Tuesday, January 30, 2007
New York Titans Lacrosse TV Ratings Beat the NHLSaturday night's New York Titans vs. Rochester Knighthawks National Lacrosse League game on Sportsnet New York (SNY) registered a higher Nielsen television rating than its head-to-head competition, the New York Islanders hockey on Fox Sport New York (FSNY) and the New Jersey Devils hockey on MSG.The Titans-Knighthawks game – won by 22-18 by Rochester – earned a .14 rating on SNY for its 8:00 pm to 10:15 pm Saturday telecast. The NHL Islanders vs. Buffalo Sabres game on FSNY from 7:00 pm to 9:45 pm on Saturday earned a .11 rating. The New Jersey Devils game against Florida on MSG from 7:30 pm to 10:00 pm earned a .01 rating, according to Nielsen.In the game against the Knighthawks, Rochester's John Grant set an NLL record with 15 points, registering nine goals and six assists. See the game story on the News Page.A crowd of 13,127 attended the Titans home opener, an 11-9 win over the Chicago Shamrox on Jan. 20, the first-ever lacrosse game at Madison Square Garden. The Titans next home game will be February 17, 8:00 p.m. at Madison Square Garden against the Minnesota Swarm.For more information on the New York Titans, go to http://www.nytitans.com/
Question: The vast majority of hockey fans like fighting, thats fact - so why, Ken should it be legislated out?
"KC: How do we know how many people we're turning off? Would those established fans stop buying tickets or stop watching games because two knuckle draggers dont go out there and beat each other up? Fighting in hockey is no longer a tactic or a way to fire up you team or any of that garbage that we keep hearing. It's a staged act between two idiots who dont belong in the league, pummeling one another. Hockey is the only sport that allows it and because hockey allowed it 100 years ago when we played the game on frozen ponds with broken tree limbs and everbody was Johnny Canuck that doesnt mean we should be doing it now."
Two idiots? Kenny must be real popular amongst some of the most popular guys in the dressing room these days...
Anyone who doesn't think hockey can work in America is forgetting this era [early 90s]. All of a sudden, hockey was challenging, if not beating, the NBA in a number of major U.S. markets – including New York. It's almost impossible to imagine now, but it happened.
As the conspiracy theory goes, Stern sensed the potential trouble in 1993 while the NHL was in search of a new commissioner. So he looked around his own office for someone so incompetent that if they got the job, the NHL would be marginalized by their mismanagement and never again be a threat to the NBA.
Naturally, Stern recommended one of his assistants, Gary Bettman, for the job.
There has never been a commissioner of a major North American sports league this inept...
Bettman is on a 14-year run of bad ideas. His latest was a classic, moving the league's all-star game, which featured attention-grabbing young megastars, to midweek on the Versus Network – as opposed to NBC on a weekend.
The result was a catastrophic 0.7 rating. That's a meager 474,298 households in the States that bothered to watch, down 76 percent from the last all-star game.
He has shown no respect for the game, for its history, for its fans, for its unique qualities.
The league is now overexpanded and overpriced, misplaced and misdirected. It is less exciting, less interesting, less traditional and more difficult to follow for the non-obsessive fan.
And, since fighting has been curbed, the "new" rivalries haven't really taken because a hockey rivalry without fighting is like non-alcoholic beer.
This is Bettman's NHL. Fourteen years, four bankruptcies, three franchise moves, two lockouts, one lost season and no effective leadership.
Brilliant article. Keep em coming folks....
If Gary Bettman is allowed to continue as NHL commissioner undoubtedly the NHL is headed to a dark deep place, a journey that will see the NHL as we know it implode with the NHL certain to lose at least six franchises in the next decade.
Of all the mistakes, error in judgments Gary Bettman has made during his tenure as NHL commissioner none come close to his misguided belief that Versus is the right American cable TV partner for the NHL.
It has been said before in the pages of Sports Business News and it will be said again, if you’re not on ESPN, you’re not a sport in the United States.
Its time Gary Bettman was held responsible for leading the NHL’s BOG’s into their terrible Versus cable agreement.
And just how bad are the NHL’s national TV ratings on NBC? They’ve fallen by 20 percent through the first three weekends of coverage.
"I was in Chicago last Sunday and Tuesday," a scout said over the weekend told The National Post. "There weren't 6,000 people there either night. And I'm seeing a lot of that in the U.S. Los Angeles? For the most part, you won't see 10,000 people there.
"In Philly, they're really, really worried about next year, from a business perspective. They've got plenty of season tickets sold -- this year. But look at the stands. No one is using their tickets. What happens after you paid for season tickets but never used them? You don't renew."
"Detroit? A lot of empty seats there. The tickets are sold, but they're not coming," another scout reported. "I've never, ever seen empty seats in Detroit. I was there for a Dallas game -- empty seats. A Nashville game -- empty seats. Montreal? Empty seats."
Eight franchises and two success stories, that’s a 25 percent success and that by any definition is a failure. Its time the National Hockey League Board of Governors showed they really care about their game, show they really care about the future of the NHL and hold Gary Bettman accountable
for how his lack of leadership in managing the NHL.
