Friday, September 6, 2013

How I Would Fix the NHL’s Problems

Probably an avid hockey fan

If you are going to fix an organization then you really should look no further than the man that is in charge of that organization. In this case, it is small-statured man that was born and raised in Queens, New York of the name of Gary Betmann. Well what does his physical size and where he is born have to do with any of this I am sure you are asking. Well it has a lot to do with one’s upbringing and exposure to sports which the last time I looked ice hockey was in fact a sport but is quickly becoming more of a struggling business from what I have experienced during Mr Betmann’s tenure as the NHL Commisioner.

Now what do you think the chances are that Mr Bettman ever donned a pair of ice hockey skates with gloves, stick and helmet all positioned in the right place? I think the answer might be probably never. And imagine somewhere around the summer of 1960 when the local Queens’ kids were picking sides in any game you can choose that kids played in those days. Who was most likely to be in the last two kids still left to be selected reluctantly to play the game? In any of your games you probably left all the future politicians, lawyers and chief financial officers to the very last since they could only talk a good game and very seldom could actually play any sport with any level of competency. And when those kids got the ball they weren't giving it up for anything since no one was going to give it to them willingly.

And that is where the NHL owners made their first mistake. Due to the conditions of the time, they gave the ball to someone they thought that could resolve some basic labour issues, expand the league and get better television rights particularly in the United States. Seems to me that you would want a guy with marketing skills and the ability to talk some sense into all parties involved in the future development of the NHL. Well they chose the lawyer and you get what you get when you do that. I heard he makes something in the neighbourhood of $8,000,000 a year for not doing such a great job.

But he is only part of the problem and I will try to list what I think is wrong and how it might be changed. I spent some time working as a sales representative calling on various professional hockey teams when there were two “professional” leagues running known as the NHL and WHA. So I saw the first iteration of the Atlanta NHL franchise (Flames) in operation and various other teams in Birmingham, Alabama, Houston, Phoenix, Cleveland, Cincinnati, San Diego and several other cities that you not would not call hot ice hockey markets although the outdoor temperature was in fact quite hot normally.

So here is the first thing I would do to correct the NHL’s problems. If you do not shovel snow at least twice a year in your city then you do not get an NHL franchise. You may have a minor league/farm team if you have enough Canadian visitors during hockey season to support that team. It is simple really when you think about it. The future of any sport depends on the kids that play it in pick-up games in and around your city and the last time I looked; outdoor hockey rinks are quite rare in those southern US cities. So Tampa Bay, Phoenix, Dallas and the other Florida team will be moved as soon as they show any signs of failure which three easily qualify for now.

And if the Flames move to Calgary didn't convince anyone then maybe the Thrashers failure in Atlanta might be a second lesson on what don’t work when it comes to pro ice hockey. I think future teams will end up in Quebec City, the Kitchener-Waterloo area of Ontario, an additional team in the Chicago market and maybe Seattle but it rains a lot there and outdoor ice doesn’t do well there I would think. The Quebec team would be the Nordiques of course since that will now work with a proper rink and just stock it with lots of French-Canadian players and watch it succeed. The KW team might be called the Farmers since that area of Canada is a lot like Saskatchewan is the CFL team. There are lots of farmers with lots of money with not a lot to do in the middle of winter so they will flock to the arena to watch their heroes and I would stock that team with mostly south-western Ontario farm boys. And Chicago might be the White Eagles and Seattle the Scary Raindrops. OK so the last two need some work.

But the intent is to try and keep the 30 team number in place because they finally have a sort of workable plan for that number. But the schedule would include only 60 regular season games. I think we learned a lot from the 48 game season last year that the only people that didn't like that were the owners and Mr Bettman. I think if the season started when it normally does and the playoffs followed right after, we would get even more interest in playoff hockey since a lot of folks might still actually have to shovel snow out of their driveways during the finals. 

Television would probably be happy with that as well since more people would likely watch regular season games then since they might actually mean something in the playoff hunt. I still have to put my head around how to get the games to be more meaningful and maybe playing games in neighbouring cities or towns that could handle medium sized crowds might make that more workable.

Now I would like to offer the owners my services and they wouldn't have to pay me a big salary like they do Mr Bettman. I’m thinking that they could pay me a by period played at home fee so there would be 30 home games and with 3 periods, each of the 30 owners would pay me like a $2,000 a period consulting fee. It would still work out cheaper than Mr Bettman’s salary and probably could come out of concession stand earnings so they would never miss it.

