The National Hockey League has officially become a punch line to a bad joke. It is barely hanging on as one of the four major sports leagues in North America. And truly, its’ grip is slipping. It is very difficult to sell a game to a country that cannot see the games. But broadcasting deals are seemingly out of reach for this league. It’s a sad state of affairs when ESPN, the largest North American sports broadcaster, won’t even cover your games due to lack of public interest. If it wasn’t for the Versus Network, and NBC, there would not even be a television deal in the United States. Versus, formerly Outdoor Life Network is the exclusive US cable home of the NHL. However, their deal with DirectTV came to a crashing halt at the beginning of September. This will greatly affect anyone being able to even watch the games in the US. People in the US will have to have Comcast or sign up for AT&T Universe for their hockey fix, as those companies will still carry Versus. As for the NBC coverage, well that one Sunday afternoon game per week barely grabs enough viewers to fill the stands at a NASCAR race.
The situation in Phoenix is so far past embarrassing it’s pathetic. Not even the greatest of all time could turn around the Titanic of hockey. Hitting the icebergs of lack of attendance, poor corporate sponsorship, and complete lack of interest, has caused this team to sink. The bankruptcy filing and imminent sale of the club has only shed more of a negative light on how business is done in the NHL. Commissioner Gary Bettman, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the NHL Board of Governors will not allow a guy, with sound financial backing and a strong desire to make the league better, to purchase the team, and re-locate it into a market where it would actually make money, and provide revenue back to struggling teams in that same league. Please, re-read that last sentence…unless you’re a business graduate or have any semblance or common sense, because your head will explode. And I really don’t need that on my conscience.
While I understand Research in Motion billionaire, Jim Balsillie ticked off a lot of people by trying to circumvent the purchasing rules a few years ago when he tried to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins and move them to Hamilton, Ontario without league consent; it is time to put aside the differences. Let the guy buy the team. He is a passionate, very well-funded hockey fan, who only wants his favorite sport to survive. It will not survive in Phoenix. Nor will it even survive in the US minor markets. Balsillie has altered his offer several times, and the latest one even includes a stipulation that keeps the team in Phoenix for this season, as it is obviously too late to re-locate right now.
It is mainly because of the worst Commissioner in any ‘major’ sport that this southern United States hockey experiment has continued. The teams in Carolina, Nashville, Florida, Atlanta, and Tampa Bay are all in trouble financially. And not just a small bit of trouble. These teams are going to have problems paying their players soon. Even in established “winter sport” markets like Colorado and former Stanley Cup winners the Dallas Stars are having financial difficulties.
While some of this can be attributed to the recent downturn in the economy, most of it is due to poor league management straight from the top. Bettman still is delusional enough to think this failed experiment is suddenly going to turn around after 10 years of dragging this league into a public relations abyss from which they may never recover. He is wrong, but will never admit to it.
While it seems odd, the markets in San Jose and Anaheim are performing above their other South/Western US counterparts. And they are all in the same state. Imagine having three teams in the same province in Canada? Holy snapping crap! The Leafs would freak out. Carolina, Nashville, Florida, Atlanta, and Tampa Bay need to shape up in a hurry. To be honest, Nashville and Atlanta should be shut down now, or be moved to Quebec City or Winnipeg for next year. The facilities are already in place, and the fan base is there. The other four teams should be placed ‘on the clock’ and if they do not reach revenue goals, be contracted or re-located. Phoenix should obviously be sold to Mr. Balsillie, and re-located to Hamilton next year. I have not brought Halifax into this discussion as a base for a team, because support for any professional team in that city has historically been poor for some strange reason.
This seems like common sense. Supply and demand and other simple basic business practices need to be employed in order to save this league. Players are going to start choosing the European leagues soon, as they already are in basketball. The money is good, the game is good, and the leagues are stable. The ego of one power mad Commissioner and the revenue power of a horribly underachieving, yet highly revenued team cannot dictate what is good for this league. Grow up, move on, and let’s get this game back on ice.