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from SportsBusiness Journal (paid sub.),

For Outdoor Life Network, media rights to the premier open-air events are not quite enough. The network also may be preparing an aggressive bid for an NHL television package that could mark the first step in transforming OLN into a competitor to ESPN. From the NHL’s perspective, OLN may represent the league’s best chance of commanding a rights fee for its cable television package, after ESPN chose not to exercise a $60 million option for next season. A high-ranking source at ESPN said there have been no talks between the league and the network since the NHL lockout was settled, and a top-level executive at Turner Broadcasting said it is unlikely that Turner would ever do a deal with the NHL. Viacom’s Spike TV has indicated it does not want to pay a rights fee to the NHL. That leaves only Comcast Corp., which owns OLN as well as regional sports networks and the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, as the prime contender for NHL rights. Neither the league, OLN nor Comcast would comment specifically on any possible talks, but multiple sources said Comcast’s new head of programming Jeff Shell, a former Fox Sports Net executive, has had discussions with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman regarding a television deal for a Comcast-owned network. “I don’t see [going to OLN] as a positive step for the NHL, unfortunately,” said Bob Gutkowski, CEO of Criterion Sports & Entertainment and former president of Madison Square Garden. “Coming out of what they’ve come out of, they’ve got to try to get the most exposure possible, and OLN is still not a strong sports brand in this country. They would have to work very hard with OLN to make it a step forward. On the other hand, they can’t just be a servant to ESPN.” Comcast’s intention, insiders say, is not just to add programming to OLN, but to own a viable competitor to ESPN. Whether that comes in the form of an entirely new network — which would require multiple programming deals signed in rapid-fire fashion — or a retooled OLN, the NHL would be just the first step. “I don’t think you can really mount a challenge to ESPN unless it’s with the NFL,” said Dean Jordan, an executive at the consulting firm OnSports and former president of the Carolina Hurricanes. “It would have to involve rebranding, programming, something more than obviously the National Hockey League. But, Comcast has the means to do that.”
update 10:08am, Team 590 Radio in Toronto just mentioned that Bettman is talking with CNBC today. One more update 10:30am, In a related story about sponsorship and the NHL,
But another NHL partner said replacing media partner ESPN was a central concern. “Everyone on the business side of hockey is encouraged that the league realized it had to make some changes to the product,” said Nike/Bauer Hockey President and CEO Chris Zimmerman, “but depending on where it ends up, the loss of ESPN could be the biggest casualty of the lockout.” The most immediate strategic change for the league’s corporate sales department, which shrunk from 20 employees to a handful during the lockout, is to try to get more activation in the United States. “Everyone wants to do business with us in Canada,” said Andrew Judelson, NHL sponsorship chief . “We’re going to be very focused on making sure that if a company wants to do business with us in Canada, they better get their U.S. brethren engaged.” Big brands with Canadian-only NHL deals include McDonald’s, Kraft, Gillette and Home Depot. New categories being targeted by the league include pharmaceuticals, home security, banking (Bank of America could be a target as it is acquiring longtime NHL sponsor MBNA) and overnight delivery.

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Phoenix Buys Out Savage

via the Airzona Republic,

As expected, the Coyotes have cut ties with Brian Savage via a two-thirds buyout of the veteran left wing's contract. Multiple NHL sources confirmed the move Sunday. Savage was scheduled to make $2.85 million this season. The Coyotes bought him out for $1.9 million.

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Getting the Fans Back

from the Hartford Courant,

NHL teams are taking steps to try to get the fans back. At noon today, the Rangers will give the first 1,000 fans at the Madison Square Garden box office two free tickets. The Islanders will make 30,000 tickets - 3,000 for each of the first 10 games - available for $10 each. Bernie Nicholls, who retired in 1999 after 18 seasons, said the promotions are not nearly enough. "All you've ever heard is players and owners say it's all about the fans," Nicholls said. "If it's all about fans, drop the ticket prices. Let's have tickets for $20 or $40. Let a family of four come to a game for $100 instead of $250. "It's not all about the fans because the ticket prices aren't coming down. They're going to have a couple of promotional things and give away a couple thousand tickets. That's not right. Let's do it for the year." Nicholls, 44, spent half of his career with the Los Angeles Kings. He finished with 475 goals and 754 assists. Oates retired after the 2004 season. He had 341 goals and 1,079 assists in a 20-year career. Oates, 43, said people have to understand the NHL is a business and that work stoppages and labor disputes are bound to happen. The recovery process may be slow, he warned. "The game - just like baseball did - will go through a transition period and gradually get [fans] back," Oates said. "I don't think it will be overnight. I think it will take a while. They're going to have to put a good product on the ice and build up some loyalties."