And I think the players might actually like the fact that a season is shorter but in fairness to the owners they would have to take a pay cut. Since the average player career could probably be longer, then it might actually all come out in the wash. But if that isn't good enough, we could work out some sort of remuneration schedule for making the playoffs and winning the cup which would be an incentive program for all parties. I off course would require a similar piece of the action for my part in developing the program.

And I could help all players take better care of their financial planning by making them invest a specified portion of their annual income in mutual funds so they have something left when their careers end. And that is a simple fee structure that I would propose for my suggestions on where to invest since I don’t have any of the approved licenses to do that—just good common business sense. So they might have to pay someone to actually do the online transactions that need to be done from time to time. So my fee would be based on how much actual ice time they get in a season. I would only want a portion of their salary based on 1 minute of ice time for the whole season to do that task.

So, as an example, let us use Martin St. Louis as a model for this calculation since he is the first name on the list for ice time in (You Google it). Based on last years shortened season Marty played all 48 regular season games and was on the ice for an average of 21.98 minutes. His annual salary for that season is listed at $6,500,000 so if you do the calculations, my fee would be $6161.14, but being the nice guy that I am, we can just round that out to $6,000 and that will work for me. And Marty you will get 3 suggestions annually for that small sum of money since it represents only .09% of your annual contract salary. But the kicker is I have to have at least one player per team or its no deal.

And yes you can get all of that information right off of the NHL website. Seems they have no problem with sharing that stuff but if you ask a team about a player’s injury they will just say that it is either an upper or lower body injury. It sounds to me like a lot of lawyer and bean counter influence to me and players are more like numbers than valuable assets to the organizations at hand.

And the NHLPA site only talks money in simple terms and shows the NHL teams with just the total compensation that each team pays to its players. I think that might be for the benefit of any union member or future member to help decide who they would prefer to sign with for a future contract.

Now I would also like to offer my services to both parties and we can work out some sort of fair compensation for that job as well. And my overall concept will be “Stop killing the golden goose you bozos!!!!” And it goes equally for owners and players alike. I would just get them in a room and start giving them all the complete and unedited version of the “behind closed doors” coaching clinic on how you make the NHL work for both of you. That is a language they all understand and that is how you get both parties to understand.

And sadly my concept would never happen because it is based on common sense and that seems to be the basic problem in all sports' businesses nowadays. You would think that bottom-line thinking would drive these programs first but it seems that stubbornness, brattiness and single-minded thinking come into play, just like the last two kids in the choosies line for your pick-up games of days gone by.

Gary, give me the ball please

No I don’t wanna’

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Venerable Old Mosport Racing

I recently just watched a Labour Day event that took place at this wonderful race track just north of the town of Bowmanville, Ontario. It has and will always be known to me as Mosport Park (moss-port or mose-port, either will do) as Max Papis referred to it at the NASCAR truck race that took place that weekend. Seems the quality of driver and race was better back in the day before Mosport became Canadian Tire Motorsports Park or whatever it is now. The same thing like the Rogers Centre will always be the Skydome for me. I understand the need for sponsorship money to keep these event locations going but they should learn how to incorporate the historically significant name but that is part of the overall problem that racing, like all other sport, is now just a business so winning at any cost seems to be OK.

And so at this race the final lap and the final turn showed that several drivers just “dumped” the guy that was ahead of them and everyone who did that said they didn't like to win that way, or whatever, except Max, who is an old style racer, who has both the greatest respect for the track and most of his competitors except for the bozo that dumped him in the final corner. And as it turns out the driver's girlfriend gets all bent out of shape and decides she wants to get involved in settling this when it is totally the drivers' argument to settle. She is just another race fan and really overstepped the bounds of that position and quite frankly should be subject to assault and battery charges. NASCAR also has an obligation to sanction that woman from further races if she cannot control herself in a proper manner since it is their job to protect the drivers from uncontrolled fan responses. That type of response will only result in less and less fan contact with the drivers if it repeats itself in further events. 

Kelly Heaphy's moment of anger turned out to be an expensive one.
The girlfriend of driver Mike Skeen lost her cool following Sunday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in Canada and slapped veteran road racer Max Papis across the face. NASCAR fined Heaphy $2,500 on Wednesday and banned her from all NASCAR events indefinitely. (source USA Today) (The team crew chief was also fined $2,500)

In the good old days at racetracks all over North America those racers would just be part of the surrounding guardrail structure which was sadly less prevalent than it is today so many drivers’ careers ended in tragedy. I do applaud the efforts of all the racing bodies to make the sport much safer but they have also developed a type of driving style that shows no respect for the other drivers. I think the offending drivers should suffer a large penalty like losing 25 positions and it will stop. NASCAR will finally do something about it in their sport when a major tragedy results because of that tactic and sadly no sooner because they help promote the concept of “If it ain’t wreckin’, it aint’t racin’”. There is some truth to that but it can also result in final tragedy and quality race car drivers are not in infinite supply.

