Thursday, June 5, 2008

Two Different Takes on the Health of the NHL

First off, thanks to Drew Pelto. The guy never fails to keep things interesting.

To take Drew’s entry a little further, I couldn’t help but chat about two NHL articles/blog entries today, both offering differing views of the health of the NHL.

The first comes from Alan Makiof the Globe and Mail. Alan offers the following:

In Buffalo, the Sabres business practices are rattling their NHL partners who think the team is deliberately keeping the cost of its tickets low so it can qualify for league revenue sharing. The Sabres are raising their tickets by $3
to $6 (all figures US) for next season and have acknowledged their need to increase revenue "in order to maintain a receipt of revenue sharing."

As for the Phoenix Coyotes, they lost $30 million last season, according to an internal NHL document publicized last week, and are believed to have lost an additional $30 million the year before. (Here's a thought: send the Coyotes back
where they came from; to Winnipeg. Makes sense if you consider the Canadian economy, the strength of the Canadian dollar and our undying love for all things hockey.)

Well, parity was certainly coming into play before the lockout and no, the ticket prices didn't go down when the players went back to work. As for fixed costs, it's worth noting that next season's salary cap minimum is likely to be set at $40 million, with a ceiling of $56 million. That's a significant jump from the $23 million minimum of 2005-2006 and one caused largely by the rise in the Canadian dollar, an increase that has helped on one side of the border while damaging the weaker teams on the other.

Little wonder that with the U.S. economy on full credit-crunch alert, several teams (as many as eight to 10) have had discussions with Balsillie, a businessman who has the money to match his passion for the game. Balsillie remains keenly interested in either buying a team in a solid hockey market and operating it there or buying one and relocating it to Southern Ontario.

Commissioner Gary Bettman, though, wants no part of Balsillie and his independent ways but you have to know there are owners who covet the Blackberry maker's cash and would love to have him as a member of their group.

So while it appears that a lot of teams are prospering, few are publically admitting that the strong Canadian dollar has helped them prosper. And as Drew pointed out, while NHL ratings have improved, when you put them into perspective by comparing them to other sports, it's still a very sad outlook. Drew is right about Elite XC. The "Kimbo league" isn't even a top three MMA organization. And that is from a casual MMA guy. But match it with the Stanley Cup finals and the league's best star, and all the sudden, Elite looks pretty damn good.

Not to be biased, let's give Ted's Take a chance:

The NHL had a great year. Can you name me one other media oriented company that can say they grew and grew fast across the board in terms of:

Ratings - both nationally and locally;

Season ticket renewals and season ticket sales;

Overall ticket sales;

Overall ticket pricing;

Merchandising sales;

Sponsorship sales;

And revenues?

The salary cap will move up again as the players share in more than half of the revenues so the players are happy.

For the most part, the product has improved.
To each their own I guess. I am sure those in Nashville and Phoenix could write a very entertainig rebuttal to Leonsis' thoughts. But I have been told that the owners are interested in one thing, and it is green and comes in paper form. So it's not hard to tell why Ted is so excited.

I left a message for Ted regarding the instigator rule as well:

Sig, said: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

“For the most part, the product has improved.”

Now vote for modifying or abolishing the instigator rule, ala your Chicago Blackhawks’ counterparts, at the BOGs meeting and you’ll see a major improvement in the game. Hecht, even CBS is putting MMA on prime time t.v. While I am not interested in anything that extreme, you can’t ignore it. The hockey fence sitting fan awaits!
We'll see it makes it past the moderation stage...

While I'll point out the differing views on the health of the NHL, don't think I'm being two pessimistic by giving Ted a hard time. I thought the product was a little better this year. Referees are calling every ticky tack penalty call... they'll tell you their calling the game the same and that players have adjusted. And fighting majors are up from the year before... but no where near pre-lockout numbers.

If these trends continue and Ted and his owners buds listen to the GMs, the players, and the fans about the instigator rule, the NHL's pulse might register again with casual sports fans.

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