NHL in crisis: How to solve a problem when there’s no pressure to act


The NHL — the other major professional sport — has a problem unrelated to moving the Islanders to Brooklyn.

The league is a distant fourth in most categories. In revenue it’s $11 billion for the NFL, $7 billion for MLB, $4.3 billion for the NBA and $3.3 billion for the NHL. How to split that is the crux of the owners’ weeks-long lockout of hockey’s players. No productive talks are in sight. Training camps would have to start Friday to maintain a full season, starting Nov. 2.

When it comes to television ratings — who’s actually paying attention to sports — the NHL falls even farther behind. If you add in the PGA, NCAA football and NASCAR and related car racing, it’s melting. In 2010-11, ratings for major league championships — granting the Super Bowl untouchable, exalted status — ranged from the NBA’s 10 to the NHL’s 3.3.

In fact, not a lot of people south of the Canadian border, and even fewer south of the Mason-Dixon line, care about the National Hockey League. When the NFL locked out its players last year, ESPN and other sports news outlets provided breathless daily bulletins. Raise your hand out there, all of you, if you even knew the NHL wasn’t playing hockey yet.

What if the crisis keeping hockey off the ice so far this season destroys half or more of the season? Does anyone outside of Detroit, Buffalo, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary care? Do fans in those cities really care? Heck, it’s a record 79 degrees in Buffalo today, hardly Oct. 25 hockey weather. We’re gorging on the World Series [involving Hockeytown USA], the NFL at mid-season and whether Lebron and company will two-peat. Even a great hockey town like Boston cares more about the BoSox’s new manager.

Wait, this just in: President Obama weighed in today and urged the owners and players to solve this crisis. Hmmm, can Mitt Romney, he of the Salt Lake City Olympics, be far behind?

But really. What if there were a crisis and no one cared? The owners want the players to concede more revenue back to the teams. The players have a 50-50 split gained in the last negotiations. Why would they give that up? And, more crucially for those of us who are not billionaires or millionaires: Are fans going to stand for a season that’s longer than 82 games, ticket prices as high as a used car or a playoff season stretching into July to pay for a new financial agreement?

Snore.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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