Kukla's Korner

Empty Promises, No Marketing

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from Larry Brooks of the NY Post (reg. req.),

The league, whose CBA victory speech prominently features the pledge that a new era of hockey marketing is just around the corner, seems to have neither a marketing department nor marketing plan in place. Or, if it does, it's sure kept either or both a double top secret. I'm tempted to suggest that this is simply typical NHL neglect. But that's probably unfair, because honestly, with only 10 months to create a high-powered relaunch campaign engineered by a powerhouse New York advertising firm, there obviously wasn't enough time to hit the ground running. I know, I know, I know. This is a time for celebration, not cynicism. I mean, just look, even Bob Goodenow could sit beside Gary Bettman on the NHLPA dais here yesterday during the press conference at which the union announced it had ratified the hard-cap-percentage-of-the-gross imposed on it by the league. Bettman, who will have much more to say at a New York press conference this afternoon after the Board formally ratifies the document, talked about the dawning of a new age of true partnership between the league and the players. He talked about how the league and the players will now share the risk of the business. Which, of course, is not true at all. The risk has now been shifted entirely to the players, who, in order to even maintain payroll levels that have been set artificially high for this coming season, have to trust the league to increase revenues through creative and aggressive marketing. They have to trust that owners who - for the most part, have no incentive whatsoever to increase revenues - will now work feverishly to do so. Indeed, not only don't owners and the league have incentive to increase revenues, they have incentive to depress revenue. That's because the players' share increases to 55-percent when revenues hit $2.2B; to 56-percent when revenues hit $2.4B; and to 57 percent should revenues ever hit $2.7 billion. This year's payroll range of $21.5 to 39 million is based on a revenue projection of approximately $1.8 billion that is almost certainly optimistic, given both the effects of the cancelled 2004-05 and the widespread cut in ticket prices around the league. If this year's revenue is in fact $1.6 billion, the range next year will be set at $18.8 to 34.8. But if revenues were to grow to $2.4 billion, the range would become $34.8 to 50.8 million. And understand, if revenues grow, it will because they're driven by big-market teams with a selfish interest in increasing the cap. The lower revenue teams - half the league, if not two-thirds of it - have no interest at all in adopting a floor of nearly $35 million.

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Team by Team Cap Situation

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from USA TODAY,

USA TODAY's Mike Brehm takes a look at how well teams have prepared themselves for the salary cap that's included in the tentative collective bargaining agreement. NHL payroll and salary figures are based on the union's Dec. 9 proposal that included a 24% rollback and the qualifying offer formula expected to be part of this CBA. The qualifying offer figures could change because teams might not qualify all of their restricted free agents or because some players might get raises based on an expected $450,000 minimum salary.

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Players Shut Out

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from the Sun-Sentinal,

This isn't just one of the most lopsided sports labor outcomes in North American history. It's among the most lopsided labor outcomes. It's among the most lopsided sports outcomes. This is Reagan vs. Mondale. Tyson vs. Spinks. Jaguars vs. Dolphins. Check that. Mondale won a state. Spinks lasted 91 seconds. The Dolphins managed a touchdown. The NHL players were shut out, unless you count "earlier free agency" as a significant score.

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Heated Debate

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

cia the Philadelphia Inquirer,

They began meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Westin Harbor Castle. The session was impassioned at times, with yelling across the ballroom. After it ended at 1:30 a.m. today, some players hung around for another three hours, seeking more answers. In the end, the NHL Players' Association ratified a new six-year collective-bargaining agreement today. "Definitely, there was heated debate," former Flyer Luke Richardson of the Columbus Blue Jackets said. "Guys on both sides shared concerns. Others tried to make guys see what it's all about. "You can't look back. That was part of the problem. Some guys had problems with the answers to their questions. They want answers and won't let go of the past. A lot of the problem with our players who are unhappy is they are stuck in the past." Though 88 percent of the union's membership voted to accept the deal, many wondered whether a season really had to be sacrificed. The hot-button issue for Bob Goodenow, the union's executive director, going into yesterday's vote was how much of players' salaries would be held in escrow. A maximum of 54 percent of leaguewide revenues is ticketed for the players. Some reports said players would have to put 15 percent of their salaries in escrow. In the abridged version of the bargaining agreement, which was distributed by the league to general managers this week and obtained by The Inquirer, there is no mention of a percentage. If leaguewide payrolls exceed 54 percent, the players will fork over the difference. "Probably the most questions directed to Bob were about the escrow," Flyers captain Keith Primeau said. "The 15 percent is a fictitious number. There is nothing that says it may be less or may be more. That in itself is scary to players. It's 54 percent of hockey-related revenues. Anything over or under that percentage would be considered escrow or return of escrow."

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What Lies Ahead

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from USA TODAY,

NHL players often say the season is a marathon, not a sprint. But when the NHL reopens for business Saturday, it will be a mad dash. The lengthy talks have compacted the usual signing periods. What lies ahead, according to a union memo to agents that was obtained by USA TODAY: • 2003 draft picks: They must sign by July 28, or they'll re-enter the draft. Philadelphia will be eager to get Jeff Carter and Michael Richards under contract. • Buyouts: Teams have until 5 p.m. ET on July 29 to buy out contracts at two-thirds value without it counting against the cap. • Free agency: It opens Aug. 1, but teams can negotiate with their free agents beforehand. The age for unrestricted free agency remains 31, as of June 30, but it drops next year. More than 400 players can become free agents. • Arbitration: Teams now can take players to arbitration. Previously, only players filed. The filing deadlines are Aug. 11 (players) and Aug. 12 (teams), and cases will be heard from Aug. 22-Sept. 1. Arbitration awards are based on comparisons to other players, and the salaries of those comparables have been rolled back 24%. Plus, any award must be figured into the $39 million team salary cap. • Restricted free agents: They must sign by Dec. 1 or sit out the season. The NHL first sought to make the deadline 14 days after the start of training camp. But few players will want to stay out long, especially after they lost a year's pay.

