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Well, gee. Isn't that just the height of "f***ing dandy"?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Football is superior; hockey can't even compare to ice skating.

You know, what's the point? I ask you, my fellow hockey fans, be you just a reader, or even a blogger: what is the point in trying to penetrate the American sports mentality?

These statistics are depressing. In fact, they are more than depressing; they're the type of results that make you want to just spend the next day finding Gary Bettman's personal phone number, calling him up, and telling him that he's better off just relocating the whole league back north of the border.

I'd been procrastinating on a rather long rant for a while now; a rant that really focuses on the fact that the National Hockey League has, for all intents and purposes, died in the minds of the majority of Americans, and some of the many reasons behind that. Not only that, but I wanted to give my own, uneducated yet well-meaning perspective on what the league needs to do to get back any sense of respect in the United States. Obviously I am hardly the first to give an amateur opinion on what will fix the state of the league, and I will not be the last. But that doesn't mean that I don't hope that my ideas won't be considered if some big wig at the NHL Headquarters in New York ever see this entry.

All I know is that I love this sport. And I always will, even when it's dead, dying, and the only place I can find it is in the northernmost reaches of Canada, because even the Canadians in places like Toronto and Ottawa have forsaken it for something like Canadian Football.

Part 1: What the Hell happened to the NHL?
Well, it isn't like this question is that hard to answer.

-Lockouts.
-A lack of a marketable "American" name.*
-A lack of "Americanization".*
-A bad TV deal.*
-A horrible schedule.*

The problems with asterisks? I'm going to touch on those.

A lack of a marketable "American" name/A lack of "Americanization"
This has been something that has been eating at me for a while, however I only again thought about it as I listened to a random episode of NHL Live via NHL.com. A listener both mailed and called in about the fact that even though hockey might be a great sport, it lacks something "American" about it, which -- I hate to admit -- ignorant, me-centric Americans must have if they are to give anything any attention.

Baseball? Oh, please. That's about as American as mom's warm apple pie, the right to bear arms (yee-haw!), bald eagles, and capitalism. Even as the sport continues to diversify, it will always be considered something that Americans created, and Americans will dominate (just don't tell them about that loss to Canada at the World Baseball Classic last year).

Football? Well, let's just skip that, since regardless of how American it is, it's liked by more than 40% of Americans, and considered their favorite sport.

Basketball? Here's the funny thing: a Canadian invented the modern version of the sport, for all intents and purposes. Regardless, it has gained a following in the lower class of the country due to its simplicity. Grab a ball, find a hoop, and you're all set! It also has a strong American contingency in the NBA, even as diversity grows.

Let me ask the readers here a question: can anyone here tell me who near everyone can agree is the best American player in the NHL? Anyone at all? Because there seems to be no clear cut choice. Canadian? Sidney Crosby. Russian? Alex Ovechkin? Japanese? Yutaka Fukufuji (hur, I so funny).

The top American hockey player? I hate to say it, but unless Erik Johnson is the second coming of Bobby Orr, save for the fact he's American, there is no favorite. There is no player we can all agree is the American player right now. There probably isn't even any players that most people could agree are in the top three or top five.

A horrible schedule
How many people in the media have to say it? How about the fact that more than half of the team presidents hate it? What about the fact that practically any fan you talk to loathes it? The schedule's awful. It's horrible. It attempts to breed artificial contempt through repetitive games against divisional rivals, when all it does is annoy both players and fans. The only people who even enjoy this damned schedule is the "Atlantic Cartel" led by the man who I hate to love (even when you move and follow another team, you're a Devils' fan for life), Lou Lamoriello. All because a few teams in the tri-state area want to save on gas money and traveling expenses.

Well, good on you, Atlantic Division. Good on you for penny pinching and letting the rest of the league suffer through at least one more year of this horrible schedule, all because it lets those pampered players not have to spend another hour on an airplane. Oh, boo hoo.

A bad TV deal
For the longest time, I tried to defend the move to VERSUS.

"It'll work out in the long run!" I said with gleeful optimism, my hazel eyes shining like an innocent kid looking for the silver lining in the most darkest of times. "Just watch! OLN will start penetrating more homes and they'll make the NHL their cornerstone in a strong bid to make ESPN no longer the one and only dominant sports network!"

