Yesterday’s post on which players people liked best, different measures of best, and why was one I’d been meaning to do for long time. This is another one near to that cold place in the center of my chest most people keep a heart. The NHL, of all professional sports has the worst marketing. It’s not even close. I don’t like baseball, basketball lost any appeal it had when Charles Barkley retired, and football is a clear second favorite in pro sports. All of them, do the job of appealing to their audience better.
Forget who’s sponsoring what, forget the quality of broadcasters. Those two things are only slightly controllable. What can be controlled is how and which players are promoted. The never-a-negative-comment by the league about top players, even when they deserve it. Is silly. Sports, like any competitive business, certainly any entertainment has audience divides. If I’m watching football on Sunday and it’s not my local team playing I will be far more engaged in a game if I have someone to love and hate. Watching Ocho Cinco embarrass the Colts defense would be fantastic because Peyton Manning is a git, and Chad Johnson is one of the most engaging figures in sports today. Yes, there is certainly a case for loving or hating both players. But the NHL doesn’t get that. You’ll never turn on the NHL Network and see a half hour piece on dirty plays by Sidney Crosby. He’s been the anointed one since before he laced up the skates for the first time. Great, spiffy, but even Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky failed to gain universal appeal, and the media of their day would talk about it.
What set this off? A lot of things, of which Crosby is honestly the least. He’s immensely talented and whatever people feel about him he’s going to have appeal to many just based on that fact. What gets me is the NHL ignoring the players who have long NHL careers but aren’t in the top ten percent of some offensive stat.
Is a tweet I sent the other day, everyone else was talking about the combine, or if Burrows has had his rabies shot. It was a throwaway tweet while looking up former Bruins players. I expected maybe a replay from one of the local fans who saw him play in Boston, or possibly one of other markets he’s played in. The conversation it spurred was with an Edmonton Oilers fan. This is pretty amazing considering that for all the teams Metropolit has played for only one of them was a western conference team, and that was just for twenty games.
The Glen Metropolit’s, the Mike Greer’s, the P.J. Axelssons and their counterparts across the league play an important part in the game. They may never set a scoring record, but they are players people identify with. Often players like this will have long stretches in one city where they are greatly appreciated by the fans and yet, have you tried walking into the proshop for your local team and buying a jersey for anyone but the ‘top’ players? I’ve been into Bruins proshop and the list of jerseys available reads like the top payroll, plus Tyler Seguin. Yes, all these players are worth admiring, does it mean the NHL is making the most of its chances, no.
Given all the NHL teams that are starving for revenue, including the Manitoba-team-to-be-renamed-later, adding the extra 5-7% in jersey sales that aught to be easy money for adding more of the guys to the jersey wall should be a no brainier. Even the most hardcore of fans might buy two jerseys for one star. The ones with a little more money will have multiple jerseys. If the local proshop has six or seven different players, one is usually the goalie, generally the most overlooked position outside of Montreal, and three others are the top scorers, what happens to revenue when those players get injured long term and their popularity dips? What happens when they retire, get traded or their contract expires and they sign elsewhere? Joel Ward’s jersey probably isn’t going to top Shea Weber’s in sales in any given year they both play for the same team, but how much interest did Ward generate during the playoffs.
Yes, you can wait six or eight weeks to special order a jersey. But does anyone with the power to change that realize how insane that is? We don’t live in a society in which what is often an impulse purchase can wait a month and a half to two months, plus delays.