Kukla's Korner


My NHL Christmas Wish List - Part 3

Tis the season to be jolly, be merry, and of course to have wish lists for those shiny boxes under the tree come Christmas morn.

Like some children asking for a pony, or like me every time I asked for a car, some wish lists go unfilled, but just like the gifts themselves, the wishing and hoping is important. If not for now, then in some cases at least for later.

With that, I continue writing my NHL wish list, five things I’d like to see from the League that I believe will benefit not only fans, but the players and the League as well. Today, I’ll look a little into the future, not expecting to see this gift under my tree in a week, but hoping to see it someday nonetheless.

My NHL Christmas Wish List thus far:

Better out-of-arena viewing options for fans
Better and more accessible statistics
Today’s item: Better direction with the next CBA to heal and even grow the League

Twice now, disputes have disrupted seasons. In the 90s, it led to a much shorter season, and the canceled 2004-05 season is still fresh in everyone’s minds. But it won’t be long now before the CBA can no longer be extended, before Gary Bettman, Paul Kelly, and plenty of others have to sit down and go through things again.

Today, Paul posted an article that looked at the deep discounting going on in many markets. It has also been reported that the All-Star break will give the owners a chance to find out which franchises, if any, are really up for sale.

The League has to come to terms with a few things. The first is that heavy discounting truly does lower the stature of a brand. It may be fine for Wal-Mart, having the bulk discounts and generally acknowledged status as a purveyor of products both luxurious and meant-to-look-but-not-cost-luxurious products. This is a pro sport, and quite frankly the most expensive non-motorized pro sport. Get people addicted to your prices, and they will never let you change them back, an idea efficiently purveyed in the previously mentioned article.

For a better idea, look to Apple: their sleek, well-marketed products, and very efficient service have led to customers willingly shelling out hundreds of dollars for profit margins likely only topped by water. To get back to the CBA, does it make sense anymore to have an attendance barrier, when you can get that attendance by giving tickets away for free, as the Panthers did in offering tickets to not only radio stations for contests, but bloggers as well.

The way the League is set up now, I will once again compare it to a chain clothing store. A successful chain clothing store is one that is found everywhere across the country, just as the NHL has teams all over the map. However, the stores are each unique and different. There will be flagship stores in New York City or Toronto, but also smaller stores in smaller towns. They will offer the same great clothes at both locations, though the window dressing will differ.

Some of the smaller stores will barely scrape out any profits, just enough that the franchises actually sell, while the big stores in big markets will reap huge benefits. This is not to say that this is a bad system, it works quite well. Without those smaller stores, the brand loses impact until the big city stores become boutiques. Unable to purvey their goods for low prices, losing the ability to buy in bulk thanks to those lost small town stores, the chain eventually dies.

For the NHL, it would be great if there were 30 cities as hockey-mad and profitable as Toronto. But there aren’t. Despite that fact, the League needs its many teams. Having the countries covered with 30 franchises has given the League many benefits; it was able to stop the WHL from becoming a rival, by placing franchises where the WHL may have been able to establish itself. Having 30 teams has also allowed for National television deals, even if for some they currently leave much to be desired.

The League needs to start following the successful clothing model more closely. Right now, there are teams that do not carry the same selection as others. Fully-loaded Rangers and Detroit squads do not compare well with the Kings and Predators. Revenue sharing should work to truly make the League equal in terms of salary cap. Instead of having teams hug the floor as closely as possible to draw out whatever profit they can from revenue sharing, it should go not to the owners’ pockets, but to allow all teams to reach the top of the cap.

30 teams allows you to have 1,230 games, with anywhere between 60 and 105 playoff games, as well as a smattering of exhibition games. Take away teams, and it’s quite obvious that you lose 82 games for each team lost, eventually also taking bites into the playoff games as well. What doesn’t seem as obvious is the impact of floor-hugging teams.

