Friday, December 14, 2012


Being a writer and a Canadian, I am legally obligated to voice up with my opinion on the NHL lockout.  (The Prime Minister called me at home, during dinner, and demanded that I do my civic duty).  I have a number of friends who work for the NHL and I must admit there is nothing funny about being laid off, working a reduced work schedule or not making money because there are no NHL games. 

That having been said, the most common question I get is "how long do you think the lockout will last?" Actually, the most common question is "what's wrong with you? But we'll keep it to hockey). Well, that is a great question.  I am not in the swanky board room with the league and the players, sipping bottled water like a snob, so I have no idea.  But I do think that we are in for a long, long lockout.  Am I confident it will be resolved quickly?  No.  Do I think that hockey will be damaged as a result? Yes.  Do I enjoy asking myself questions and then answering them?  Absolutely.

Before I talk about the NHL lockout, let's look at the NHL in general.

The problem with the NHL can be summed up in a few bullet points:
  • Niche appeal
  • Television Agreement
  • Revenue Sharing
That's it.  I will discuss each of the following.  I have locked the doors and there will be a test.

1. Niche Appeal: Do you ever wonder why little tiny nations like Ecuador always kick Canada's ass at soccer?  They have about half of the population of Canada, and yet it seems like they are all kicking balls.  Specifically our balls on the soccer field.  Well, let's take a look at a map.  Ecuador is located in a part of the world far, far way, known as "nice weather".  It is so nice in that part of the world that they think "toque" is a funny word.  They don't own mittens.  Their cars start.  Other than the political unrest and the crushing poverty, many of these tiny countries are quite lovely. 

How many people in the world play ice hockey?  There's Canada, the United States, and Russia.  There are some northern European countries.  There's three dudes in Australia who broke into a penguin exhibit at the zoo.  That's about it.  Let's look at the U-S-A!  U-S-A!  Lots of hockey players come from the U.S.  But chances are good that the parts of the United States that have alligators and Confederate flags are not spending their evenings playing ice hockey. 

This means that areas in warm-weather areas like Phoenix or Atlanta really struggle to have a full house to watch guys skate and punch each other, and chances are that they
always will.  The NHL can work like crazy to increase the popularity of hockey in the sun belt, but it will go from a 2 to a 3, whereas cities in Canada are almost always at a 7 or an 8. 

This leads us to the next point...

2. Television Agreement: Let's continue with the soccer analogy.  Do you ever have that one weird friend, during the World Cup, who watches all the soccer games on TV and actually seems to care?  This is the person who is riveted to the TV even though Honduras and The Republic of Sweaty Island are tied 0-0 and sixty-five minutes have elapsed.  What is going on?  Are they insane?  Have they lost the remote?  Why are they sitting there?

Chances are good that the crazy friend is actually someone who has played soccer.  If someone plays the sport, chances are good that they will watch the sport (or at least tolerate it on TV).  This is not always the case, but it definitely helps.  They can relate to what is going on the TV.  This is the primary reason why I don't watch gymnastics during the Olympics.  I haven't done a cartwheel wearing spandex in many, many weeks. 

The NHL will never have a huge television like the National Football League. Did you know that an NFL team could sell no tickets for their entire season, and they would still make a profit?  That is how big their TV deal is.  It's absurd.  It allows a rinky-dink city like Green Bay (pop. barely 100,000) to compete with New York (pop. over 8 million).  By the way, this only applies to football - if all the New Yorkers grabbed baseball bats and walked over to Green Bay and got into a big fight with Green Bay citizens, eventually the New Yorkers would win and take all the Wisconsin cheese. 

3. Revenue Sharing: The NHL has done better at this over the years, but it is nowhere close to sharing revenues like the National Football League.  And what about other revenue that is not directly related to hockey?  Fans spend money on all sorts of things - beer, parking, beer, hot dogs, t-shirts and beer.  If you are in Anaheim and spend some money at the hockey game, chances are that you are helping out the Anaheim Ducks and no one else. 

There is a revenue sharing agreement in place in the NHL where the top teams will pool some money together and send it to the bottom teams.  But if that was effective, why are southern teams (Phoenix, Atlanta, Florida) struggling so much?  Revenue sharing helps, but having a hockey team in Florida is like opening up a KFC kiosk at a vegetarian convention.  Selling out of chicken isn't really going to be the big concern.

Bottom Line: The NHL has some problems.  Feel free to be depressed, but don't be so depressed that you start watching soccer on TV.