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Largest Setback in Collective Bargaining

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from the New York Times,

Jeffrey Kessler, a labor lawyer in New York who has worked for the N.F.L. and the N.B.A. unions, called the N.H.L. deal "the largest setback for players that I've seen in collective bargaining." "The verdict is still out on whether the owners lost, too," he said. Union officials released more details of the agreement on Thursday. Ted Saskin, the senior director of the union, said it had coaxed the league into acknowledging about $100 million more in hockey-related revenue from sources including stadium-naming rights, arena concessions and local broadcast contracts. Saskin also said teams could exceed the salary cap in certain situations, such as when a player sustains a long-term injury. The next item for attention is how the N.H.L. and its players will bolster revenue and rekindle interest in the sport, which has struggled in recent seasons to attract television viewers and spectators in nontraditional hockey markets. "We need to be making a splash," said Rich Winter, the agent for Senators goalie Dominik Hasek. The league is holding its draft lottery on Friday in Ottawa to determine which team will pick first in the July 30 draft - and most likely select the top prospect Sidney Crosby. The draft will not be televised in its entirety in the United States. "Why not have it at Times Square in New York or on Madison Avenue?" Winter said. "The fact is, we have the Canadian fans," he added. "It's the Americans we need." Bettman said the N.H.L. had made "the best we could of very difficult circumstances, where there wasn't a whole lot of time to do the types of events our fans have become accustomed to."

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Boycott Opening Night

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

Anyone want to boycott the opening game of the NHL season? Not me! First and foremost we want professional hockey around so our grandchildren can watch it. The game must be protected so it survives for years to come. But, so far the individuals in positions to accomplish that goal have failed miserably. The recent lockout is an example that is almost too obvious. They have bumbled it to the brink of failure. The players and owners both equally share the responsibility for this fiasco. And now it rests on the shoulders of the fans to dig them out. Our response to the lockout will determine if the sport can succeed. OneGame.ca believes that with the right set of actions the fans can set a precedent that will affect not only professional hockey, but other professional sports as well. We must make a bold statement that says, “We will not tolerate this anymore!” Another lockout cannot be allowed.

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Working Towards Revenue

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

Thanks to reader Jim for passing this along. From the Rocky Mountain News,

Hockey fans weren't too happy when the NHL went dark, but the lockout and embarrassment of a lost 2004-05 season could turn out to be a good thing in the long run. At least, that's the opinion of people such as Colorado Avalanche defenseman Rob Blake, player agent Tom Laidlaw and ESPN analyst Barry Melrose. But only if the pain of a year of empty rinks will have been the impetus to make the changes needed to put all 30 NHL franchises on solid financial footing, forge a true partnership between owners and players and make the on-ice product more appealing to fans. The league is expected to reopen for business this weekend, after ratification of a tentative collective-bargaining agreement by NHL Players' Association members today in Toronto and the NHL Board of Governors on Friday in New York. The governors are expected to approve the deal, but there are players among the 700-plus union members who lost a year of salary fighting the hard salary cap that is the key component of the six-year agreement. "We offered that cap in (the winter) to get a deal, so we all understood it was on the table for good," Blake said. "Now both parties can work together to create new revenues."

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NHL Draft Lottery Gets Little U.S Coverage

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from the AP via Sports Illustrated,

U.S. hockey fans will have to rely on regional cable outlets for full, live coverage Friday of the NHL draft lottery. The event will determine the entire 30-team draft order as well as which club has won the right to draft 17-year-old Canadian juniors phenom Sidney Crosby. While people up north can turn to TSN -- Canada's version of ESPN -- to see NHL commissioner Gary Bettman open the envelopes, American viewers will have to live in the right areas of the nation or settle for bits and pieces of news. Cable outlets Altitude, in Denver, Comcast Sports Net in Chicago, the Mid-Atlantic area, and Philadelphia, and New York's MSG Network will show TSN's telecast in their viewing areas. ESPN, which last month decided not to pick up a $60-million option to broadcast hockey games next season, also passed on the chance to show the lottery in full. "We have ongoing conversations with the NHL on a number of different topics," ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said. "It was expressed from our end that this was not something we were interested in televising. "It never went any further than that."

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Linden Wants to get Back on the Ice

Blog: KK Hockey By Paul

from AP via TSN,

A weary Trevor Linden was ready to get out of the boardroom and back on the ice Thursday. As president of the NHL Players' Association, Linden has spent weeks studying documents, analysing data and negotiating with the league. "I'm looking very forward to getting on the ice and becoming a player again," the Vancouver Canucks forward said after the PA voted to approve the new collective bargaining agreement. "There's no question about that." The 16-year NHL veteran has said little publicly during the last few weeks of hard negotiations been the NHL and the players' association. Even so, he is believed to be a driving force behind getting the two sides back together when there seemed little chance of doing so, because he knew the players had had enough.

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