But enough about what they call racing today. Let’s go back and visit Mosport around the mid to late 60’s and early 70’s when I used to go there and arrive on a Thursday to set up our campsite for all of our group to camp down around the base of turn 2 in the infield. Only one public washroom on the grounds that I can remember and they did supply some free firewood that was the first trim from sawmills off of logs. The events before race day were all part of the experience and folks at Mosport were mostly well-behaved not like at Watkins Glen where they threw beer bottles at police and sacrificed someone’s car to the “bog” and just burned it to the ground. But it was at the time of the Vietnam War and young guys of draft age had a reason to party down hard since that could be their final party with friends, so I can understand that behaviour.

There are several great viewing spots at Mosport due the fact that the roughly 2 and one half mile track is cut through rolling hills in the countryside and it is not like many other tracks anywhere in the world. I saw all manner of types of cars from Formula One, Can-Am aka Group 7, USAC Stock Cars, USAC/Indy cars and all the levels of other race classes that were always part of a full racing weekend. Driver’s names included Mario Andretti, Sterling Moss, Denis Hulme, Bruce McLaren, A.J. Foyt, Al and Bobby Unser, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Jim Hall, Bill Brack, George Eaton, Graham Hill, Lothar Moshenbacher, Mark Donahue, Parnelli Jones, and few hundred others that made this track their playground for a weekend.

And a full racing weekend package was about $35 dollars with pit privileges. On the Thursday you were often part of the unofficial crew where you might get lucky enough to roll a few Formula One Tires to the paddock area to help out one of the understaffed crews. It always amazed me that the wheel and slick weighed little more than a couple of basketballs and that was all that was in contact with the track pavement.

And you would party at night around a campfire and meet other folks and watch the ad hoc hillclimb event going up the hill in the infield of turn 2 with the crowd lined up on either side of the straight path to the top of the hill. And they were all quite nimble of foot when one of the “competitors” would start to lose that straight line to the top and no one ever seemed to get hurt. Like a giant ant ballet when they would move out of the way. It was so much fun in those days.

And you would watch practice, walk around the track on the actual pavement when practice was over and the rubber from the tires was still very warm and you enjoyed all the sights sounds and smells that were just everywhere. It kind of had a bit of Woodstock- feel to it for sure.

Let’s take a tour around the track and it starts at the start finish line, of course, where the straightaway starts to descend a little into a sweeping right hander and flattens out into a nice straight away that starts to rise just a bit until it reaches probably the toughest corner on the track which is turn 2 where the drivers crest the blind curve and then start a huge sweeping left hander that is more like a roller coaster decent because it drops quite dramatically into a very fast straight that ends at another almost hairpin right hander (maybe ¾) and follows another short straightaway where the drivers get another roller coaster ride via a short left hander that bottoms out in a valley and climbs up to the most famous turn on the course which is turn 5 or Moss Corner named after the legendary Sterling Moss.

Moss Corner starts out with a very tight right hander that flattens out quite quickly and then drops away a bit (sort of a fall away) as the driver completes the final part of the hairpin turn only to have to make another small left turn adjustment to set up the ride up the hill on what is called the Mario Andretti Straightaway which is sort of appropriate since Mario is indeed of Italian origin. 

The straightaway sort of resembles what would happen if you took a wet piece of spaghetti and through it on a board that had a few different sized rocks under it supporting that board because the “straight” follows the contours of the land very tightly. At just about the point that a car would reach maximum speed at the track, the climb up the hill completely flattens out and sort of weaves to the right a bit and cars can get a little light at that point so the giant wings on the good old 7-litre (427 cu. in.) Can Am beasts were a sight to behold there.

Then the car would settle down into a long sweeping right hander and then a short left hander followed by a short straight that had the pit entrance lane on the right. The straight would then rise into the final right hander (turn 10 I think, by then the numbers got confused with all the minor bends in the Andretti straight) and started to flatten out on the final stretch to the finish line.

There really was no best place to watch any race. The best way to handle that was to walk the entire track on the outside of the track since there were fewer guardrails then and mostly just those large square wire fences you see on farms to keep the cattle away from the roads. And you would undoubtedly run into a friend from university or a local drinking establishment because it was a very happening place back then.

You pretty much brought your own supplies which were lots of different food of course but you needed a good cooler that would keep ice for a few days for all the brown pops (and some ordinary pops) that went in and out of those old quality metal boxes which also worked very well as a campfire stool. I guess our deodorants were pretty good because there were no showers anywhere for the general public and I guess the smell of smoke on your clothes masks that somewhat.  

