Time For TV to Take the Lead
Hockey is back – again.
Back from another labor abyss: the 3rd work stoppage since 1994, 2nd since 2004.
The first one? Who really remembers what that was about? But suffice it to say it had a lot to do with money. Then there was the 04-05 dispute that wiped out the entire season including the Stanley Cup Playoffs (First professional league to take that drastic and dark step). That one was about philosophical (and physical) changes to how the game was being played and how it should be played going forward, but mostly it was about money. This past Lockout: 100% about money.
So if money is the overwhelming factor in the NHL vs. NHLPA disputes then the solution to avoiding future work stoppages would seem to me to be either do away with greed in society, or, model the sports leagues that have money taken out of the equation (i.e. the NFL)
I agree, probably a much better shot at solution #2 than killing Gordon Gekko’s mantra.
The NFL is the best model because, well, it doesn’t shut down. In the NFL, they bargain and they posture and use replacement players and replacement refs, but they don’t lock their doors. Why would they? Makes no sense to shut off a cash spigot.
And how is it that every NFL team makes money?
A two-letter acronym.
Uh, yes. Television.
TV is football’s 32 teat cash cow. And they treat that bovine better than a Hindu in India treats a milk cow.
You could say Television runs the NFL, and because of that, the NFL runs like a count room in Vegas.
Just stop for a minute and consider how powerful the networks are in that sport.
- Games start when TV says they’ll start, and resume when TV says they’ll resume
- TV puts cameras wherever they want
- TV picks who they want to show
- TV gets its commercials in
- TV gets the interviews it wants
- TV gets its own exclusive sit downs with top players and coaches every week
- TV influences style of play (You don’t think today’s high scoring NFL is an accident, do you)
- TV gets timely and accurate injury reports
- TV constantly looks for innovative ways to present the game to the masses
And so on.
A good example of how beneficial it would be for hockey to ‘give itself’ to the creative whims of television is the work HBO has done in its 24/7 series. Sure it’s a documentary vehicle, very different than the arduous execution of live action games, but it shows how much better (and more profitable) the game and the personalities can be when age-old restrictions are melted away.
Going forward, the NHL and NHLPA ‘partnership’ can only sell so many more tickets, jerseys, hats, key chains, etc. The biggest potential growth area for them is eyeballs -television. But you can’t grow something if you don’t water it and allow it to flourish. Leave it in the same small pot, give it just enough water to survive, always keep it partially shaded and that growth will be, well, disappointing.
As long as ‘leaders’ shrug their shoulders and give in to that tired, generations-old maxim that ‘hockey is the best sport to see live but just doesn’t translate to television’, nothing will change. (I wish they’d ask me for suggestions)
And as long as the people with a big say in how the game is presented on television are the same people who are managing the sport, who are busy ‘trying not to lose’ both the game at hand and their own jobs, and are often hiding behind the skirt of ‘competitive disadvantage’, then sadly nothing will change.
Remember this: The National Hockey League is - at its core - the steward of the 30 franchises that comprise it, and the National Hockey League Players Association has the best interests of the 800+ players it represents as its reason for being. (Both caretakers of what they should be caretaking.) That said, they are rather myopic in their views of what is most important ‘for the game’.
Which brings us back to the repressed 3rd party in all of this; the numerous television outlets that have paid handsomely to broadcast NHL games and chronicle the ebb and flow of the players, teams and their fortunes
So just whom does television serve?
The Fan, that’s who.
TV works exhaustively to take the fan inside the game and behind the scenes, and give him or her information, innovation and entertainment that allows them to enjoy the sport at home, or nowadays – anywhere, at anytime.
TV – if doing its job and nurturing the relationship – gives the fan what he or she wants, not what it thinks he or she needs. The referendum on that is always very simple and immediate. CLICK.
And therefore, in a true twist of irony, over the next decade it may be the fan (TV) that rises to take THE power seat and ensure that in the future the game we all love is not the pawn that it has too often been.
Eyeballs equal dollars, and lots of shared television dollars equate to uninterrupted NHL hockey, which is what everybody desires. Everybody.
So fans, watch hockey, and we’ll try to do better.