Keep them coming folks.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Posted: Sunday January 28, 2007 2:46PM; Updated: Sunday January 28, 2007 2:46PM
Despite young stars like Sidney Crosby, the All-Star Game didn't bring in the viewers -- drawing just a 0.5 rating in host city Dallas.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
NEW YORK (AP) -- TV watchers didn't exactly warm up to the NHL's midweek All-Star Game, which experienced a 76 percent drop in household viewership from the previous All-Star Game in 2004.
Wednesday night's game in Dallas drew a 0.7 Nielsen rating on Versus, the cable channel formerly known as OLN. The game was viewed in an estimated 474,298 households and by 672,948 viewers, down from the 1,985,000 households that saw the 2004 All-Star Game on a Sunday afternoon on ABC.
Wednesday's most-watched show, American Idol on Fox, drew an estimated 37 million viewers in the 9 p.m. hour.The NHL ratings drop-off was even greater when compared to the 2000 game in Toronto, which was watched in approximately 2,681,000 households on a Sunday afternoon -- or more than five times as many homes as were tuned in Wednesday.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
WILLIAM HOUSTON Globe and Mail Update
The National Hockey League season is past the halfway point, but television is still back at the starting gate looking for an audience.
NBC's first telecast of the season earned a 1.1 rating (percentage of U.S. households tuned in), a drop of 20 per cent from the opener a year ago.
U.S. regional audiences are down by about 25 per cent. National viewership on Versus, the U.S. cable channel, is up 3 per cent. But the average audience of 195,476 on Versus is about half of what ESPN2 used to pull in.
For the CBC, the numbers tell two stories: one grim, the other worrisome.
The Hockey Night in Canada audience for the first game of its telecast (1.285 million) has dropped 12 per cent from last year. For the second game (723,000), the decrease is 30 per cent.
In the U.S., hockey has become a niche sport _ like tennis and lacrosse and soccer _ with a cult-like following. The game's fans are fiercely loyal and intensely passionate. But there aren't nearly enough of them.
Clearly, hockey no longer belongs on the Mount Rushmore of America's sports, having lost its prized place in the market to NASCAR and golf. And lousy leadership, combined with foolish over-expansion and poor marketing, continues to erode interest in the NHL.
The NHL reached its peak in the 1980s, when there were real rivalries and genuine dynasties and a wonderful player named Gretzky, who became the face of the game.
Too many longtime hockey fans have turned away.
Attendance is down, even in historically strong hockey towns. TV ratings are terrible. The league is going the wrong way.
Its not on network TV. It's not on ESPN. It's on something called "Versus," which used to be OLN, the old Outdoor Life Network _ the one that televises the Tour de France.
Which means the NHL, as a marketable TV product, has hit bottom.
And not even the new rules, devised to open up the game and create more scoring opportunities, have done enough to save the sport from America's indifference.
So it's time for drastic action.
Here are a couple of comments from his article:
The action shown through the Rail Cam was enough to make you seasick. The thing couldn't follow players through their turns, either, and was so close to the action that it eliminated any semblance of context.
Even when the Rail Cam was nowhere to be found, the thick black rail on the top of the glass gave the broadcast a split-screen effect.
Really, though, there isn't much good to report when it comes to the NHL on TV. The league's ratings have declined precipitously over the past decade.
Back in 1996-97 - Mario Lemieux's final season before his first retirement - games averaged a 1.9 rating. That shrunk to 1.4 the next two seasons, then to 1.3, 1.1, 1.4, 1.1 and 1.1 before a lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season.
Last year, the average rating was 1.0 on NBC, while games on Versus averaged microscopic 0.2 rating, or fewer than 200,000 households. Through 32 Versus telecasts this season, the ratings were about the same.
A consistently compelling product might help to change that. A Rail Cam most certainly will not.
But you think fans at the AAC, and those watching at home on television (all three of them), wouldn't have perked up if one of the league's young studs, Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, had actually played this game as if did mean something? If they came out firing on all cylinders, popping people under the chin, plastering somebody against the boards? Sure, some of the graybeards on the ice would have looked at them as if they were crazy. But at least it would have been different. At least it might have grabbed some attention.
Do something, Bettman, don't just sit there and play Commissioner Pollyanna while your league slowly withers and dies because it's too stubborn to change.
On the 11 teams that voted down the balanced schedule - Bettman is supposed to be the commissioner for the entire league, not just 11 provincial thinking owners concerned with only their own interests. He needs to act in the best interests of the league, not just a few teams.
Bettman consistently brushes off questions about the league's problems -- its nonexistent TV ratings, declining drop counts (actual fans) in arenas, the year-long lockout, the arena situation in Pittsburgh, teams that have maximized their revenues with new arenas -- with bromides and platitudes, as if the new, stream-lined uniforms that were introduced Wednesday night provide the answer to everything.
