Aside 7 Jan

The lockout, and Hockey in America today.

 

I understand professional sports is a business, and for the most part, a HUGE business.

In the US, as fans, we are truly spoiled for choice, Football, Basketball, Baseball, Nascar, UFC, College Athletics, Soccer just to name a few, and oh yeah… Hockey.

I remember being at work one day, roughly 10 years ago, “flipping” my cell phone open, clicking the browser to the sports page for an update on the L.A Kings score, only to realize that the NHL page was filed under “other sports” on Verizon.

I spent the better part of that day visiting almost every actor and crew member i could find on set exclaiming “Can you believe this sh@t… the greatest sport in the world is under “other sports”???

In that moment i realized that the game i loved so much, the game i played 3 times a week (and still do) paying 25$ a pop, was completely and inexplicably flying under the radar of the most sports crazed country in the world.

What don’t you like America? The Speed, the scoring, the hitting and fighting? The good looking kids from humble families sacrificing mind and body for the crest on the front of the sweater rather than the name on the back? The interview with the player of the game after scoring a hat trick or a playoff winning goal always deferring to his teammate saying “HE made a great pass”, “HE made a great play” ” i just got lucky” ?

I don’t get it, do you honestly, really like the ME, ME, ME, culture that has blossomed, or should i say infested every other sport in the last few decades, and made those superstar athletes completely un-relatable, arrogant and frankly at times pathetic and embarrassing? 

You won’t find that crap in the NHL. Mostly hard working kids from modest homes, with manners, a strong sense of right and wrong, and a clear understanding of what it means to have been blessed with the opportunity to play a sport they love, getting paid millions of dollars in the process, while stiffs like me pay 25$ to skate around a dark rink with fading red and blue lines.

 

Which brings me to this lockout.

For me to pretend i understand the inner workings of the new NHL/CBA would be a lie, i don’t, and more importantly like most of us, I DON’T CARE.

But i am utterly baffled by the Owners and NHLPA’s incredible arrogance and apparent complete misunderstanding and disconnection, (Hi Jeremy Jacobs owner of the Boston Bruins) of how this league is seen and perceived by most American sports fans.

It’s as if they assume the entire nation has been waiting with bated breath for the two sides come to an agreement, and only then will they grant us once again the privilege of enjoying our sport, that we will all come running back to them with congratulatory candy and smiles on our faces.

Not so sure that’s exactly the pulse of the nation regarding hockey right now…

Of course, there is a core group of us that will always come back to the game no matter what because well, it’s in our blood and no other sport compares… not even close!

But guess what NHL? Not this year pal, no f@#ing way. You have somehow, after 35 years of unwavering loyalty, actually made me dislike you a bit, and frankly, this year, don’t really care that you’re  back, after all, the Kings coulda been champs for 2 years in a row… (still might anyway)

Sure i’ll watch the boys raise their first Stanley cup championship banner in franchise history (man that still sounds sooo good), sure i’ll watch every single game on TV, but you won’t find me at any arena this year dropping 300$ on tickets and parking, or 12$ beer and a soggy 7$ pretzel… and i’m an absolute DIEHARD for this game! But not this year, can’t do it, i’m tired of sitting back watching these clowns runs this sport into the ground every 8 or 10 years because they can’t get their act together.

And how do you think all those “potential” fans feel? The non diehards? the casual fan that was on the fence, warming up to the sport after a great playoff year in 2011/12? This lockout basically told them : “Nah, don’t bother with us, we’re just as selfish as the other leagues, except you don’t really watch us because we’re never on TV, because we don’t know how to market ourselves properly and our commissioner is an “expletive expletive” of gigantic proportions, so just go back to the Nascar channel or WWF, or whatever floats your boat, there’s really nothing to see here, and even if there was, the people in charge of our league have no idea how to seduce you into staying”

And that’s really sad because this past summer, the NHL’s popularity in the States was arguably as strong as it’s been since the Rangers won the cup in 94′. 

Back then, we had Messier’s guarantee, the Rangers curse, incredible post season runs in both Conferences, a TV contract with an exploding ESPN, it was a great time to be a diehard hockey fan in America, it felt as though our sport was gaining huge momentum and would finally take it’s seat at the table joining the other Big 3 (MLB, NBA, NFL) where it should of been all a long.

And then….yep, you guessed it, LOCKOUT!!!! 