What the [censored] was I thinking when I said that? I must have been delusional at the time. And up until now, I refused to admit that it was a bad decision. All because I didn't want to submit to the mocking, and the jeering, and the laughing that the idiots like and Tony Kornheiser and Tony Reali from ESPN were doing every single day (or rather, any day they ever brought the NHL up) to help fuel the venomous disdain for the sport that most Americans seem to have.

It took too long for VERSUS to turn the corner and start to create better broadcasts, and even now they waffle where it matters, such as with particular color commentators and play-by-play analysts who sound about as exciting as watching grass grow. It took too long for NBC to start and aggressively push their NHL coverage through advertisements during NFL games. And to add to the frustration involved in advertising, ESPN has effectively blocked any and all NHL advertising on their channel, refusing to carry anything by the league so long as they refuse to bed with them and their monopoly on the American sports world.

What does it matter if the league is being treated like a god, if the place it is being treated as such is just a small mound of dirt (VS) behind the shadow of a cathedral (ESPN)?

Part 2: What the Hell can the NHL do?
Unfortunately, firing Gary Bettman isn't possible. Or rather, if it is, it won't be happening any time before I'm 30 (6 more years! Whoooo!), and by then the NHL could very well be an afterthought.

-A new TV deal.
-Continue to ensure the game stays fast and furious.
-A better schedule.
-Work harder towards diversity in the sport.

A new TV deal
Look, anyone with a sense of pride doesn't want to see the NHL return to ESPN. It would be a blow to the league's pride. But then again, pride is a deadly sin, is it not? And in this case, it has more or less been the death knell of the league this season, as it continues to drop further and further in to obscurity.

You can't penetrate the sports market of America if you don't have a single game on ESPN. The NFL, MLB, NBA, and even the MLS have coverage on "The Worldwide Leader in Sports." And no one is even saying that the NHL has to rely only on ESPN, either. Keep in mind that the NBA started off humbly enough, with the league relying on TNT.

But there is a problem you need to consider, though; ESPN has shown just how scathing and how violent they can be towards the NHL both in commentary and coverage ever since the league told them to take a long walk off a short pier after that "revenue sharing" offer. ESPN could very well tell the NHL to fornicate themselves if they continue to try and broadcast games with anyone but ESPN and ABC.

It's a risk the league has to take, though. And the league needs to at least try and work out some sort of deal with ESPN, lest it continue to be assaulted by venomous commentary. I'm no conspiracy theorist, but even a town idiot could see the bias behind many things said during shows like PTI, Around the Horn, The Sports Reporters, and so on. Bear in mind the gallup poll results, and how even while the league may have been unpopular even before the lockout, the fact that they were connected to ESPN shielded them from a lot of criticism and commentary about attendance or television ratings.

A better schedule
Sorry, Atlantic and Southeast Division; but the league needs a better schedule. Everyone is sick and tired of their divisional opponents. I don't want to see the Red Wings and their snotty fans invading Nationwide Arena just as much as the Red Wings fans want to waste time with a pathetic and boring basement dwelling team like the Blue Jackets eight times a year. We, as fans, want variety in our schedule. You want proof of how horrible this schedule is? Just check out Christy's post at Behind the Jersey back in December criticizing the fact that her Wings faced just two teams over the holiday season.


Don't worry, Detroit, we feel your pain ... maybe even worse, actually. Blue Jackets fans will disgustingly recall the "Predators, Avalanche, Predators, Predators" span in November, followed by the "Predators, Predators, Blackhawks, Predators" span just this month. Yeah, way to spread out those division rivalry games ... real smooth.

SO CHANGE THE SCHEDULE!! For God's sake, change it!

Better yet, the new schedule should, for just a year, force the Eastern teams to travel to the Western teams more than the West to the East. Consider it payback for dropping us with this stupid burden of a schedule that hurts one conference just as much as it "helps" the other.

Work harder towards diversity in the sport
You want to see the league expand its fan base? Maybe even see the very first, non-WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) top draft pick, which could very well start turning the heads of American minority markets as well as social classes other than the upper class, which the league seems to rely so much on thanks to box seats? Then start devoting a lot more time and effort towards helping groups of people throughout the country to be able to actually give hockey a chance.