This is a great game, a game of skill, speed, violence and passion (though only the first two were on display in the All-Star Game). With all that going for it, it's a shame that it might simply fade away for lack of leadership.
Friday, January 26, 2007
January 11th ESPN Poll Displays that 94% of Hockey Fans Want to Keep Fighting in Hockey
Over 20,000 votes
January 26th Toronto Sun Poll:
How would you rate the recent performance of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman?
About t.v. ratings = "We're committed to doing the right things over the long haul and we're confident over time our ratings will grow."
Real quick, Mike Chen from Fox Sports counters with "Bettman wants to say that the league is being patient and they're confident that with the right treatment, TV ratings will grow. The problem is that they've tried pretty much damn near everything. TV sports ratings are like a mudslide and the NHL is trying to fight its way upstream." In his article, he investigates the drop in t.v. ratings for all four major sports from 2000-present. Not surprisingly, he found that the NHL has seen the biggest decline. Read more here.
On attendance - "I think the fact of the matter is we're playing within about 1 percent of our attendance last year. Last year, we set an all-time attendance record. Were it not for last year, this year would be the all-time attendance record. So we're really not having attendance issues." Nevermind these articles. They're all false. Some of the biggest hockey markets in the States aren't really facing dramatic losses... not Boston, not Philadelphia... two blue-collared cities. Not St. Louis. And on and on.
More - "But we're still playing close to 90 percent of capacity." Has this guy been to a game in a while. I went to the Caps game last Saturday and I would say it was a little more than half full. Even sadder, teams are being forced to offer cheaper tickets these days to attract fans. The Caps just GAVE AWAY 300+ tickets to the Canes game tomorrow night.
Health of teams financially - "Vastly improved. Most of our teams are either making money or breaking even. The teams that are losing money are losing less. My goal is to have all of our clubs at least breaking even or making money, and at the same time." That is one thing he is good at... putting money in the pockets of owners. Rest assure though, as his fan base gets flushed down the toilet, owners will not be making money. The quick fixes will run dry... I wouldn't be surprised if Bettman asks the proper authorities to cut down on time zones in North America to one so that he can have one big division with minimal travel costs. BTW... have you ordered your $400 jersey yet? It's steamlined!!! You'll be 8% faster!
On the new rule changes - "I think the feedback from the general managers and from the coaches, and from the players, and, as importantly, from our fans, has been overwhelmingly positive. People like the game, they like the style of play, they like the speed, they like the flow, they like the scoring chances, they like the increase in scoring. We're committed to maintaining the standard." Ha... fans... any time this guy gets around fans they boo him. How would he know what the fans think? It makes me sick to my stomach any time he even says the word fans. I genuinely believe that he does not care one bit about what fans think. His goal, as he mentioned already, is to make the owners money. And overwhelmingly positive??? Who is this guy kidding? Is that why arenas are sitting nearly half empty on some nights?
When asked about the hitting, emotional, and physical play, Bettman countered with "While statistics only take you so far, I think the people who say we've taken hitting out of the game haven't been watching the game because, actually, we had more hits last season than we did in '03-04. " I wish they asked him when the last time there was a rivalry in the NHL. Look that up in your stat book Uncle Gary.
On the new uniforms - "They'll have more freedom of motion, they'll be wearing fabrics that enable them to breathe and not retain as much sweat in their uniforms so that they'll be lighter, I think this is going to enhance performance. " That is wonderful. And how much do they cost should I want to purchase one? What's that? $400? I am sure you'll make some good sales off those jersies. You do realize that your jersies now cost 2-4X as much as any other pro jersey out there, right?
So now, let me get this straight.... we have the second highest attendance mark of all time; arenas are 90% full on any given night on average; t.v. ratings will grow and it is not a big deal that the NHL has seen the biggest drop off since 2000 because all sports are down; there are more hits in today's NHL than there were pre-lockout, and the new jersies will make players 8% faster. Don't let the overwhelming number of articles steer you wrong ladies and gentleman... Uncle Gary has spun the truth into you and you will be a fan of his new product. Zippy chance...
Mike Chen / Special to FOXSports.com Posted: Janury 26, 2007
Since I did my amateur statistician analysis of attendance, why not tackle the inevitable TV ratings issue?
It's All-Star time, which means it's time for the annual Gary Bettman smoke-and-mirrors show when it comes to the state of the game. You know, the part where Bettman spins every number on the planet — even the number of hockey tape rolls used per game — into a positive indicator.
The TV ratings question of doom always elicits an interesting answer from Bettman.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Not unlike the countryside at the Hockey Day in Canada site of Nelson, B.C., the CBC's audience numbers for the 13-hour celebration on Saturday were up and down.
The first block of programming, from noon to 2 p.m. EST, produced an average audience of 314,000 viewers. That marked a 5-per-cent increase from last year. It was also the show's largest viewership yet for that time period.
The first of the tripleheader, an 8-3 victory by the Ottawa Senators over the Montreal Canadiens, drew 666,000, down 13 per cent from last year's opening game (same teams). An audience of 406,000 from 5 to 6 p.m., was also a drop of 13 per cent from 2006.
he National Hockey League may well be able to deliver the higher revenue it expects this season, but that doesn't mean everything is smooth sailing on the business side of the sport. Far from it.
