Tuesday, January 16, 2007

They Are Presistent Part III

Finally, let me wrap up this takedown of the UFOI fans with this simple question, why is there such a fascination and glorification of the NHL of the 1980's?

Let's review record here (again) for a second ok?

In the 1980's the NHL was firmly planted as fourth of the four professional sports leagues. The NHL did not have a National Network TV contract in the U.S. for regular season games and I don't believe playoff games were shown on National Network TV in the U.S. either. The NHL even got kicked off of ESPN in the 1980's. Remember the SportsChannel America disaster?

It was in the 1980's that the instigator rule was first introduced. (1986-1987 was the first season it was used and it was drawn up two weeks before the season began. It was originally a two minute minor in addition to the fighting major. It was toughened to its current standard of a two minute minor and a game misconduct right before Bettman took over)

The result of the NHL's "slippage" (the other leagues grew, the NHL didn't) in the 1980's began to take it's toll on the NHL right before Gary Bettman took over. By the time Bettman took over, NHL teams were having trouble selling out first round playoff games, even in "great markets that the NHL should return to" like Quebec. Bettman came in right after the return to ESPN but he got the NHL back on network TV in the United States. (Even though it meant the insulting Fox Track puck)

People consistently say "bring a friend to a live NHL game, and they'll be hooked." If that were the case, then it would be easy for the NHL to grow. But I've brought friends to hockey games before and not all of them have gotten hooked in just one viewing. As a matter of fact, I took a friend last year to a game at the Phone Booth. Right when he got there he told me that he didn't like it when the players started fighting and when blood got spilled on the ice. I really, really wish he had told me that before I invited him to a game against the Maple Leafs. As you can see, this friend is well aware of the NHL and doesn't like what he sees.

But as I've said before to UFOI fans, you've had your chance. You had your chance to do it your way and it failed. And make no mistake; this "purging" of the NHL isn't going to be easy. There will be a drop in attendance and viewership as the UFOI fans go off into the sunset grumbling about "a once great game ruined." It will take time for the NHL to shed its well deserved reputation of gratuitous violence that it has with many sports fans. Once that happens, the NHL will start to grow.

Go ahead, show me all of the studies you want and post clip after clip on You Tube of fans cheering wildly for a fight and booing when a potential fight gets broken up. Hades, I've done it myself. But you cannot easily explain why the NHL suffers in the TV ratings but Olympic hockey doesn't. Yeah, you have a better collection of skill in an Olympic game than you do in a typical NHL game, but the average sports fan also has what amounts to an iron-clad guarantee that a fight is not going to break out in an Olympic ice hockey game.

But the point still remains that what UFOI fans want was not working. It was a broken system. The NHL went into a lockout and lost a full season because the system from top to bottom wasn't working. The game on the ice was not generating enough revenue to meet the salary demands of the players, plain and simple. And game wasn't generating enough revenue simply because it was not a product that sports fans wanted to see. This is a classic example that in order to grow stronger, the whole thing must be torn down in order to be built back up and become stronger than it was before (much like what the Caps are in the process of doing right now).

I admit, when I was younger I liked the fights as much as the next guy. But I've come to realize that if the NHL is going to grow it MUST shed the reputation that has kept it on the fringes of the American sports scene. To the fans of UFOI, I suggest the next time you go to a game, look at the skill of the players on the ice instead of yawning while waiting for the next fight to break out. You might just be surprised by what you see.



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