Want to save hockey? This is how you do it
Another offseason. Another batch of stay or go rumors to keep the Coyotes fan up at night.
More interested ownership groups, more mystery investors, more Glendale city council meetings, more cities trying to entice a move, more Goldwater Group pressure, more “wish we’d have never built the damn thing,” more hands-tied piecing together of a roster, and it all unfortunately adds up to more headaches than a professional hockey team in southern America is worth.
If you haven’t noticed, the National Hockey League has been in crisis mode for the better part of a decade. There have been more NHL work stoppages in the last year than Amanda Bynes meltdowns. And the playoff television ratings have struggled to top “Cupcake Wars”… Until now, that is.
This year’s Stanley Cup Finals ratings have been impressive. It helps when two major American cities with rich hockey traditions meet up, but this year’s numbers don’t solve the bigger issue.
Over the course of the last five seasons, at least five franchises geographically located in Southern America have finished in the bottom third of the league in attendance. When the league was in such a hurry to expand, the fear was that the South wasn’t ready to support hockey. Something new? Of course something exciting and new receives support. “Pappy, pass the Sun Tea, I’m fixin to watch some ice soccer.” A winner? Yes, everyone loves a winner. “T’row another rat on the ice, mang! Miami loves hockey!”
It’s just not working. And even if Glendale finds a way to keep the Coyotes, they won’t have solved the problem, which is why I believe it’s high time the NHL tried something drastic.
Eventually, all professional leagues will adopt a global format. The NHL needs to be first, and for several reasons.
1) The league could use the marketing boost a bold decision like this can provide.
2) The league already consists of a strong international presence. More than a third of NHL players are from 14 different countries outside North America.
3) If American interest in the sport is what’s suffering, introduce patriotism. Let Americans not only root for an American team, but also root against Russians and watch the ratings soar.
So, here’s my proposal as Rogue Hockey Commissioner.
STEP 1: Eliminate eight NHL franchises. Florida, Nashville, Carolina, Columbus, Anaheim, Winnipeg, New Jersey or NY Islanders and yes, Phoenix.
STEP 2: Begin an eight-team European division. Based upon national interest in hockey and strong economic status, I’ve chosen as my model the following areas: Norway, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Prague, London, Moscow and Denmark/Netherlands. Only Russia doesn’t rank in the top 31 economically, but the nation clearly makes up for it with as intense a love for hockey as any country in the world not named Canada. REMEMBER: Patriotism evokes emotion. Emotion sells.
STEP 3: Create two eight-team American divisions, and one six-team Canadian division. With our four divisions, top two teams make the playoffs from each division, the first true WORLD championship tournament can be held in major professional sports. The excitement generated from a European title match, a Canadian title match, two American title matches, and then a four-team World Tournament would be HUGE!
STEP 4: Blow up the rosters. Seriously, start fresh. Each franchise would be allowed to sign up to 3 players to their roster based upon the players’ ties to the region. In other words, Sidney Crosby could sign with Pittsburgh or Montreal or anywhere else they serve Molson at the intermissions. Ninety players signed. Everyone else would be placed in a player draft. Talk about your major sporting events. The league could feed off free agency and draft news for months, stealing some headlines from the other sports during an offseason that normally remains silent as the dead.
STEP 5: Annual tours to the abandoned cities to showcase your product in NHL arenas and in front of diehard hockey fans who will always the love the sport. Vince McMahon made professional wrestling the success it is today because he gave cities just enough exposure to his main attractions to leave the wanting more.
So, the schedule would look like this: each American franchise (for example) would make one trip per year to Europe, two trips per year to Canada, one trip per year to tour Anaheim and Phoenix, one trip per year to tour Carolina, Nashville and Miami, and one trip per year to Columbus, NY/NJ and Winnipeg.
This is it — the future! You hate it now, I know, but you’ll thank me when I not only save hockey, but make it bigger than ever!