Showing posts with label Business. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Business. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New European Professional Hockey League

Put me down as a supporter of the European professional hockey league being proposed by Russian billionaire Alex Medvedev.

Competition is always good. It's great to see NHL brass squirm at the thought of losing total dominance over being able to offer the world's best hockey players the only viable league in which to ply their trade.

Bettman BurgersI don't buy the fear mongering about further erosion of the talent pool. I like to use the restaurant analogy.

A hamburger joint is the only eatery on a busy street. It builds up a good reputation and develops a large customer base. Many people in the area eat there because the food is decent. Others do it out of convenience and because there are no other options nearby.

After a while they start taking their success for granted. They let things slide here and there, try saving money with lower quality ingredients and begin showing the first signs of arrogance.

Then, almost simultaneously, two more restaurants open their doors within close vicinity of what has long since become a local institution. The owners panic, convinced they will lose customers. They may not even be conscious of their slumping standards but at least have a gnawing sense that they are in for a well deserved hit.

But the irony is that they probably don't have much to worry about. They may see a drop at first because of the novelty factor but traffic in the area will increase and in the end they'll probably be busier than ever. The competition will force them to pull their heads out of their asses as well, which will end up benefiting everyone involved.

Admittedly, the analogy is a bit weak. There is an endless supply of ground beef that can be cut with sawdust and fashioned into burgers for obese slobs to plug their guts with. On the other hand, world class hockey players are in relatively short supply. Still, the comparison has some merit.

In any new European league, there is going to be a reasonable amount of money available, at least for whichever teams are directly associated with Medvedev. Perhaps some marquee players can be enticed away from the NHL. That in turn may draw some other Europeans and North Americans into the yet to be established association of teams. Increased interest generated in Europe and on a worldwide basis is going to be good for the general health of the game.

Though it would be at least a dozen or more years in coming, a higher profile in Europe will bring more youngsters into the game. That can only improve the overall level of talent down the road.

Maybe it will force some well needed retraction within the NHL. Or, if there are to be franchises relocated, at least the realization that it's completely asinine to leave the most feasible market in North America untapped.

The NHL isn't likely to validate such a new endeavor with anything like exhibition match-ups or discussions on inter-league play. The only way any agreements or partnerships will result for both leagues is if the upstart demonstrates through some reasonable success that it's in for the long term.

Instead of seeing Medvedev and his plan as something to be feared, the NHL should be happy that someone else is doing the heavy lifting in the early going of expanding the popularity of hockey on a global level.

The current Russian Super League could possibly provide some teams for the new entity. Here's hoping they do some things differently than the Super League, which have drawn a lot of attention for their development of players and ability to lure some talent from the NHL but have been lacking in their marketing of the league outside of Russia.

There are many obstacles, assuming all the details get hammered out and things go beyond the planning stage. One of the biggest will be the local markets and the relative lack of revenue that can be tapped.

The talk from Medvedev and others is that a major television contract is important in attaining any kind of real success. There is a huge audience in Europe and some broadcasters with massive clout, such as Sky Sports, could do wonders for the popularity of the sport.

Hopefully the newcomers try to distinguish themselves from the NHL in some important areas to show that there really are other ways of doing things. At the same time, they will undoubtedly steal some plays from the most popular and successful league in the world.

In an attempt to broaden the appeal of the game, perhaps they could emulate the NHL geniuses and go into non-traditional areas.

I'm sure the Napoli Neptunes could turn on a whole new generation of football-weary southern Italians to the joys of hockey.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The NHL and Advertising

NHL logoWatching old hockey clips on YouTube is great for a hit of nostalgia and also as a way to see how the game has changed over the years. It's also jarring due to the different appearance of the rink because of the lack of ads that were plastered everywhere back then. It all looked relatively pristine in comparison to today's commercialized boards and portions of the ice surface.

The rink isn't the only aspect of professional hockey that has been over-run by advertising. It seems every part of the game already has an advertiser's name attached to it. But some marketing genius always thinks up a previously untapped way to flog another call, segment or surface of an inanimate object (though at least the uniforms remain untouched, unlike their counterparts in European leagues.)

