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’

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