I just don't care.

I agree with all of this, even if it is a bit elitist.

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The NHL needs to put teams in places where they know they'll get consistent attendance, even if it's only 10-15K.

Good points in your post, but I think attendance is one of the league's relative strengths, all things considered. One can always focus on empty seats, but look at attendance at Tigers games in April and September of even winning seasond when they played at Tiger Stadium, or the fact that despite the Lions good start this season some home games in an 8-game home schedule haven't been selling out until Thursday. In fact, I believe the NHL collects more gate receipts than the NBA (roughly same number of games and teams, slightly lower average attendance, but higher average ticket price). 2006-7 average attendance was over 14,000 for 26 of the 30 teams and over 17,000 for a full half of the 30. And local TV ratings were high pre-strike, outdrawing the NBA team in half a dozen markets. Bigger concerns to me are quality of play, entertainment value, that lack of undefinable yet unmistakeable "buzz", and lack of a broadened appeal both within a local market (that old adage about there being 18,000 hockey fans in all of Dallas and each one is in attendance at a Stars game) and of course on a U.S. nationwide scale.

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Thanks for posting this LordStanley. I originally posted this back in May under the thread I created called "BLAME BETTMAN". Someone named Vasteras out here attacked me like I was Lee Harvey Oswald. Glad to see my opinion of Bettman are now being shared! Here's the thread - and funny how some who disagreed with me back then agree with me now.

http://motownsports.com/forums/showthread.php?t=48697

Here's my post from May 13th.

Someone earlier mentioned that they thought the NHL Owners couldn't be happier with Bettman.

I think that the owners that make a profit MIGHT be happy with Bettman, but that number is VERY FEW. You give a lot of credit to Bettman where little is deserved. The owners will take the credit for filling their own stadiums, that is a local effort, not so much deteremined by the league.

Bettman is a complete failure at the one goal he was brought in to accomplish, which was to take a league that flourished regionally and locally, and make it MORE popular on a national level. Under his watch, overall revenue/salary ratio has tumbled because he has seen each National Broadcast TV contract see less and less money as the NHL traveled from FOX to ABC to NBC. The national ratings for the leauge are microscopic. The VERSUS contract was a debacle. The NHL receives a paltry $60 million per year for 2 seasons. Split between 30 teams, that is roughly $2 million per team, which the teams never see because the NHL has to spend ALL of that cash in advertising their own league. That plus the NHL product is now available in 20 millions fewer homes after the switch from ESPN. Great deal.

TV Ratings are at an all time low. VERSUS playoff ratings are a 0.4 and NBC's are 1.1 compared to ABC's 1.5. Coporate sponsorship of the NHL is at an all time low.

These are the things Bettman is judged on by his critics. Don't give him credit because Nashville successfully mounts a local marketing plan.

Less overall fans, worst ever and nearly invisible ratings, a speckle of corporate sponsorship, US National and Cable TV contracts that the owners of the teams see NO money from, I could go on and on.

At the end of the day, you can blame BETTMAN for these high ticket prices, because it's the only way teams like the WINGS can recoop and turn a profit because NO REVENUE is coming in nationally, so they have to essentiall rob the local fans to pay for operating expenses and to turn a decent profit, which by the way, most franchised don't do (turn a profit that is).

Yeah, I bet the owners just LOVE Bettman.

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I think the biggest problem is the fact that the powers that be in hockey don't grasp the importance of not over-expanding. Atlanta, Nashville, Columbus, and Tampa are not markets for hockey. I don't think the talent is being diluted, but I do think having more great players on fewer teams would be much better for the sport than having 1 star per team on 30+ teams.

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I've been through this debate so many times that it's becoming stale. There are so many misconceptions about the purpose of the CBA and the health of the NHL it's ridiculous. Why does the cap keep rising if the league isn't healthy? That can only happen if the league is posting profits.

