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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Dear NHL: Go F--- Yourself

Seriously. I've had it with this lockout.

Did you know that there hasn't been a hockey player on the cover of Sports Illustrated since October 14, 2002? Since then, there have been 33 pro football covers, 28 baseball covers, 20 college football covers, 16 pro basketball covers, 13 college basketball covers, six golf covers, three cycling covers, three Swimsuit covers, two Olympic covers, a soccer cover, a tennis cover, and a horse racing cover. It's been over two and a half years, hockey.

Did you know that the IIHF offered the TV rights to the hockey World Championships for free - and nobody took it? That means that every channel in this country thinks that what they are showing is better than the best players in the world playing hockey. Tomorrow morning at 10:15 a.m. Pacific time, Canada and the Czech Republic - yes, the last two teams to win Olympic gold - are competing for the championship. Martin Brodeur vs. Jaromir Jagr. Instead of showing it, CBS has infomercials on from 10 to 11. The only way to watch it here in the States is to drop $10 to get the Internet broadcast. That's embarrassing.

Did you know that "NHL" is under the drop-down menu "More [+]" on ESPN.com pages other than its home page? Golf, soccer, and "SportsNation" are there on the navigation bar, taking the place of a so-called major sport. On Sports Illustrated's site, "NHL" doesn't even appear on the home page. Nobody wants to know about this sport.

You're done, NHL. Baseball was America's pastime, and even that was barely able to save baseball after its strike. The NHL was already rapidly becoming an afterthought before the lockout. Now it's not any kind of thought.

Your league is in trouble because even diehard fans like myself are considering not going to NHL games when the league returns.

The lockout might never end. NHL players are still playing in Europe. The owners are still making money from wherever they made their money before. Neither side has the motivation to end the lockout. This isn't a bunch of coal miners picketing, living off their meager savings accounts. Factories aren't shutting down. Nobody loses by having this lockout but North American hockey fans - the few that are left.

If you think you're going to sell tickets for $80 to see an NHL game if the league ever returns, think again. You'll have to promote the hell out of the game to get fans interested again. Hockey fans in the Northeast and Midwest will have turned to college hockey. Hockey fans elsewhere are already going to minor league games and have found them cheaper and just as satisfying.

Worse, hockey fans are forgetting about your sport altogether. Arena football and Major League Soccer are taking away fans that you are conceding to them with every passing day of this lockout. In fact, NBC is showing an Arena League game tomorrow at precisely the same time Joe Thornton and Rick Nash try to solve Tomas Vokoun and win a gold medal.

In fact, last night, I went to an arena football game for the first time. It was awesome. The teams played with intensity. I saw great athleticism and hard hits. And the game was exciting down to the final minute. More than anything, it was crystal clear that this is a league that cares about its fans. Before kickoffs, players were pumping up the crowd, giving high-fives to the fans in the front row. When the L.A. Avengers had to kill off the remaining 10 seconds of the game (no kneeling down in the AFL, I think), the QB deliberately threw high, arcing incomplete passes into the crowd, where fans were eagerly awaiting the souvenirs. The QB, an 11-year AFL vet, was a righty, and threw his first two passes over the left sideline, where it was easiest for him. But on the last play of the game, as his team was about to clinch a division title, he scrambled, ducked out of a tackle, and then threw his final pass to the right side, just so the fans over there could get a ball. Nearly all of the fans in attendance (even Keanu Reeves, who should be at a Kings game right now, since he was a stud goalie in high school) stayed until the end, and this is Los Angeles!

As soon as the scoreboard announced that the Avengers' first-round playoff game would be a home game, I planned on going.

The AFL players involved the fans, entertained the fans, and gave the fans souvenirs, a team to cheer for, and a reason to stay until the end of the game in the capital city of beat-the-traffic. In the last year-plus, the NHL hasn't given anything to its fans but empty promises to do better.

Your league is beyond saving. Recognize it now, figure out an agreement, and get on the ice. The problem with your sport is not rules that need to be changed, or violence on the ice, or even the labor issues over which you are currently bickering. The problem is that you have no product, no sport, left to promote.

Mr. Bettman. Mr. Goodenow. You both wanted so badly to leave a legacy of being the man who would not concede to the other side. It doesn't matter anymore. You are past the point where either of you could have escaped untarnished. An entire season has been lost. Now neither of you will be remembered for anything other than being the men who ruined hockey.


  • At Sunday, May 15, 2005 11:02:00 PM, Blogger TexSport Publications said…

    The situation with the NHL is completely ridiculous. The players want what they want and the owners want what they want. What a joke! What about what the fans want? Most major league professional teams have long forgotten about the fans. At least we have the Aeros here in Houston. Good hockey, cheap ticket prices, and a nice eventing at the game. I get the ten game vouchers for $99.00. It is a great deal. At least they are keeping the ticket prices down. I cover many different sporting events in my other job as a journalist (my main job is a high school teacher and coach). It is obvious to me that the profession teams and elagues could care less about the fans. People would have watched the IIHF World Championships. It would have been great to watch. It is probably the best hockey on the planet. Oh well, you and I are just fans and journalists. What do we know? If we ran the league, we certainly couldn’t do any worse, and would have given the fans a better product than they are getting now (or in the past). Take care.

    Robert Kelly
    TexSport Publications

  • At Friday, September 30, 2005 12:52:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I agree,

    I love NHL Hockey. and recently I have bought stock in it. Not like real stock on Wall street, but a stock market that is strictly for sports.

    You have seen it? Its pretty cool. You buy issues for your favorite teams and you make real money. Not like a fake stock simulator. I cash out Dividends each time the team wins. Also I can sell my team stock when the price goes up.

    check it out if something like this interests you.
    heres a link http://allsportsmarket.com
    you can log in and check it out for free..

    They just released IPO'S for NHL Hockey this week, so there are alot of good deals there.

    Keep up the good work on your blog!


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