Over the coming weeks, The Production Line will be publishing guest posts from our very favorite readers, commenters, and Tweeps — those that don’t have a blog to call their own, and might appreciate a place to vent, praise, bitch, or jailsex it up. We’re proud to offer up this space to some good friends, great writers, and incredible hockey fans.
If you are interested in contributing a guest post, and match the description above, send us an e-mail and we’ll get you the details. We did our best to track down nearly all of our commenters and Twitterfriends, but some of you were more difficult to find than Ville Leino in a Red Wings uniform (heyo).
Our first such post was written following the Blackhawks victory on Wednesday night. Our dear friend Sara may not have been the first article submitted, but it was timely and it was emotional and it seemed like a great jumping off point.
It’s the very early morning after the Chicago Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup, and all I can think about, besides the disgust at 20 cent and his Mullet (it deserves a capital M, by now, doesn’t it?) is that I sadly, sadly saw this coming. Ages ago.
See, the NHL as much as it’s a sport, is also a business and is being run as one. Money is the name of the game, not hockey. You have to put out good quality hockey, to make money, thus why they’re committed to changing the game. And they’re not above randomly monkeying around with it, if they think a rule change will bring in more viewers. New viewers.
The NHL panders to NBC, and to their own objectives. I didn’t realize how much NBC had a say in what the NHL produces until Jeff Marek tweeted that NBC had a hand in picking out the Winter Classic teams. That tweet marked a very big step in my disillusionment.
In general, the NHL will want success of larger market American teams, teams that can bring in the most money. They will want L.A., NYC, and Chicago to do well. They will want larger market teams to succeed, however larger market teams who have loyal fanbases can be neglected, like Toronto, Montreal, Detroit & Vancouver. Unless, of course, those teams have superstars.
The NHL wants parity. They want superstars. They want rivalries.
First point, Gary craves parity. A blogger, back when I was Tin Foil Flash Mobbing, argued in the same post in which he maligned me, that dynasties make sports more marketable. I find that point open to interpretation, weak and not applicable to the NHL.
It takes a whopping one line of argument to refute his claim: if the NHL wanted dynasties, there would be no salary cap.
Second point, the NHL bases a lot of its marketing on superstars. They think that’s the way to go. They wand Sid to be as recognizable as Kobe. They clearly allow marquee players to get away with things that ordinary players are suspended for, because they do not ever want to remove marquee players from the game. They, and their national television stations, mention the superstar players even when they’re not playing.
And, of course, teams with superstars, even the Red Wings back in 2008, with Datsyuk and Zetterberg, have been favored by Gary. Kane & Toews. Sid & Geno. And Ovie. Oh, Ovechkin. His Cup is coming, kids, mark my words.
Third point, the NHL is selling rivalries. Sadly, they’re not selling those that are naturally made, born of skill and proximity and pure old fashioned hatred. They’re selling a spawned rivarly, artificially created in their own hype. They take their beloved superstars, and shove them down our throats. Why else did the NHL and NBC pick Washington and Pittsburgh for the next Winter Classic? Sidney Crosby vs. Alexander Ovechkin. It’s clear, and bright as day. We’re being fed a synthetic rivalry, wrapped in a laughable facade of a “Winter Classic.” Winter, sure, it will be. But Classic? Please. Where’s our Toronto/Montreal game?
The NHL wants these things, but we are very lucky, because the NHL is not infallible. Hockey IS a game. Outcomes can be steered and shaped, but they cannot be controlled. Each individual team is also struggling along, trying to win, because winning makes money.
As fans, we love hockey, a glorious sport that in it’s purest form is honorable, classic, incredible and intense. But we are also NHL fans, and therefore we are business fans. We must remember that the game we are so passionate about is a product. We love the players, who grew up playing the pure, classic, incredible game, many of whom do it for skill, enjoyment and competition. But of course, we dislike those who sell out for money, and treat the game like what it is, a lucrative business.
So you can call me a conspiracy theorist and poke fun at my tin foil hat. You can laugh, and assume that the NHL has character and integrity in mind, when they make their decisions. You can scoff, and call me a whining Wings fan. My answer is only this: I fail to see why it’s crazy to think a business is trying to execute a business plan.
If you’re interested in keeping up with Sara (and we know you are…and probably already do), follow her on Twitter by clicking here.
Thanks, TPL boys, for giving me a place to post my vitriol. ♥ I'm honored!
Oh damn, great post Sara!
This works out pretty well, because I'm working on a couple posts that could be considered companion pieces to this.
