TSN Article-What Damage Will Be Done?

Discussion in 'Fugu's Business of Hockey Forum' started by Hockey_Nut99, Jan 10, 2005.

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  1. Hockey_Nut99

    Hockey_Nut99 Guest

    Just what kind of damage is the NHL suffering with the season slipping away?

    Opinions vary, with some predicting complete disaster if there's no hockey this year. Others believe the NHL can get up on its feet no matter how long the lockout lasts.

    The lines have been clearly drawn in the sand. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman wants "cost certainty" and says there won't be hockey until that happens. With NHL Players' Association executive director Bob Goodenow steadfastly opposed to any form of salary cap, the season could be lost.

    "And that's going to be disastrous," Bobby Hull Jr., who represents his brother Brett, said from Los Angeles. "Both Bettman and Bob are not seeing the forest for the trees.

    "They want to get what they want for their respective sides, but I think they're not going to have anything to go back to if there's no hockey this year."

    The owners may have the money to outlast the players. But if it takes more than two years for the owners to get their salary cap, what spoils will be left for the victor?

    Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, argues the NHL can survive a long lockout.

    "The issue isn't how many games are lost. The issue is what they do for fans when they come back," Cuban said in an e-mail to The Canadian Press.

    "If they pass on cost savings to fans and do a good job of marketing the game, the NHL could come back much stronger."

    Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports and now one of the industry's leading sports television consultants, says the NHL will do what it takes to get "cost certainty."

    "They've made their choice, they're going to change the model, even if it takes cancelling the season," he said from south Florida. "And from what I've been told from owners and various league people, if they can't get the model changed this year they'll continue the fight next year."

    None of the four major professional sports in North America has ever gone beginning to end without a single game even being played. The Stanley Cup is in danger of not being awarded for the first time since the Spanish flu wiped out the 1919 final. Even the Second World War couldn't stop the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    Some say killing the season would be a disaster.

    "They'll put themselves back 20 years," argued Hull Jr. "If they think they can successfully ice 30 teams in the markets they're in right now and have a viable product, it's just not going to happen. Remember baseball? Baseball is just getting back to where it was before the '94 strike - and that's the national past time down here.

    "Nobody gives a crap about hockey down here - nobody. I coach kids' hockey down here and you can start to see the disinterest in the game here with the kids."

    Bettman has been consistent in his response to the question of the cost of shelving the season. He believes resuming hockey without "cost certainty" would inflict much more damage, which is why he thinks sacrificing one season - or more - is worth the risk in order to get the economic system the owners want.

    "I think it's a danger that the league ownership is very well aware of," Pilson said of not having a season. "They obviously have anticipated this situation, they've made plans for it. Many of the owners that I've talked to say that whatever the danger might me, it's less than the danger that they face in playing hockey under the present economics."

    The league survived the last lockout in 1994-95 without too much damage, although that came at a time when hockey was popular south of the border after the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup in June 1994.

    The 1995 season started Jan. 20 and the league launched a promotional campaign featuring the slogan Game On to lure back fans. Average league attendance actually rose slightly from 14,748 in 1993-94 to 14,797 in the lockout-shortened season.

    A June 1994 cover story by Sports Illustrated actually wondered if the NHL would pass the NBA in popularity.

    How times have changed. The NHL rarely gets mentioned along the same lines as the NBA, NFL or Major League Baseball anymore, and why should it when you consider its dismal TV ratings south of the border.

    In the meantime, the league has been making news south of the border for all the wrong reasons, with court cases involving Mike Danton, Todd Bertuzzi and Dany Heatley.

    The damage has been felt in American sports stores. According to the Washington Times, yearend NHL merchandise sales in the U.S. in 2004 were down 59 per cent from 2003.

    SportScanInfo, a Florida research firm that tracks retails sales of sporting goods and team merchandise, says this past December - when Christmas usually helps spike the numbers - saw the NHL sell $6.9 million of licensed gear in the U.S. - down 85 per cent from December 2003.

    "They got creamed, absolutely creamed," Neil Schwartz, SportScanInfo director of marketing and business development, told the Times. "Most retailers have yanked a lot of their hockey product off the shelves, so it's become sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy."

    And if the lockout wipes out the June entry draft in Ottawa, the league will miss out on a glorious chance to welcome hockey phenom Sidney Crosby to its ranks. Instead, he'll either suit up in Europe next fall or play for Canada's Olympic team.

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