In any case, you can real thread after thread about the state of the league, hockey revenues, and all things NHL business related (including a couple thousand posts on the subject of this thread) here

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Honestly, I could get great seats to a Tigers game ($40) and great seats to a Lions game ($50) before I could even get to the lower bowl in the Joe.

That's why I lost interest in the NHL post-lockout.

I used to enjoy watching hockey, baseball, then football. Now it's baseball & football, with hockey a distant third.

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this really opened my eyes about the large scale of the business, alot of the things mentioned dont surprise me at all. i would love to see teams like winnipeg, hartford, and quebec come back.

and on top off all that stuff mentioned, there's no reason why they had to mess with the uniforms!!!

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I've been through this debate so many times that it's becoming stale. There are so many misconceptions about the purpose of the CBA and the health of the NHL it's ridiculous. Why does the cap keep rising if the league isn't healthy? That can only happen if the league is posting profits.

In any case, you can real thread after thread about the state of the league, hockey revenues, and all things NHL business related (including a couple thousand posts on the subject of this thread) here

Oh sure the league can be defined as "healthy", no team moreso than the Toronto Maple Leafs. The page you linked to has data on how the Leafs are the NHL's highest valued franchise ($400mm), is generating rapid revenue growth, and a 21% EBITDA profit margin. All stuff that I'm sure makes my mom, a retired schoolteacher, feel all warm & fuzzy knowing that as part owner of the Leafs her pension is in good hands (the Ontario teachers' pension fund has always been a significant stakeholder in MLSE). But seriously, would you call the Leafs a healthy franchise? I guess in the same way that the Lions are a healthy NFL franchise. The fact that they suck on the ice I guess counts for nothing.

True, the page you linked to is a goldmine of NHL business data and I appreciate it. I acknowledged in my original post that from a business perspective the NHL is in nowhere near the doom & gloom situation that focusing on only one negative key indicator (national TV ratings) out of many more positive ones (e.g, gate receipts, overall revenues, local TV ratings, franchise values) would suggest. I started another thread a few weeks ago on how the NHL's revenue of $2.3b is closer to the NBA's (~$3.9b) than the NBA's is to the NFL's and MLB's (both around $6b). So any talk about the NHL having slipped to the status of soccer or the WNBA, for example, is absurb. And it's good to see positive news like the revitilization of the St.Louis Blues franchise under a hockey man, John Davidson, with their booked ticket revenues for the 2007-2008 season already surpassing that of all of the 2006-2007 season. But too many people, including on that site you linked to, adopt Bettman-speak and bend over backwards to prove that things are alright. In contrast, there are many reasons one could argue that the NHL is an underperforming entity.

1. Revenue growth rates are misleading if starting from a relatively low base.

2. Growth rates of the NHL must be compared to the growth rates of other leagues (just as TV ratings decreases must be kept in perspective by comparing how other leagues are also suffering declining ratings).

3. Extraordinary or non-recurring items such as expansion franchise fees or currency gains/losses can affect league revenue figures. That site does a pretty good of debunking the conventional wisdom notion that the rising C$ is responsible for a great deal of the revenue growth, but I believe that even those debunkers found that around 1/3 of the revenue growth was linked to the C$.

4. Short-term revenue growth rates are not always an indicator of future growth to be expected, especially if sources of revenue are becoming disenchanted or the product quality is being questioned.

5. Any business that derives a huge percentage of its revenue from one type of revenue source (ie., box office receipts for the NHL) has more risk exposure than a business with a more diversified revenue base.

6. Revenue growth cannot completely mask intangibles like the lack of buzz around hockey in many markets, the dissatisfaction among many long-time fans about the attitude of the league and the quality of play, and the perception that NHL is less "major league" than it ever was.

Give me the pre-lockout less unbalanced schedule, start the season a few weeks earlier to end in May, squelch any talk about franchises in Oregon or Houston or Kansas City, get back on ESPN, and treat the fans with John Davidson-like respect rather than Brian Burke-ish arrogance & contempt & dismissiveness, and then maybe I'll stop my moanfest.

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