When the main reason for a modestly improved revenue picture is ticket-price increases, that's already a cause for concern because it means the fan base is not growing. Mix in the fact that too many teams play to row upon row of empty seats, that TV ratings are falling and that a number of U.S. clubs are still struggling to capture a meaningful share of the lucrative corporate market (which is the key to their survival), and you have a recipe guaranteed to produce serious headaches in coming years.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
By Helene Elliott:
January 24, 2007
DALLAS — Tonight is the fun part, a gathering of players who have honorably carried their teams for years and youngsters entrusted with carrying the NHL into the next decade.But when the All-Star game concludes and the last in a likely goal barrage is recorded at the American Airlines Center, the hard part will begin for Gary Bettman.
He is known as the commissioner of the first major professional sports league to cancel a season because of a labor dispute, but his ability to handle an array of troubling issues may determine his ultimate legacy and the course of the NHL's future.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
I met you out front of this past Saturday’s Caps home game against the Panthers. I was passing out “Fire Gary… Save the NHL” signs. You noticed and gave me your business card and told me to call you some time this week. Being that it is difficult to get away from my desk and I am not sure what would come of our phone call, I decided to email you instead. I hope you do not mind and take my email as an extension of how a huge fan base feels about the about the state of hockey.
First, let me say that I have been a Caps fan since I was 8. I am a die hard Washington area sports fan and stick with my teams through thick and thin. I attend between 8-12 Caps games a year. I never pay full ticket for a price. I am either given tickets for free or purchase discounted tickets from the “merchandisers” that frequent the front of the Verizon Center before games. I can typically get anywhere from 25-50% off a ticket if I purchase there as opposed to the Box Office. And tickets are ALWAYS available considering the Caps’ woes when it comes to attendance.
Our Gary B protest the other day was a part of something a bit larger… the decline of the NHL from the fans’ perspective over the past two years. As you are on the business side of things in hockey and I am merely a fan, I respectfully say that you might not appreciate the way a lot of traditional/average hockey fans feel about the “new NHL.” From what I read, Gary Bettman has been instrumental in putting teams in the black in recent years, the Caps being one of them. So business may very well be on the upswing for the Caps organization. Good for you and bad for us as I feel we are in for a dose of more of the “new NHL” just because the owner’s pockets are full for the time being.
My personal take, however, is that the new NHL is a water-downed, sugar coated version of what the game used to be and should be now. And when I say used to be, I mean the 1980s and early 90s, not the boring neutral zone trap hockey of the late 90s/early 00s. I think Gary Bettman has looked for quick fixes in the huge holes he has created during his tenure. The most recent fix to put money in the owners’ pockets was to move to the unbalanced schedule. While the unbalanced schedule cuts down on expensive travel costs for teams, certain teams won’t get to see Ovechkin, Semin, Crosby, and Malkin for two years at a time. Good for the owners… bad for the fans. And, of course, soon we will have the introduction of the new jerseys… the jerseys that will apparently make the game faster; 8% faster to be more specific. And, oh yeah, they cost $400 if you want to buy one fans. Good for the owners… bad for the fans. I could go on. But my point is that the NHL front office is busy making owners happy when it should be spending more time figuring out what fans want in their game. Ultimately, it’s the fan base, or lack thereof, that will determine the mid-long term success of the NHL. Quick fixes will stop working at some point. But just like with politicians, Bettman does what in his best interest to remain sitting in the cushy leather chair in New York. Do you ever question why he is booed by NHL fans whenever he makes a public appearance at games?
Now on to what fans want in the game of hockey. In coming back from the strike, the NHL’s master plan was to increase scoring to attract fans. They implemented some good rules (e.g. make the two line pass legal) and some not so good rules (e.g. STRICT enforcement of obstruction calls). The latter rule/enforcement opened a huge can of worms with the hockey fan base. It has essentially alienated a major subsection of average/traditional fans. Simply put, you cannot sacrifice the emotion/intensity/physical play in the game for an increase in power plays/scoring. By calling games beyond tight, the new NHL is a showcase of games that lack any sort of flow. How can one enjoy a game that used to be tough (e.g. “hockey tough” “it’s okay, he’s a hockey player, he’ll be back” “give blood, play hockey”), but is now gentlemanly in nature? How can one idly sit by and watch players be escorted to the box time after time for infractions that have little or nothing to do with the play? How can one sit by and watch players embarrassingly dive or conveniently fall all over the ice because they felt a slight tug of the stick? And all for the sake of more scoring? Were there not other ways to increase scoring without sucking the flow, emotion, physical play out of the game?
