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Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management. Photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and nature who is exploring the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found.
Author and Blogger. They are not the same thing. Sports occasionally spoken here, especially hockey. Veteran of Sun, Apple, Palm, HP and now Infoblox, plus some you've never heard of. They didn't kill me, they made me better.
Person with opinions, and not afraid to share them. Debate team in high school and college; bet that's a surprise.
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Monthly Archives: January 2007
Then I remembered the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, a handy way of peeking back through the curtain of time to see websites as they used to be. Sure enough, In the Crease is in there, and in one of the oldest issues they have captured there, is a piece I wrote after getting my first press pass to an NHL game. This wasn’t just any old game, however, it was March 26, 1997, when the Colorado Avalanche came to Detroit to face the Red Wings, in Claude Lemiuex’s first visit to Hockeytown after the infamous Kris Draper hit.
We should probably remember that there was a time before the web, also. Laurie and I ran the first San Jose Sharks list (and at the max, about 35 hockey mailing lists), which came into existence before San Jose actually played a game. Early on there were a number of writers doing very detailed write-ups of games (most notably Nelson Lu, who was effectively the list’s “beat writer” for years). We’ve had a quiet and mostly positive relationship with the Sharks for years (more active when Matt Levine was with the team, but we still keep in touch, so to speak). It was in 1994, I think, that we first showed this interesting new thing to the sharks called a browser and a web page and suggested that the team that lived in silicon valley could use it to reach out to fans. They did (not through us….), and I believe they were the first NHL team with any kind of web site.
When Laurie and I ran the web site for the Spiders (1995-96), and hosted the Icedog’s web site (written and maintained by a friend down in LA), we both had full access press passes and photo passes, and Laurie also did some photo work down in Long Beach for the dog’s web site.
So this stuff’s been going on for a long time. It’s great to see bloggers hitting the mainstream and being taken seriously by teams; I still think that both teams and bloggers need to be realistic and understand that simply hanging out a shingle on a blog doesn’t make you qualified or worthy for getting special privileges, but there are definitely some writers on the net doing a much better job than many of the hockey “writers” that happen to get paychecks.
Me, part of me kinda wishes it was 10 or 15 years ago, when we were younger and more motivated to try to make things happen. today, honestly, I much prefer enjoying hockey games than working them, and our seats are a damn sight better than the ones in the press box. (this is one reason I don’t do the in-depth referee critiques I used to do; I got tired of taking notes at games and doing the research to make the critiques worth reading; be wary of turning your points of joy into jobs, boys and girls….)
I still have one project I’d like to do some day, At one point, Matt Levine approved it, if I could get the book contract, but I decided to focus on my computer work again. Now that I’m moving back into my writing again, maybe it’s time to dust it off and see if it’s worth doing. Hell, these days, it’d make a really fun set of articles for the Sharks web site instead of (or as well as) a book…. THAT might be fun….
Checking Line » Blog Archive » Bettman’s Biggest Failure:
Now let’s get to where he actually messed up…
Ultimately, Bettman’s biggest failure as commissioner was that he didn’t achieve what he did during the lockout years earlier… and that goes for everything from the salary cap, to revenue sharing, to the changes in the rule book.
The game on the ice was allowed to slip for too long. Defense will always ‘win’ and coaches will always coach defense first. The league allowed scoring to drop too much before doing anything to counteract this effect. The changes they made during the lockout were years in the making and it’s important that they realize now that if they don’t do anything again for the next 10 years the game will again get ‘boring’. And fans need to recognize that being proactive is good for the sport, not the bad thing many so-called traditionalists make it out to be.
Off the ice, the league was unstable financially for too long and, despite what some people will tell you, the financial landscape did lead to a competitive imbalance. Expansion would be viewed as less of a failure if markets like Miami were more in a position to be competitive for their first 13 years of existence.
This is a valid point, but if people look back to the lockout of 1994-95, the owners came out of that stoppage with a CBA where they thought they’d “won” and fixed the problems. It quickly became clear that they hadn’t, as the agents found ways around things like the salary cap for rookies, and arbitration escalated salaries.
There was a later time when the league had the option to open the CBA (1999, I think) and chose to extend it, instead. Was that a mistake? Yes. but it was also, it seemed, a practical reality. It has to be remembered that the labor stoppage wasn’t about the “league versus players” per se. It was more complicated than that, in that there are two factions among owners: the high revenue teams like Toronto and the Rangers, and the low-revenue teams like Calgary and Buffalo. Until the pain became bad enough that even the higher revenue teams agreed that something needed to be done, there was no reason to open the CBA, because politically, the owners wouldn’t be resolved and unified (enough) to get the changes needed to REALLY fix things. (it’s unclear they still have, although early indications are encouraging).