The most professional examples of this are seen on the big networks like CBC, whose production values are slick and barely seem to intrude on the presentation of the game.

Other regional telecasts and especially radio broadcasts reduce such parceled out pieces of sponsorship to unintentionally farcical levels.

"This icing call brought to you by Sid's Collection Agency. If you're stupid enough to blow thousands on NHL game tickets when you should have used the money to make payments on your new car, we're gonna make you sorry. Back to the game..."

"That shattered orbital bone is brought to you by Central Flower Shop, bringing some light into your otherwise nasty day..."

Periods, saves, intermissions, shots, goal posts, offsides...nothing is too inconsequential to include a sponsor's name. The constant spewing of obscure, mid-sized company names amongst the play-by-play and colour commentary reaches an absurd level during some games. You can tell that the announcers grow weary of it as well, as their voices take on that practiced pitch and speed up ever so slightly so they can get back to calling the action.

At some point, broadcast teams may bring in an announcer for the sole purpose of rattling off a steady stream of advertisements. When every last inch of the rink has been sold off and every call and play served up with a company name, they may turn on themselves in an attempt to churn up more revenue.

"And that's Bik...Biex, the Canuck's player with the puck..."

"That mistaken player identification brought to you by Sal's Memory Enhancement, the best way to improve your mental lapses as you **WHOOMPH** ...ah geez Bob, you didn't have to do that. That announcer on announcer assault was presented by Griswald Psychiatric consultation, experts in anger management..."

Apparently Thai boxers take company sponsorship to ridiculous heights by adopting the name of their sponsors when they fight. Perhaps with enough money on the line such insanity will one day come to the NHL.

"The fans are starting to throw objects onto the ice. This is getting out of hand. Labatts Blue is skating around trying to help the officials clean up the debris. Oh, and Labatts has taken a beer bottle in the head...and it looks like it's an empty bottle of Labatts. The fan who threw that really has no shame..."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ticket Prices, Profiteering and MLSE

NHL logoLeafs logoTicket prices for NHL games are noticeably higher than for the other major North American professional sports leagues because of hockey's lack of big television contracts. The money has to come from somewhere to pay for player salaries and make it a profitable enough enterprise for anyone to get involved and take all the related risks.

I knew the Toronto Maple Leafs had some of the most expensive tickets in the NHL and probably could have guessed that they are the dearest of the 30 teams. But I didn't know the difference was so great or that their increase in prices was close to the average in the league despite already having the costliest ducats. Check out all the numbers here.

You can at least accept the Anaheim Ducks hiking their prices after last season's Cup win. Bringing their rates more in line with the standard after boosting the popularity of the sport in a non-traditional market also makes their increases more acceptable. The Devils moving into their flashy new digs at the Prudential Center casts their steeper entrance fees in a more meaningful light as well.

But the Leafs, after missing out on the playoffs for the past two years and not icing a team that is significantly different this year, are utterly shameless. It's compounded by the fact that they are one of the few teams who do bring in decent revenue from their television contracts.

It makes the booing from fans at Air Canada Centre far more understandable. Whenever you cough up for some kind of outing, your expectations are inevitably in line somewhat with how much you've paid. A huge disappointment comes with the realization that it wasn't worth your effort or money and will never be filed away under "memorable" in your mind's archives of lifetime events. With the way the Leafs have been playing at home lately, it's not surprising that many fans are in a neck-wringing sort of mood.

When considering those who make the decisions to raise prices, the words "reptilian" and "bloodsuckers" come to mind.

It's not hard to imagine what a conversation between two members of the Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) board of directors would have sounded like after the team failed to qualify for the post-season in 2006-07:

"Well, we finished out of the playoffs for the second year in a row. What d'ya suppose we do about this?"

"Why, we jack up ticket prices . What the hell do you think we'd do? Something reasonable like leave things the way they are out of respect for the loyal and long-suffering fans? BWAAAAAHA! Ha!"

"I guess you're right. But what do we do come the end of next season? If the Leafs miss out three years in a row, that will be the first time that they've displayed such extended futility since 1928..."