I miss the old place but am comfortable now watching it on television since I know the racing will be just disappointing to me now. I miss the days of the old CNE stock car races and Mosport where the drivers settled their problems the good old way—not on the track but in the pits. If you dumped someone you got unceremoniously dumped on your can with a well-placed fist or two and that was that. You didn't win at any cost because the drivers knew that the other drivers would just let them have at it because the wrong-doer had it coming to him.

I look forward to the day when Tony Stewart doesn't give in to the NASCAR folks and takes out the likes of Logano, Keselowski and now young Elliot in his “truck” which is just a square race car NASCAR so who are you fooling anyway.

Back in the day, you raced each other on the track and only did moderate beating and banging since the driver often funded and owned the racing team. You settled your differences in a sort of modified Marquess of Queensberry Rules. Well I guess racing gloves could be left on but they didn't need much effort to remove their driving helmet and there was no such thing as a Hans device for head and neck protection.

Racing has made several significant advances in safety and thankfully that has helped prevent many tragedies. Sadly Messrs. Donohue, Revson and Hulme (drivers in the first three cars in the top picture) were all lost in separate racing accidents and that was a risk they knew they were taking in their beloved sport. I can’t really remember any driver of that age purposely damaging a race car so it might also be just a sign of the times when mutual respect was more commonplace and a valued quality in any human being and of course the money wasn't like it is today so it was really just a sport. The business side still was in its infancy.

Funny how financial guys and lawyers seem to mess up sports so much now isn't it. I’d pay money to see Tony Stewart take down Gary Bettman, lol.

Microsoft Server Down on Labour Day Weekend

I was trying to update a couple of Windows 8 apps this weekend, the kind that you get for free or a small fee in the Windows store and I kept getting a busy signal.  Seems my little Microsoft Store tile had a little 2 that indicates I have two apps in there that you need to just update but I get the busy signal which is that little partial circle of dots that tells you something is sort of happening. And then you just get a rather formal notice that the site connection failed and to try again later.

I also tried giving Asparion Clock+ a review since I found that for a small charge you can upgrade this handy little app with multiple timers that run in the background in Windows 8 which have soft, melodic chimes and stuff that doesn’t make you jump out of your seat when they pop up on the screen. But since they are tied to the Microsoft store—Can’t do that!

And I wanted to test my Internet Server Provider's connection speed to test my theory that when the young ones get home, the download and upload times get much worse. Well, they all go back to school next week so I expect my local service to start fading sometime in the late afternoon when the schools all empty out and kids of all ages rush home to the safety of their computers and other related electronic toys that need Internet access. Kind of dumb when you think about it because they should be outside playing with their friends and enjoying the nice fall weather and burning off some of those gazillion calories that they ingest from all those fast food not-so-good-for-you-process-the-b’Jesus-out-of-something-that-approximates-real-food. And that app didn’t do anything because it is both a Microsoft product and tied to the store.

Well it is Labour Day Weekend in lots of places and so the folks in Redmond, Washington where Microsoft has its worldwide headquarters, are all probably at an annual picnic where Bill Gates is probably getting his speech ready for this year’s theme which could easily be “We can Sell Crap to Anybody” in reference to the not-so-user-friendly Windows 8 operating system.

Well I gave it a real try and even wrote a “be patient” story called How to avoid Frustration with Windows 8 but mine is quickly wearing thin. The Gates clan would have been better off bringing out Windows 8 as Windows for Tablets or Windows for Small Stuff where you might need that screen-finger-navigation-sign-language technique of using the stupid things. But for the PC they should have just left Windows 7 in place and be done with it. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it and if it is more like Windows 7 if it is working pretty well and functions as well as your toaster than just leave it alone.

And all the Mac users and Linux folks are all saying I told you so but there stuff isn't an option either since they have a rather short list of stuff you can do on those operating systems. So somebody out there should take advantage of this opportunity and come up with an operating system that can run a gazillion apps, doesn't crash, doesn't use some cockamamie finger dance method to interface with it and is just plain easy and reliable.

So Microsoft folks when you get back to work on Tuesday start working on launching Windows 9 which is a variation on Windows 7 that just cleans up what was already the best option out there for everyone. Hope you had fun on the weekend because you kind of screwed up a lot of other nice folk’s weekend with shutting down your website.

I think you need some work on providing better customer service and I am available at a reasonable price to help you with that if you like.

And after researching this some more I was able to determine that the server is not down at all but access to the store is not working and Microsoft provides no reason or feedback as to why. So the lack of proper customer support issue still applies.