A luxury tax scuffle, a salary cap fracas etc, etc. blah, blah, blah

Very much like this year, they waited the entire summer before starting negotiations in earnest, and very much like this year, they started the season on Jan 20th, got their 48 games in, and by the end of the playoffs, the hardcore fans had returned cheering once again, but what do you think happened to the potential new or casual fan?

Well, they went back other things, relegating hockey once again to that “other sport” it had always kind of been in their minds, sighting things like “i can’t see the puck” or “i hate all the fighting they are such barbarians” or “i can’t see their faces and can’t relate”.

How many NFL players could any of you recognize out of uniform? How many NBA bench players could you recognize out of uniform, MLB pitchers? No? Nah i didn’t think so, yet they seem to market their leagues and players with a wee bit of success.

Then there was 2004/2005, What a doozie, first time ever any professional American sport cancelled an entire season because of a labor dispute… THAT WAS LESS THAN 10 YEARS AGO.

How in the world are you supposed to attract new fans to a league that has had 4 work stoppages in less than 20 years, directly related to revenus and exorbitant salaries?…well, apparently you don’t.

 

In closing, this really isn’t about blaming one side or the other, it’s about the health of the game, and how to change the average fan’s perception of it.

There are great people on both sides of this dispute, like Jeff Vinik, the owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, You know what he did this holiday season? He gave over 150 of his employees an extended PAID holiday vacation from Dec 20th to Jan 2nd, and those days do not count against their normal vacation days.

For every corrupt, selfish money grubbing owner or executive in the league, there are more like Jeff Vinik, let those people run the ship for a while, see what happens no? Of course it’s not that simple, but it starts at the top!

We need to change the way the NHL is perceived, and to do that you need leaders who function in a new and different way.

It’s time for the Gary Bettman era to end, stat! 

This is not a personal attack on him in the least, as i said earlier, i have no clue what goes on behind closed doors and can’t imagine the complexities of running an organization comprised of 30 professional franchises.

But like they say in most sports, “Scoreboard baby”, there have been 3 labor related stoppages under his tenure and one complete season cancellation, UNACCEPTABLE!.

It’s simply time to move on, the NHL culture of today is unhealthy and in need of new leadership and marketing strategies.

I have been blessed over the years to meet quite a lot of current and former NHL players coaches and people involved with the game at high levels, and i can tell you, the one thing almost ALL of them have in common, is that they are great human beings with humility and appreciation for what the game has given them, and love it to this day as much as they ever have, let them take over…

Who are the few idiots turning this sport into a mockery?!?!?

How about a new TV contract with a network that everyone in the country receives, i mean that “Versus” deal was a calamity, an absolute joke, do you even know what “versus” is??? Or what channel it’s on??? Or if you even have it? Unless you love hockey and deer hunting chances you’ve never heard of it.

How about removing the players helmets during shoot outs. Ladies would enjoy the scruffy young farm boys and the top players could get a little much needed face time and recognition.

And don’t give me this “it’s a safety issue” bs i hear every time i bring it up, dudes played in this league with no lids for over 75 years, and goalies played without a bucket until the early to mid 60’s.

The game is currently hurting because there are no imaginative people in charge of representing it, to show the average public at large what it’s all about.

At the end of every season, teams release their playoff injury reports… IT’S CRAZY, guys playing with cracked ribs, jaws wired shut, broken ankles and hands, ever hear them complain? Nope

There are so many awesome stories and ways to promote the NHL and nobody is doing anything about it…

The NHL network has been showing replays of the world junior championships on a loop since Saturday, i truly love those boys and a huge shoutout to the USA for bringing back the gold from Russia, it was a fantastic tournament to watch and can’t wait until next year, but, i’m sorry NHL Network, did you hear? THE LOCKOUT IS OVER!!!!!

Report it, take us behind the scenes, give us updates on players still in Europe, which will stay over there and which will come back, ANYTHING!!!!

Tell us if Crosby is a cat or a dog person, how much can Ovechkin bench press, has Ryan Nudgent-Hopkins ever kissed a girl. COME ON get with the program, pun totally intended, it’s like watching a high school closed circuit channel for heaven’s sake.

The NHL contains a wealth of characters and hard workers, incredible camaraderie and sportsmanship, with an abundance of amazing stories and hilarious anecdotes, share some of them, tell the peeps how awesome this effing game is! LET’S GOOO!

 

It’s time for hockey to take it’s place at the grown up table.

 

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