After five years of not attending an NHL game, my brother and I brought my 55 year old father to the game on Saturday against the Panthers. After watching a period and a half of play, he demanded that we leave after the second period. He said that the game was broken, there was no flow to it, and it was lifeless. I also sat next an elderly couple in the 200 section. She asked about my sign and when I told her what it was about, she mentioned that the Caps used to have a huge fan base with loyal fans. She said she had not seen them in years and that they had been replaced “yuppies” that chat on cell phones rather than watching the game. She said that loyal fans outnumbered these new “fans” ten fold. While I don’t know about ten-fold, I concurred that the Caps had lost quite a bit of loyal fans.
Let me conclude that this is not a product/fault of the Caps; it is a fault of the NHL front office for turning the game of hockey into something that resembles the brand that is played in Europe. Gary Bettman should remember that 80% of his hockey teams reside in America and that Americans, and most Canadians, desire a sport that is intense and physical, the attributes that make other sports in this country attractive. The new NHL, complete with its new restrictions on penalties (and as a side product, intensity and emotion) does not deliver. The last rivalry in this sport was ten years ago for God’s sake. And while Gary searches for a new fan base, the fans that he should have targeted, those loyal fans that used to show up to games early because they could anticipate a great game, are beyond the exits to the arenas; they are beyond the expressway; they are at home and parked in front of their television and watching the NFL.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
The game itself was lifeless. I didn’t expect too much being that the Florida Panthers were in town. Their team is a bottom dweller when it comes to toughness. It translates to passionless play. You could hear a pin drop throughout most of the game. The arena was half full with the usual absentees in the corporate 200 section. Other parts of the arena were empty too, mainly the 100 section and huge chunks of the 400s. I can’t imagine what the Verizon Center would have looked like if it wasn’t Kid’s Day and tickets were discounted for youngsters.
I sat next to an elderly couple and they were curious as to what our signs were about. I told them and she nodded and surprisingly responded that the Caps used to have a loyal following but those fans were no where to be seen these days. I agreed and told her that you used to be able to anticipate a game and that I couldn’t remember the last time there was a rivalry in hockey (actually it was ten years ago between the Red Wings and Avs). As the obstruction calls mounted up in the first, we would look at each other and shake our heads. The countless calls, some beyond absurd, killed the flow of the game for the fan. I almost lost my cookies when Donald Brashear was whistled for bumping the goaltender. Chris Gratton later got called for hooking because he hit a Cap and his stick got wrapped around the player from his momentum. This is all too sickening to watch as players are sent to the penalty box time after time for penalties that shouldn’t be called… and I say this for both teams as well. Whatever happened to “hockey tough?” I personally can’t see how any fan could stomach a game like that today. It was boring, emotionless, and passionless. It’s like a new game all together.
The worst part of it all was that we brought my 55 year old father to the game. He took us to our first hockey game when I was 8 and my brother was 10. He hasn’t attended a game in over 5 years. He was adamant that we leave after the second period was over. In his own words, “This is boring. The guys don’t hit anymore… it’s like their scared to or something. The penalties kill the flow of the game. I can’t watch this.” We left. On the way down the road, he said, “Now I know what you are talking about Matt.”
It’s all a shame. A fan told me before the game that the game is better now than ever before. I told him that there are countless people that disagree with him… they just don’t attend games anymore. Indeed, when you look around the Verizon Center, you have to admit there is something wrong. I’m done going to games myself… I won’t be giving a red cent to the league until they remember that hockey is a “tough” sport with “tough” players. I won’t be giving them another red cent until I hear that there is a rivalry brewing. And I will continue to post articles on hockeyfansunite.com that display that the “new NHL” is garbage and is alienating a huge following… the traditional and average hockey fans. The “new NHL” is lifeless… it lacks emotion… it’s killing the sport. They had better figure out a way to fix it before it dies all together.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Bettman's reign marked by growth, change
10:40 PM CST on Saturday, January 20, 2007
By MIKE HEIKA and GARY JACOBSON / The Dallas Morning News
Gary Bettman will celebrate the completion of his 14th season as NHL commissioner on Feb. 1. Bettman, 54, is a New York native and a 1974 graduate of Cornell. He served 12 seasons as a senior executive with the NBA before replacing Gil Stein in 1993.
During his term, the NHL has grown from 21 teams to 30 while its annual revenue has increased from $700 million to $2.2 billion. He also has witnessed four franchises go through bankruptcy, four teams move and the league shut down twice for labor reasons. The 2004-05 lockout marked the only time a big-league North American sport has lost a full season to a labor dispute.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Despite Ovechkin's Drawing Power, Caps' Attendance Still Lags
NBC Sports is promoting the debut of its NHL "Game of the Week" this month with a commercial starring Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis and Alex Ovechkin, the team's explosive scorer who in his year and a half in town has dramatically raised the entertainment level on and around the ice at Verizon Center.
But despite its Russian star and an inexperienced but energetic young lineup, Washington enters tonight's home game against the Montreal Canadiens with a five-game losing streak and a home attendance average that still is near the bottom of the league.
Read more here.