I hate hate HATE how the NHL is following the NBA's lead in catering to a few big names. The problem is that they're selling a few people on the ability to do superhuman things. Well, they can't do superhuman things, just things better than regular humans (or even their peers, who are all significantly better than regular humans). Try as science might, they can't make LeBron James actually fly. So, how do they make him "fly"? They do the next best thing, they let him take four steps and then say he dunked from the free-throw line. It's easy to look like you're that much better than your peers when you're held to a different standard.
Once that line is crossed, it's hard to consider the league a "sport" anymore, since they've done everything they can do predetermine outcomes. At that juncture, they've become sports entertainment. Somewhere between pure competition and WWE pageantry.
There's no question the NHL wants parity. Beyond the salary cap, there is also the "loser point", ensuring that if a team is slightly good enough to get a game into OT, they will get a consolation prize. We used to talk about 4-point games when playing someone in your conference and division; now you can get a game to OT and only lose 1 point on the teawm you are chasing or is chasing you.
Unfortunately, Bettman came from the NBA where it is a hell of a lot easier to market superstars; there's only 11 players on an NBA team, and they are actually on the court a lot more. Plus, 1 player in the NBA can affect the game more than 1 player can in the NHL on any given night. We live in a sports world where it's about the personalities, not about the teams; the individual over the collective, so to speak. There's probably a crack in there about it being more American, but as a polite Canadian I won't make it.
Great stuff. I hope we get to see more of this over the course of the summer. And get those tin-foil hats ready, because October is just around the corner.
Awesome post Sara!
You're spot on, the NHL is a business. It's clear they are, as you said, trying to work a specific business plan, but it's nice to know that with hard work, some teams can thwart the will of Gary every now and then.
You ought to really think about jumping on a blog more frequently or starting up your own, very well written and interesting!
Sara, I don't think I have told you how much I love you today, so I LOVE YOU.
That put words to so many feelings that I have, but cannot formulate. And I think you are right.
Great post Sara.
I'm really not trying to plug my own blog here and steal some thunder away from this blog or Sara, but I just pulled up an older blog from January, before I started the official Etched In Cold, that hit on some of these same points about rivalries. At least I'm not alone.
Also, as another member of the tin foil flash mob that was lambasted online by the various media outlets, the defense of the whole idea and the statements that were made were well played.
Daaaaamn Sara you set the guest post bar up high. Awesome post!
To me this all comes down to markets. The Detroit market is saturated. People love their hockey in Detroit, and the economy, not popularity is the issue. So success is not essential for Detroit right now. Chicago and Pittsburgh on the other hand are potentially large markets where a cup could produce big revenue. As you say, this is a buisness and NHL have gotten the results they wished for the last years. Now I don't think there is a conspiracy or that they could pull one off, but I definitely see the league giving nudges or tilting the ice a bit with scheduling and decisions like not suspending Malkin
Sara, you have done such an excellent job of pointing out exactly what is wrong with this league. The NHL has always been a business, hence the reason Ted Lindsay was practically tarred and feathered for his efforts to start a players' union. They are just a particularly poorly run business in the here and now, the ways of which you have excellently described.
Gary is trying so hard to mold the NHL in the model of the NBA from which he came, failing to recognize that not only are they vastly different sports, but have vastly different fan bases. Basketball is a very star-friendly sport, as one player can dominate the game and will spend the entire game on the court doing so. The fans don't care if he travels (something most can't identify anyway), so long as he can dunk from the free-throw line like JJ said. I hate basketball and yet I can identify Kobe or LeBron or hell even Steve Nash anytime they show up on my tv. Hockey is a team sport and even a stud like Lidstrom will only spend less than half of the game on the ice, in shifts no less. I was watching the Blackhawks skate with the Cup on Wednesday, and at best could only identify 5 players by face (or Mullet) without seeing a number. And the fans will care if you apply a separate reffing standard to the stars, especially the blatant non-calls/non-suspensions. The NHL is trying so hard to manufacture superstars and rivalries to attract "casual" fans who know nothing more about hockey than that Carrie Underwood is going to marry a player, but couldn't name Mike Fisher if their life depended on it. In doing that they are disenchanting the true fanbase, who they assume will always be there.
Excellent post, Sara.
I like the point of distinguishing between a conspiracy and a business plan. A conspiracy would be "let's make damn sure that Chicago wins the Stanley Cup this year" while a business plan is "let's promote the heck out of hockey in Chicago and really hope they win the Stanley Cup this year."