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Get Out Your Calculator

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

Jed Ortmeyer, the winger who will earn $501,600 with the Rangers this year, is almost certainly going to be obligated to subsidize the $4.9M salary of Washington goaltender Olaf Kolzig under terms of the NHL's revenue-sharing formula contained in the CBA, The Post has learned. Actually, the term "revenue-sharing" does not appear in the CBA. Rather, the 19-page Article 49 of the CBA defines what is commonly understood as revenue-sharing as, "Player Compensation Cost Redistribution System." It's a complex system under which the league's top 10 revenue-producing clubs will be responsible for redistributing a defined sum to the NHL's bottom 15 revenue-producers, with certain limited exceptions. But here's the kicker. Not only will the top 10 revenue-producing clubs have that responsibility, players who play on those teams will also have to pay into the system through use of their escrow deductions if the total league compensation exceeds 54 percent of the gross revenues. The objective of this, uh, revenue-sharing program is to provide the bottom half of the league with the means to hit a targeted compensation level that will be unilaterally established by the league at between $4-8M (plus $2.2M in team benefits) over the team compensation floor. The formula for payouts will be determined by figuring 54 percent of a team's individual hockey-related revenue (HRR) and measuring that against both the minimum and target compensation levels.

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Modano Talk

from the Star-Telegram,

"My gut feeling is, yeah, if it comes down to it somehow, someway, you can get creative to keep me around here for another three or four years. I don't think it's that difficult," Modano said. "If the money situation is not that big of a difference [to another offer], yeah, I'll stay. If it's big-time, then you are making a hard decision." Although the 35-year-old Modano prefers a four- to five-year deal, his hinting at three years leaves a middle ground. Modano said he expects his agent, Brian Lawton, to speak with Stars general manager Doug Armstrong by the middle of the week, and again at the NHL Draft on Saturday. Modano can become an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 1. Club sources said the Stars gently floated a two-year offer. Modano, who made $9 million in 2003-04, will probably be offered a salary between $4 million to $5 million to start, but the salary could de-escalate after the first season. There was remote hope Modano would go for a one-year offer loaded with incentives. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, players 35 and older qualify for one-year agreements loaded with performance bonuses. "I don't know a lot of guys would do that," Modano said. "Someone is going to throw out a four-year deal. Three or four teams could."

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Breaking Down the CBA

Kevin Allen from USA TODAY does a nice job of answering some key questions regarding the CBA.

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Mowers Signs with Wings

Of interest to Wing fans- According to the Portsmouth Herald, the Wings signed Mark Mowers to a one year contract on Saturday. Looks like the Cup is a lock now.

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An Important Message

A frequent reader of Kukla's Korner has been stationed in Iraq for quite some time now. I emailed him recently just to see how he was doing. His response follows: If you wanted to pass a message to your readers you can tell them this: The reasons we are here are just ones. Iraqi kids are going to school safely. The country is being re-built and businesses are developing without the fear of the former regime. Also, the American servicemembers deployed here are incredible young men and women, sacrificing so much more than people realize. I read Jeremy Roenick's comments and laughed. The arrogance was amazing, when compared to Americans like him who are literally putting their lives on the line every day to help a nation find democracy. No JR, you can kiss MY ass.

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Columbus Wants Respect

from the CP via TSN,

Doug MacLean sighs at the end of the phone when asked how he feels when time and time again his Columbus Blue Jackets get lumped with Florida, Nashville, Carolina, Anaheim and Atlanta as markets that may struggle mightily coming out of the NHL lockout. "It irks me to no end," says the Jackets GM. "And I've said it on more than one occasion to the ones who have said it. It just seems to be an easy name to throw in that mix. It's out of ignorance is what it is. It's a lack of knowledge of what's really going on in our market." If ticket sales are any indication, the Jackets remain a hot item despite the year without hockey. The club is sitting at over 12,000 season tickets, with 70 per cent of the holders keeping their full investment on their account during the lockout. The Jackets averaged 17,376 fans per game at the 18,136-seat Nationwide Arena in 2003-04, including 16 sellouts. They've sold out 95 of their last 138 home games. "People who say they want to get rid of Columbus, that's just frustrating," says Jackets centre Todd Marchant. "They've obviously never seen a game there or else they would never dream of thinking that. "When we get a Pittsburgh coming in on a Wednesday night and we sellout or close to, that says it all."

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Will NHL Players Avoid Boston

from Russ Conway of the Eagle Tribune,

Everybody has heard the old proverb: Be careful of what you wish for. Well, with the National Hockey League finally in its reconstruction mode, those words of wisdom fit the current Bruins situation as snug as one of the new spandex, Spiderman-type uniforms that goaltenders may be required to wear as part of their downsized equipment. Now that team owner Jeremy Jacobs has gotten his wish — a league-wide player salary cap at approximately $39 million and a formula linking 54 percent of NHL team revenues to player costs — his hard-line role in negotiations and the season-wasting lockout may come back to bite his team in the new Ice Age. Hard bargaining is one thing. But insiders repeatedly told yours truly that Jacobs often became condescending when in attendance during ongoing negotiating meetings as one of the owner representatives. His attitude, sprinkling sarcasm as he lectured players and union reps or looked at his watch while others spoke, became a counter-productive irritant.

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About Kukla's Korner Hockey

Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.

Email Paul anytime at pk@kuklaskorner.com


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