Tuesday, September 29, 2009
As you probably don't know the NHL opens up Thursday night with the Washington Capitals playing at Boston to take on an interesting Bruins team. That neither here nor there. The game is on Versus, so if you do not live in the Boston area and you have DirecTV, you won't see this game, or any other that's on Versus due to DirecTV taking off its programming.
This continues a self inflicted onslaught on the NHL dating back about 15 years. At that time hockey was enjoying a resurgence in popularity. It was seen as the hip, young, up and coming sport. Enter Gary Bettman; possibly the least hip person on the planet. During his tenure (1993-present) the NHL has plummeted in popularity, visibility and profitability, to the point where at least one NHL team is bankrupt, the Phoenix Coyotes.
As an ex-hockey player who played at Maine and had one year in the minors, I have plenty of friends who are playing or played in the NHL. You would think that I follow the NHL closely and am excited about the season opening in two days. I'm not. I don't really care at all and would not miss the NHL if it folded tomorrow. I am the target audience, and they've lost me completely.
It's not the game itself. It's actually the best the game has been,ever. The marketing and presentation is the worst I have ever seen. From the same dubs that broadcast every game, the same stiffs doing the between periods analysis to the same camera angles that have never done the game any justice, the NHL continues to repeat the same mistakes time and time again. None of this worked the first time, or the second, for that matter. The same guys that couldn't sell the game on TV, whether it was commentating or analyzing, are the same guys we have to look at and listen to this time around. Brian Engblom and Keith Jones on Versus are truly ridiculous (Engblom with his mullet and Jones with the worst rug I have ever seen). Where is hockey's John Madden or Keith Jackson? OK, maybe that's too much to ask, but can't we get someone at least as good as Phil Simms?
Bettman continues to miss the point with regards to what sells a sport. Great match-ups and great players generate interest in sports. You would think that with this in mind, the NHL might change a few things with regards to the schedule. Currently, the two conferences (that's Eastern and Western for the vast majority of you reading this who never watch hockey) play each other once. That means that the Detroit Red Wings play against Ovechkin and Crosby once each. Really? How on god's green earth is that possible? Do you think anyone has brought this up at NHL headquarters? Like maybe "Hey Gary, what do you think about getting some marquee match-ups on NBC this winter.....I was thinking maybe a Stanley Cup rematch Pitt vs. Detroit, or maybe Washington vs. San Jose". No one is paying attention to the NHL, they can do whatever they want. Who cares about balanced schedules, play those games.
I love the outdoor games and I love the whole New Years day idea. Again the NHL comes up with a great idea and manages to come up short. Boston is playing at Fenway Jan 1, 2010. That's awesome, they must be playing Montreal, or at least NY or another original 6 team right?????? Nope. The Boston Bruins are playing Philly. Yup, Philly. I can't name more that three guys on the Flyers and neither can anyone else On top of that, the people the NHL is trying to reach, new blood, new fans have heard of ZERO guys on the Flyers. It's even in doubt if they've ever heard of the Flyers. Why can't the NHL have all original 6 teams play on New Years day, outdoors around the country. How cool would that be? Boston/Montreal at Fenway, Detroit/Chicago at Wrigley and Toronto/New York at Yankee stadium! You think that might create a buzz? You think NBC wouldn't love that?
The NHL seems to be intentionally cannibalizing itself. It's the only explanation. How else can you possibly make the fastest team sport, one of the most violent and one of the most exciting sports in the world this boring? The X games have gone from about 6 viewers to infinitely more popular than the NHL. There needs to be new leadership in the NHL and it needs to happen immediately. I don't know how Bettman has been able to keep his job as he continues to run his sport into the ground, but this cannot continue. It wouldn't take much to get me back into the sport and I'm sure that holds true for thousands of other people in this country. A little common sense and a lot less Gary Bettman would go along way.
Javier Gorriti, UMaine Black Bear from 1994-1998, is a frequent contributor to the CMSB and the PM JAB with Chris Sedenka. He is the president of Mermaid Seafoods in Portland, Maine and has been working and living in Maine over the past 5 years. He can be reached at javier_gorriti at hotmail.com. He enjoys beer pong and Jamaican kick-boxing