Professional sports, as a business, strives to expand its following, either by adapting the game or creative marketing. The NBA, led by Adam Silver, has adapted the professional basketball experience by focusing on how to draw fan attention. The league stepped in when teams decided to bench their starters without notifying the public, who buys tickets.
On the contrary, the NHL has proven, time and again, that it remains out of touch with the masses. The announcement of Kid Rock at the All-Star is the latest decision prompting thought that the league is stuck in the late 90’s. When was the last time anyone said, “Kid Rock is my favorite musician?” Has it ever happened? I know I have never heard a soul mutter those words.
The NHL and Kid Rock
The All-Star game does not avoid controversy, evident from the league’s embarrassing decision regarding John Scott. Despite higher ratings, the NHL decided to prevent this situation from happening again. Viewership of the event tends to be low, begging the question, “who will see Kid Rock, anyways?” Backlash for the selection would be countered with defense by the league as well as NBC’s, Jeremy Roenick. NHL executives must not know that Kid Rock has performed with the Confederate Flag in the background. So, in the aftermath of athlete’s protesting inequality, Gary Bettman and company thought it was appropriate to show their ignorance. But they just had to have the best musician alive, right?
Kid Rock performing is only part of it. The competition committee mentioned, “you know how people complain about goals scored when players are offsides? We need to allow teams to challenge it.” I cannot say, whether in public or social media, that fans have droned on about offside goals. National media has mentioned the same yet the league thought their game, with little scoring, needs even less. And that everyone wants to wait 10 minutes while officials check if a skate is off the ice by half a centimeter. No wonder more people watched the NBA All-Star Game than Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
No Progression in Officiating and Discipline
The league also declared that slashing was a rampant problem in hockey and that on-ice officials must crack-down on it. And who remembers that officials were being informed to dial-back their slashing calls? And you thought the NHL was starting to get it, didn’t you? You also thought they would now learn what interference is?
Fans were also under the impression that hockey was going to hold players accountable for head shots and boarding. Dustin Brown being fined $10K for blatant boarding while Andrew Cogliano receives 2 games for interference again the NHL does not know its ass from its elbow. I feel for the players in this case as Bettman continues to take money from them while not protecting them or being consistent. They were probably to focused on the Boston University study linking hockey to CTE. They should just ask Marc Savard how he feels.
NHL executives, including Gary Bettman, state that hockey has never been better. They claim they care about what the fans think and respect the players. I wonder if John Scott felt respected when the league tried to prevent him from participating in the ASG. I wonder how minority hockey players feel when they choose a musician who stands in front of a symbol of inequality. And I wonder if fans are saying, “we are happy that the league has the offsides challenge.”
Unfortunately, the NHL, Gary Bettman, and the owners only care about one thing: our money. There are markets that they will get it regardless of how bad the teams are and they all know it. But the players you pay to see will continue to have their share taken away. Moral of this story: do not expect the NHL to respect fans or be aware of what want from the sport they pay for.
Yes, Bettman is an accountant and has been tasked with making money out of the NHL, that’s necessary in any business. But the extent to which this has been driven to is outrageous. Hockey is by far the least accessible of any of the big four sports and while individual teams have made good moves to combat this, the actions of Hockey Inc fly in the face of this.
The decision to ban NHL players going to the Olympics is the sad cherry on top of the cake of despair. Not just because players are being denied the chance to represent their countries on the biggest stage in the world, but the league is denying itself the same potential exposure. The All Star game is a glorified licence to print money, how else can you justify $140 for a jersey that’ll never be seen again? Same with the Stadium Series games. While I’m not against such games in principle; it’s hard to consider them a celebration of the game when ticket prices are hiked up, and there’s enough overpriced merch to top out a landfill. Which is likely where most of it will end up.
Finally, Kid Rock? How many must have said no before the NHL settled on Kid Rock? In what universe did somebody think ‘hey this guy will definitely sell some tickets, the young, impressionable target audience can definitely relate to this guy.’ I never thought I’d say this, but has anybody checked if Nickelback are available that night?