Over the past three trips to work (two in the morning and one in the evening), I had the supposed pleasure of finding "In the Slot", a hockey program carried on Home Ice XM. According to what information I could find on the net, this program, hosted by a Mr. Todd Lewis and co-hosted by the immortal Phil Espisito. The show airs weekdays from 3PM-6PM with replays on weekdays 3AM-6AM. Originally I thought I was blessed to find a radio program dedicated to hockey that would fill my 45 minute commute to and from work. And based on the replay times, it seemed initially that I would catch a significant portion of each show between my morning and afternoon commute. The future looked bright to say the least. Or so I thought.
While I must admit that it was refreshing to hear nonstop discussions on recent and upcoming games and to hear specific stories of yesteryear as remembered by Mr. Espisito, my ability to stomach Mr. Lewis quickly came into question. I found myself praying for the next caller to be aired or to hear some highlights from last nights games. I found myself searching the 150+ channels of XM in order to hopefully find something that would exceed my interest in hockey radio ............ especially bad hockey radio. Now, please take my comments with a grain of salt as 1) I understand I only caught a portion of one show and 2) I found myself disagreeing with Mr. Lewis on several occasions of this particular show. While I am not in the business of banishing any program from my channel lineup after just one airing, I must admit that I will be listening to him for the same reason many Democrats tune into Rush Limbaugh ........... to see what he will say that will be annoying.
My biggest qualm (amongst several) stemmed from a caller who wanted to discuss the new "instigator" rule. For those not aware of the specifics of this penalty (refer to rule 56), the league has now stated that any player deemed the "instigator" of a fight will be issued a 2 minute minor penalty (creating a power play for the opponent should no other "matching minors" be issued), a 5 minute major penalty and a 10 minute misconduct penalty. This applies to any time frame prior to the 5 minutes remaining point of the game (55 minutes of regulation play). In sense, a player deemed an "instigator" is issued 17 minutes in penalties and is not available to his team for that entire length of time. More specifically, an amendment to this rule was added in 2005-2006 that states that any player deemed an instigator in an altercation within the last 5 minutes of regulation play will be issued the above mentioned 17 minute penalty package AND given an automatic one game suspension (which is not subject to appeal by player or team). Furthermore, the coach of the "instigating" player will be issued an automatic $10,000 fine. Both the suspensions and the fines will then double for each subsequent incident.
So what does this say to the teams of the NHL? Obviously, the message is clear - don't instigate a fight or the repercussions of your actions will be harsh. More importantly, under no circumstances, do not instigate a fight within the last 5 minutes of the game or else you will be automatically suspended and your coach will be fined heavily. How do players react to this issue? Simple - they don't react. They don't respond. They let things go unanswered. They let dirty and cheap plays go unpunished. They let dirty and cheap players continue to do the things that have earned them their "dirty" and "cheap" reputations. Why? Because the league has taken away players ability to "police" themselves. An action that NHL players have prided themselves on since the inception of the game. Players fear the repercussions of sticking up for their teammates or for confronting a player who has been taken liberties with a star player. Players don't want to risk hurting their team by receiving an extra minor penalty which would give their opponent a power play. They don't want to risk being given a 10-minute misconduct and causing their team to play with a short bench. They also, and more importantly, do not want to risk being suspended for a game or taking cash out of their coaches pocket. Personally, I can't find a quicker way to get on a coach's bad side then costing him money. It's a sure fire why to end up benched even if the cause was legitimate. Money is still money and $10,000 is a lot of coin to part with.
Getting back to my initial point, the caller clearly stated he felt that the league should do away, or modify, the current instigator policy. He felt that under its current definition, it allowed dirty players (he named Joordin Tootoo) an unrestricted opportunity to do what has earned them their reputation - especially during the last 5 minutes of a game. While I enjoy watching a Tootoo type player play as he is willing to hit anything at any time, I can certainly appreciate his "known" reputation and can acknowledge that he isn't on many players Christmas card list. And, specific to this caller, I must say I agree with him 100%. The current definition of the rule allows players to head hunt or use their stick as a weapon without much worry of retribution. Players no longer have to worry about the other team sending out one of their tougher guys to make him answer for his dirty play. They know that the penalties enforced by the NHL are too severe and many players won't risk hindering their team either by manpower shortage or by costing them money.
Surely, I understand that players/teams can "step across the picket line" but history has shown that the NHL doesn't care about the surrounding circumstances and the reasons for the infraction. A perfect example can be made of the Thrashers vs. Capitals game over the Thanksgiving holiday where a dirty hit by Atlanta defenseman Andy Sutton with less then 90 seconds left in an already decided game enraged the Washington Capitals players. Sutton, who already engaged in some late game dirty play in previous meetings with the Caps went head hunting on young forward Mike Green who was skating along the boards. The Caps responded as any team should - as any fan of old time hockey would expect - by sending out a couple of their tough guys for the next shift to make the message clear to Atlanta that they would not tolerate such blatant and dangerous play. The result was 5 fights in the remaining 90 seconds of the game that ended up costing the Washington Capitals several man-games in suspensions and cost their coach Glen Hanlon $30,000 in fines. As a fan of the Capitals - it was refreshing to see hockey being played how it's supposed to be played - with emotion, grit and intensity. I was thrilled with how the Capitals responded and willingly handled their business, fully knowing the upcoming fines and suspensions. As a fan of old time hockey, I was thoroughly disappointed though as I reflected on how other teams aren't willing to take such matters into their own hands out of fear of the leagues new penalties. They are being handcuffed by the new NHL and its letting too much go unpunished.