So it’s no failure if you come out of a fight thinking you won (and didn’t), and then later wait until you know what has to be done AND have the backing of your side to make it happen. opening the CBA early, only to have a faction of the owners agree to a new CBA that doesn’t solve the problem — well, it doesn’t solve the problem. probably makes it worse.
What this really comes down to is that you have factions of owners more interested in their own success than the league’s success (and yes, that is stupid and shortsighted but Bettman can’t fire an owner, he works for them), and the process Bettman and the varous ownership factions had to work through to generate concensus and actually unite the owners long enough to make change possible. And while that took a while, it looks like Bettman finally succeeded at it.
And it’s no failure waiting on a fight until the odds favor you. Unless of course, your business fails in the meantime. but the real look of the internal politic among the owners indicates taht it had to get pretty desperate before some of the owners would come along for the ride and admit they had to agree to some of the changes.
And bettman probably deserves more credit than he’ll get for getting that group of 30 rich, ego-driven, successful and stubborn businessmen to all agree about anything, much less about enough things to get this new CBA in play….
As I was processing this image in Aperture, I started to think a bit about the way I work through photos in that application. In particular, I was thinking about the way I balance editing decisions between evaluating the technical aspects of a photograph and the emotional impact.
I realised that I’m way too obsessed with the technical. One of the tools at my disposal that contributes to this is Aperture’s loupe tool. With the flick of a key, you’ve got a 100% view of the tiniest detail in your image. It’s very easy to detect a fractionally missed focus or slight motion blur in any image without first thinking about what the image really shows.
That’s not to say that the feature isn’t useful, or that such matters are irrelevant, but it has certainly led me down a path of technical obsession that I associate more with amateur camera magazine critiques than with the images I find personally compelling. Take one look at National Geographic, or the VII archives. You’ll find ultra-grainy, motion-blurred images.
i went through the same epiphany recently. I think this is part of the maturation of a photographer; It’s easy to focus on the technical (i.e. geeky) aspects of photography, and lord knows, photography is almost as much fun as scuba or computers when it comes to encouraging toy buying. But at some point, you start seeing what’s behind the technical details, you start seeing the whole of the photo, not just the pieces.
I’ve had a few of these ephiphanies. I remember reading articles and books that talked about sharpening, and looking at before and after, and going “huh?” — and I remember the day I looked at photos and going “oh. THAT’s what sharpening does”. Before, I could tell (some of the time) that one photo was clearer than another, but in most cases, sharpening is a really subtle improvement; you cna tell, but can you tell why? And then, suddenly, I could see it.
The second ephiphany was when I could really see OVERsharpening. And I think most photographers go through a “if a little is good, a lot is better” phase. I also have gone through a “let’s kick the saturation up a notch” phase. so… All of this is, I think, part of the process of really learning effective, quality photography. And I think what digital photographers are learning (or have learned, or will learn) is that despite all of the digital aspects of photography today, it’s still a very analog discipline, and the technical underpinnings are exactly that — underpinnings.
I’ve been trying to think about how to respond to Tom. Whether to. I’m not sure his CNHL needs any response, but I feel it deserves one. But not a mean or angry one.
Tom Benjamin’s NHL Weblog: Vive la CNHL Libre:
It’s too late to stop making it worse? It’s past time to stop digging, to climb out of the hole and to bury both Gary Bettman and the American Dream. It’s past time for the game to return to it’s roots. It’s past time for the owners of the Canadian teams to acknowledge that the American market has been lost and to decide that it is far better to be a very large frog in a small pond than to drown in the American ocean.
It is time for the Canadian teams to seize the day and to separate. To secede. To fire on Fort Sumter. To stop subsidizing the American market. To form a more perfect union, the Canadian National Hockey League.
Revenues – and profits – per team would take a large leap forward even if they shorten both the regular season and the playoffs. If the American NHL survives, great. There can be genuine competition for talent between the two leagues. It is not hard to imagine a playoff (perhaps including a couple of European leagues?) in an international fight for the Stanley Cup. Gary Bettman can even keep trying to make his grand plan a reality. Good luck to him.
I don’t know if Tom realizes it or not, but he’s effectively picked up the call of Quebec separatism and mapped it to Canadian hockey. Canadian hockey is special. It’s distinct. It’s better off on its own, instead of as part of the larger hockey ecosystem. There are aspects of this — that are frankly true. it’s an emotionally powerful argument, one that I expect every Canadian hockey fan can relate to to some degree.
But like the Quebec “situation”, the problem is in the details. And the funding. I tried to take Tom at face value. I started analyzing the proposal and assumptions “Revenues — and profis — per team would take a large leap forward even if they shorten both the regular season and playoffs”.