There is an obvious trend in NHL attendance, with many of those floor-hugging teams drawing less. When there are no superstars, no thoughts of hope for the playoffs or even exciting games, it’s obviously going to be less of a draw. Focusing on making the money always available to keep all franchises balanced, and even though there will obviously be losers, there will be a playing field far more level, where teams truly are kept in the mix right down to the wire, and not because of the ‘loser point’ and ‘good sport winner point’ now awarded for OT and shootout games.

I can’t blame Atlanta for averaging 14,000 fans this season (and I hate to direct comments like this), but with about $10 million in cap space, do you think they might have been able to become a more competitive team, and draw more fans? Not only that, but they can draw elsewhere; they happen to be one of the less-popular games in Ottawa, where the Senators discount tickets to draw fans in. Make the teams more competitive, and you not only have a better chance at drawing in their fans, but fans in the cities they visit. The Southeast division, home to some of the teams more commonly seen as lesser competitive lights, has 4/5 of its teams in the bottom 11 teams in terms of attendance; might it be that it’s not just their own losses, but the thought of seeing 3 or 4 not-so exciting neighbours six times a season that affects this? Again, I hate to make these accusations, but I must.

Making the cap always available to teams, only not using it when they might hope to sign a player like Sundin, or to make a late-season trade, also helps stem the tide of KHL defections, with more money available to keep those players in the fold. Keeping teams around the country is what gives reason to keep AHL teams around the country, and down on until you realize that taking away a franchise can stop kids from choosing hockey in the first place, or stop the League’s ability to attract talent from around the world. Suddenly, it’s about more than just the perfect markets, and the small town clothing store analogy makes a little more sense.

In increasing the cap, you also help the players indirectly. Take Dan Ellis of Nashville: he signed a two-year, $3.5 million extension, well aware that he could have earned twice that, easily, had he gone elsewhere. But family — which the League must view as important, noting the 6-game suspension to Avery that Bettman admitted was in part because he didn’t want to explain the remarks to his young daughter — convinced him to stay. He lost out on opportunity because the Predators were not able to pay him market value. Increasing the cap could easily help to stop hurting players who are forced to make this tough choice, and I doubt there’s a player out there who can say honestly that it’s not an issue.

Doing this, of course, forces some owners to accept that their franchises are not meant to be personal cash cows, that you own an NHL team for different reasons, and that revenue sharing should be more clearly defined to prevent it from being the source of profit to floor-hugging teams, but hopefully, these moves could help make all franchises more valuable, more popular, and eventually more profitable. Even with the added costs of making a team more service instead of discount focused, hiring more people is the right optic to present during a recession, and adding ‘the best service’  to go next to ‘most tech-savvy fans’ on this League’s resume will only help their outcome in tough times.

The League, its owners, and its players will have to decide how important it is to set a clear direction, and send a clear message. There will of course be other issues to discuss. No doubt the economy and possible salary cap shrinkage will be on the agenda yet again (maybe my own suggestion for how salary dump could be completely avoided might finally earn an ear), but there is plenty more at stake here. Just as the country is considering stimulus at the moment, in order to boost the nation back into profit down the road, the League must consider the same, not only to save the League from bigger troubles, but also to potentially make it blossom to new heights of success.

Filed in: NHL General, | SENShobo | Permalink


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About SENShobo

Native of Northern California.  Hockey fan since 1998... sort of... there's a hiatus in there that I still can't explain.

I want to know about anything and everything related to the sport and the spectacle.  I watch, I react, I write it down.

My interest in the Sharks was initially a matter of geographic convenience and regional loyalty because that seemed to be how it worked.  I had no prior interest (at all-- AT ALL) in professional sports of any kind.  When I met hockey, it might have set off a chain reaction of general sports fandom.  It hasn't, I don't think it will.  At all.

Since then, that interest developed into full blown (mostly sort of usually almost completely) exclusive loyalty to the Sharks.

I started blogging a couple years ago on wordpress. I still occasionally put things there that I don't think fit here because they are not about the Sharks. Wherever my words wander, here on Kuklas Korner, they will (usually) hang on to a teal thread.

I can be found in cyberspace on Twitter @petshark47, or emailed at talkingstick@petshark.net