Mr. Lewis didn't seem to understand it or didn't seem interested in acknowledging that there is a direct correlation between this new instigator rule and dirty plays in the game. To me, the pattern is as obvious as night and day. Even when Mr. Espisito interjected and sided in part with the caller - Mr. Lewis took the discussion in another direction by stating that NHL coaches would probably prefer the 10-minute misconduct as a mandatory infraction over a 2-minute minor as the minor penalty would leave teams shorthanded. I found myself rolling my eyes at my XM Roadie XT unit as this guy continued to talk about how he felt the current rule was fine and how the callers concerns weren't truly accurate. I must be watching/following a different game then he is or maybe I am not hearing him correctly. I am not sure. Only time will tell.
I do know that I will give Mr. Lewis another shot between my commute home this evening and in the morning. I hope someone calls into the show to broach some of the "rough stuff" issues of the game as I really want to hear where Mr. Lewis stands on specific issues. Everyone deserves a second change to make a first impression and in spinning things in a positive light, he certainly doesn't have to do much to improve his standing with me. Here's looking to 5 o'clock ...........
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
An excerpt from his column:
“I realize that everyone may feel different about this, but it’s amazing to be around someone who embraces the new rules and watch them curse out the refs because of a bad call that wouldn’t have been called prior to the rule change. Some think that this is the beginning of the end for hitting in hockey. Already affected in the league are the goons, the enforcers and the guys who have only two jobs—intimidate and fight.
These guys are getting few and far between and between you and me hockey isn’t hockey without the fighting. It’s been in the game since its creation. OK, so I like the new rules but not the enforcement of them. I like the two-line pass being legal because it helps eliminate the trap, one of the worst inventions in hockey history. The goalie cannot handle the puck like he used to and that isn’t a big deal unless your Martin Brodeur. For the most part I believe in the new rules, but if I could say one thing to the referee core of the NHL it would be, ‘lighten up, it’s only a game.’”
I am glad that others are taking notice Terry. I have said for a while now that the hard part about getting the word out about the lack of passion in the game is that the average hockey fan isn’t just out the door of the arena; they are in their car on the expressway home. Left over are the spoon fed hockey babies that think clutch and grab hockey is what I mean when I refer to traditional hockey. Preach on Terry, preach on!
While some hockey enthusiasts are excited to see the players showcased in an offensive-minded game, others would prefer to see a hard-fought game.
"It has no credibility now," said Red Fisher, sports editor for the Montreal Gazette and dean of hockey writers, who has attended more than 30 NHL All-Star Games. "What it's become is nothing more than a schmooze between the NHL biggies and their corporate sponsors. . . . The game no longer is what hockey is all about. No hitting. No shot-blocking. Not even a hard stare."
I’d say Mr. Fisher is onto something. While it is just an all-star game, and other sports hardly showcase defensive contests for their all-star events, a lot of games in the NHL this year have started to look more and more like all-star games. Indeed, as Fisher mentions, the hitting has dropped; and the hard stares are becoming a thing of the past.
Read Mike Hieka's story here.
Monday, January 15, 2007
Saturday, January 13, 2007
NBC commentators, BRETT HULL and Ray Ferraro, blast cheap players and the instigator rules that protects them:
Read more at "Houston: Move over Grapes, Hull is a natural"
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
By JOHN GLENNON
Predators owner Craig Leipold says he’s looking for local ownership to buy up to 40 percent of the team, in hopes that such a move would make inroads into local businesses and improve attendance.
Leipold’s comments come two days after a Tuesday crowd of less than 12,000 watched the Predators beat Anaheim in a match-up of the top two teams in the Western Conference.
“Attendance has been an issue for six or seven years,”’ Leipold said. “I think our players were very disappointed in attendance when the number one team is playing the number two team in the league. That hadn’t happened in our history and it doesn’t happen that often in the NHL.”
Tuesday, January 9, 2007
Most of the negative comments we received from individuals that frequent team message boards. While some of these hockey enthusiasts respect our cause, others are blinded by recent past. The typical response we get is that today’s game is much better than it was in the mid to late 90s. I am guessing that the people that wrote this have 1) yet to have looked at our site; and/or 2) are in their late teens or early 20s and never had a chance to see 1980s hockey played.Let me get this straight… the neutral zone trap made for boring and emotionless hockey. We are glad that it is gone and the game is more wide open.