The sport needs more Yutaka Fukufuji-types coming from those Asian countries, and inspiring any sort of interest in non-traditional regions of the world, or even demographic groups other than the typical WASP. The most fastest growing ethnicities in the United States are people of Latino and African descent, and they need to be focused on. The NHL has somehow managed to seal itself in some sort of bubble from the world as it has passed it by when it comes to demographics, somehow teetering between obscurity and relevancy for a long time now when it comes to minority groups. As it stands, there are only four black players in the NHL that come to mind right off the bat, those being Georges Laraque, Anson Carter, and Kevin Weekes, with Jarome Iginla being multi-ethnicity. Latino? Jeez, I couldn't even think of one, sadly. And even when it comes to the black contingency in the NHL, these are all Canadians.

...

You know, I could go on and on, I'm sure. I've been writing this little by little during the NHL All-Star Game, enjoying this game as much as I could (and it's actually been a pretty fun All-Star Game to watch, too!). But I think I've touched on the core points. The points that people beat to death, and will continue to beat to death.

C'est la vie, right?

Labels: , ,

6 Comments:
  • At 4:39 PM, Anonymous Drew said…

    Heh...

    Now we're assuming that hockey was ever alive in America (outside the four original Six cities)?

    Interesting points, some of with which I agree.

    P.S. Is there any way to get a "Post Comment" link on the main page of the blog for each post. As it stands, I have to click on the permalink first, then on the Post Comment link within the post.

     
  • At 4:57 PM, Blogger Michael said…

    If I can figure out what in the world to do to make a "Post Comment" button on the main page, I'll do so! :-( A lot of the finer points of this code template are jargon to me still, but I'll try.

     
  • At 9:49 PM, Blogger Tyler said…

    Michael-Great post. I think you're right on- the NHL has major issues. The simultaneous events of the All Star game and decision not to change the schedule really brought this all to a head right now.

    I don't think diversity is really an issue though. The NHL has players from how many countries? Probably close to more than the other major sports combined.

     
  • At 10:34 PM, Blogger Michael said…

    The problem isn't so much specific countries and how many make up a sports league's player population, Tyler. If that was the case, the NHL would most likely win, hands down.

    It's much more black and white ... pun totally not intended. It's 95%+ of the league is apparently made up of Caucasians or people who look Caucasian.

    The league needs to do more for the inner city, and trying to help reach out to the next Grant Fuhr, only he'd have to be American. It needs to do more for an immigrant population, where 31.4% of immigrants come from places like Latin America or Mexico, and about 13-15% is coming from Asia. Only one country from Europe -- Ireland -- even cracks the Top 10 countries that make up the most amount of immigrants to the United States.

    The NHL needs to try and meet these immigrants from these other parts of the world head on, and try to grow the sport in those countries as well. If Yutaka Fukufuji can actually become the biggest Japanese name in the game and make his way back to the NHL after a hard first start ever (and I really think he will, and hope he will), how do you think that has an impact back in Japan? It could very well become something like Ichiro Suzuki (though admittedly, Ichiro had idol-like popularity prior to his coming to America).

    This isn't about penetrating non-hockey markets in America. This is about actually finding whole groups of people based off of where they're coming from in the world. And the NHL needs to start putting more effort in to that, instead of touting the dozens of Eastern European countries that make the league "diverse".

     
  • At 8:42 AM, Anonymous Drew said…

    As you mentioned in a post earlier this season, cost/weather requirements for hockey are more prohibitive than any other sport a child could choose.

    that's a big hurdle that the NHL has to figure out how to clear.

     
  • At 11:11 AM, Blogger Michael said…

    I think in that same entry, I mentioned how even so much as giving kids a street hockey stick and ball can go a long way to at least introduce them to the sport. Not everyone who is given such minimal equipment needs to even get motivated to play hockey ... but it would at least hopefully spur their interest in learning about the sport, or possibly even watching it.

    The league, or more specifically teams, may also want to consider trying to work closer with ice rinks across the country to help alleviate the financial burden that families have to deal with when introducing a child to hockey. Rinks should also consider the benefits of cutting deals with teams in the area, as introducing more people to the sport can have long-term positive impacts, such as these people returning, and their friends following.

    It's all pretty complex. A lot of my thoughts are, sadly, pretty shallow and lack the expertise of someone who understands financial issues well.

     
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Name: Michael
Home: San Tan Valley, Arizona, United States
About Me: A mid-20s male who feels much too old even before he's 30. Has a degree in Sport Management and after branching out and trying a few other things in the job market, has finally decided to go back to his first love of hockey and hope he can break in with a team, big or small, somehow.
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