"Of course, WE DRIVE UP THE PRICES AGAIN! Do you know how many malleable sycophantic apologists we have within Leafs Nation? For every fan who raises a peep about how we over-charge and continually raise prices without any improvements in the team, there are a few dozen others who will dutifully vomit forth the usual mantras about "supply and demand" while taking pleasure in the fact that they can afford such prices while others can't.

Luckily those same useful idiots don't have words such as "profiteering," "gouging," "decency" or "moderation" in their lexicon."

"But where does it all end?"

"It doesn't. Do you think I care about some meaningless piece of tin? All that matters to me is that generations from now we will be held up in business and economics circles as a never before seen anomaly that turns old theories inside out. One line showing an increase in profits and rising prices and another line showing the accompanying fall in quality! I LOVE IT!!"

"I suppose so..."

"Shut-up and pass me the caviar..."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bloody Chiclets: Quotes, Shills, and Nasty Thrills

NHL logoA few quotes related to hockey that I've heard or read recently:

Rick Ball, a Vancouver radio host, on Colorado Avalanche forward Ryan Smyth: "He's done more crying than Tammy Faye Baker in the past six months."

Well, Baker's been dead for a while but it's still a good one.

Smyth certainly has been blubbering at will ever since he was traded out of Edmonton because of a difference of a couple hundred thousand dollars.

Great fodder for people who want to rip the guy but I reckon if you're not concerned about things like shedding tears in public on a monthly basis, you probably don't have much to prove in terms of your character, toughness, guts etc.

Or, it could also have something to do with lacking that acute sense of self-awareness that can make some people cringe at the sight of their own shadow.

At Fan House, Greg Wyshynski quoting Steve Farber from a Sports Illustrated article on Islander's player Chris Simon: "A man who has been suspended more times than disbelief."

And then this one that can't be confirmed so I'll leave it unattributed:

"Johnny kept me in labour forever! It was horrible! He was already half-way into the world five days before that. So technically..."


Sometimes huge payouts from a sports equipment manufacturer can be a gamble for the player on the receiving end of the deal. Especially if it requires that player to change the equipment with which he's grown accustomed to using and most importantly, winning.

In his fantastic book The Majors, John Feinstein details the history of golf's four biggest tournaments and follows a number of players competing in them over a period of a few years.

In one section he discusses some examples of players who took fat endorsement deals from golf club manufacturers in exchange for using and promoting their products. The results have not always been worth the cash:
The golf world is littered with sad stories about players who changed equipment at a moment in their career when they appeared to be peaking and all of a sudden couldn't find a fairway, a green, or the hole. Corey Pavin, Payne Stewart, Davis Love, Lee Janzen and Nick Price are a few of the better-known names who took the money and eventually found themselves running from the equipment they were being paid to use.

It would be interesting to find out if there are any similar examples from the NHL.

The best case scenario for professional athletes is when a manufacturer comes knocking when they know that player already uses their equipment. But a huge contract can convince someone to change loyalties and in the process brush aside niggling concerns, superstition and years of preferred use.

Surely a custom pair of skates could be subsequently tweaked for a player who hadn't been used to that particular brand. But when comfort, reliability and years of routine have made something second nature, that out of place feeling could start to minutely affect real on-ice performance and get inside a player's head.

I would never suggest Sidney Crosby's relatively slow start (though he's crept up to 16th overall in points) has anything to do with equipment alterations (nor do I know if he has made any changes since last season.) I do believe he has at some point at least changed the stick he uses to suit the terms of his contract with Reebok.

Too bad the huge dollars involved and the likely terms regarding public comments means we would never get much insight if such a problem did exist.


Speaking of RBK, the controversy over the new jerseys isn't going away anytime soon. I thought I was reading the technology section instead of the sports page when I read that they are offering a patch for the new jerseys.

Apparently they have decided to foot the bill to alter the new sweaters at the request of individual players.

My earlier prediction just may come to pass...


There's an old saying that blood doesn't win boxing matches but the sight of crimson splashing on ice usually does signify a win in a hockey fight, even if it's only psychological and doesn't always correlate with who actually landed the most punches.

Of course, sometimes the blood is a clear sign that the poor sap leaking profusely as he leaves the ice did in fact receive an almighty bludgeoning.

Zdeno Chara thumps David Koci