Now, let’s get another thing straight. You cannot sacrifice the emotion and physical play of hockey for the sake of increasing scoring. While the new rules do cut down clutching and grabbing, they open up a bigger can of worms. The average hockey fan cannot stand to see hockey players marched to the penalty box for countless obstruction calls. It sacrifices the integrity the game was built on. It flaws the scoring records by creating more power play goals than ever before.It extinguishes any emotion that can be played out during five-on-five hockey. And it ultimately kills the characterization that hockey players are tough, rugged individuals that play though pain. How can anyone think this these days when a whistle is blown whenever a player is touched by a defenseman’s stick?
There is a battle going on in hockey today and the rules have clearly dictated two sides.On one side you have the yuppie, politically correct hockey fans that attend two games a year and yap on their cell phones when goals are scored and fights are breaking out on the ice.They love the finesse of the game; they praise Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby as the next Lemieux and Gretzky; they view tough guys as being a wasted roster spot.On the other side you have the hockey traditionalists.They too like the young guns in the league, but they don’t like the cheap shot Ovechkin threw on Briere (or the spear to the groin Briere gave back), they think that Crosby is a great player, but needs an attitude adjustment.They are the fans that appreciate the tough guys for their willingness and ability to protect star players.They are the fans that used to purchase season tickets, would show up early to games that had that anticipation, would give away tickets to their friends if they knew they were going to be used.They studied the game as it unfolded, studied the players on the ice, they stood and cheered when a player from their team scored a goal or shed the gloves to inject some intensity into the game or protect a teammate.
The problem today is that the traditionalists and average hockey fans have walked away from the game.They have been insulted by the product that has been put on the ice before them.The issue with this is that the NHL hasn’t identified this as a problem and they have been left trying to think of new ways to attract new fans.And instead of bringing back the fan base that once made hockey part of the Big Four, they are marketing to the Google generation.Yet it isn’t selling to them either.
So what should Gary Bettman being doing to fix the attendance and t.v. ratings?Gary needs to ask himself two questions: 1) when was hockey most popular?; and 2) what made it popular?Hockey was most popular in the 1980s.In the 80s you had a perfect blend of physical play and toughness.Guys had open ice because opposing players respected their territory.Say what you want, but Gretzky always had Dave Semenko or Marty McSorley nearby to make sure players weren’t taking liberties.Goalie pads were smaller too… personally, I still haven’t figured out why a team hasn’t hired a Sumo wrestler and put them between the pipes!But even if a goaltender was tall back then, they didn’t have the bulldozeresque pads to fill half the net.They had to rely on their flexibility and reflexes to make saves.Goaltenders today are terrific athletes… instead of creating power plays to beat them, why not decrease the width on their pads even more so?Then let guys play five on five hockey, let the emotion build, and give guys a chunk of net to shoot at rather than a small piece of twine.
What else does Gary need to do?Let’s start with a few names… Redskins/Cowboys, Heat/Lakers, Dodger/Giants, and, uh wait a second, no rivalries in the NHL!When was the last time there was a true rivalry in the NHL?The answer is the Avalanche/Red Wings in the late 90s.All we get these days are mini-rivalries, strings of two, maybe three, games that have some bad blood that boils over from previous games.An example if the Caps/Thrashers mini-rivalry that escalated from the Sutton/Brashear/Vishnevsky incident three games ago.This past Saturday night, the Caps played their first game since that incident; 15,642 fans were in attendance.Compare that to the last time the Caps played the Thrashers at home on a Saturday night (the second home game of the season mind you) and you will see that they drew 11,995 fans that night.That is a difference of 3,647 fans… at $25 a ticket, that is a $91,175 profit.Why the increase in fans?Because fans anticipate a great game that comes about as a result of a rivalry, excuse me, a mini-rivalry.So instead of suspending players for sticking up for their teammates, suspending guys for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of a game, and making league phone calls to team locker rooms before highly anticipated games,the league should be promoting these games.The Thrashers promoted the mini-rivalry when they got their home game crack at the Caps after their initial run in.They posted a 30 second clip on the front of their home page promoting the number of penalty minutes from their last game!Too bad they have a coach that makes their players dip their hands in cement before putting their gloves on… ahh they hypocrisy.
Gary thought an increase in scoring would bring back fans.He thought that it worked for the Olympics and Europe, why wouldn’t it work in the North America? The answer is the Olympics are played every four years and games are a matter of national pride; Europe if Europe and their idea of a great game is not ours.That is why soccer is the most popular sport in Europe, yet football is the most popular sport here.
Gary has forgotten the hockey traditionalist.After the strike, he focused on creating a new fan base instead of bringing back the fans that loyally supported hockey.He changed the enforcement of rules; he added additional penalties, fines, and suspensions for fighting.He catered to the yuppie hockey fan.
On January 20th, we hope to see some traditionalists suck it up and attend games and show their support for a game that once was great, a game that fans would attend because they were excited about rivalries between teams, not just star players that scores countless goals on the power play.Success would be 10+ fans showing up at each arena and holding a sign.Next year, we will come back stronger and more organized and the .As the integrity of the game continues on its downward spiral down Gary Bettman’s toilet, and the articles about attendance and television ratings continue to pile up on this site, fans will open their eyes and realize that the NHL has big problems.And speaking out is the only way to fix them.