Is that really true? Think about it. Let’s assume, for the moment, that the CNHL splits off. Add two teams: Winnipeg and Halifax (to make Ron MacLean happy). That gives you four western teams, four eastern teams. two conferences, no divisions.
So — how does revenue go up here? you add two teams, the TV contract from CBC (assuming it doesn’t go down) gets splits 8 ways instead of six (footnote 1). But in reality, Tv revenues go down — after all, we’re cutting the # of games. Fewer games, fewer ads shown. fewer ads shown, less ad revenue, lower payments to the league, which now get split 8 ways. Also, currently 2 canadian teams are (from best data I can find) paying into revenue sharing, while 8 US teams are. Two canadian teams (edmonton and Calgary) seem to draw on revenue sharing, to 7 US teams. So assuming revenue sharing doesn’t change, Montreal and Toronto will subsidize Calgary and Edmonton, but the overall share will go down, because there won’t be any US funds and more US teams were contributing to revenue sharing than taking back out…
Season: how about playing the other conference home and home (8 games total), and playing in conference — how many times? 7? 8? how soon will you get tired of seeing Vancouver, anyway? 7 x 3 is 21 games, plus 8 is 29. Okay, three home and home in the other conference (24), plus 21, is 54 games. or we could go 62, but I can hear teams whining about travel costs already. Vancouver flying to Halifax and back four times? fun!
54 games is a 35% reduction in # of games. 62 is a 25% reduction. that’s a loss of 1/4 of your gate receipts, and probably a loss of 1/4 of your TV revenues, and a reduction (but less than that) for other secondary revenues like boards and signage. But since the league is basically gate + CBC revenues, as the number of games go down, so will revenues, and so will salaries. Only thing that won’t go down is ticket prices.
Players: Tom, I think, is making the basic assumption that Canadians will go home and play in the CNHL, and Americans will play in what’s left of the NHL, until it blows up and fails. He doesn’t really talk about the Europeans, but there seems to be an assumption they’ll go home and play in Europe. Now Canada can staff up an 8 team league fine — no question. But he left a little bomb in his statement “competition for players”.
Anyone remember the WHA? Probably not. It’s a dim memory for most of us, but it was also the last time open competition for players happened; and what happened was salary inflation and illogical contracts: even more illogical than Alex Daigle’s deal was. Today, there’s competition for 2nd tier players between the AHL and the European leagues — in practice, the European leagues are winning most of those fights now. Players will go where the money is.
Tom seems to be envisioning an alliance of leagues based more or less on national lines, with some kind of “world cup” competition for the Stanley cup. Unfortunately, the IIHF does that today, and as we can see with problems like the russians and the transfer fees, not very well. Split the US and Canada in two, and put outright salary competition in place — and hockey falls into absolute chaos. Things like what we saw with Malkin would become common. Someone ask Igor Larionov if he thinks this would be a good idea…
No, more likely: the American owners who have deep pockets without US TV dollars will still have deep pockets. They’re paying these salaries today; they’re going to lose paying in a chunk of revenue sharing to the canadian teams, deepening the pockets some. With a 20-24 team league (compared to 6-8 teams in canada), a 70-75 game schedule, even an 80 game schedule is still very possible. that means that the net loss in revenue on the American side is a lot less than the net loss in revenue on the Canadian side.
End result: the Americans, no TV contract to speak of notwithstanding will be a lot more capable of sustaining high salaries than Canadian teams; figure a 10% loss of revenue to a 25% loss of revenue. So the logical result is that the CNHL has, overnight, turned into a AAA league.
Tom has, whether he wants to admit it or not, just invented the CFL. The US NHL may not have the national TV dollars — but that doesn’t mean they’re poor. And the US will still end up with the larger league, the better funded league, and the league with most of the premier hockey venues (NY, Detroit, chicago, boston), excluding Toronto and Montreal. With equal or better salaries, you can expect the better players to come to the US NHL. With the better players in the US, the CNHL will struggle to compete; of the three major reasons a player might choose one league over the other (“1) more money”, “2) playing against the best”, “3)playing for the home country, or near home”) Canada loses two out of three. And as all the Europeans in the NHL today shows – the third one isn’t a major draw.
The reality is — Canada needs the US in the NHL, warts and flaws and all. In reality, with or without a major US TV contract, there are a lot of rich old pharts down here in the states willing to put up money because they also happen to love Canada’s game — and where necessary, subsidize it and throw money at it to make sure it succeeds on both sides of the border. And they depend on normal people — people like me, and Laurie, and every other American who buys a hockey ticket every year — to help fund their love of the game. Lose the US, and you don’t have the magic of Tom’s CNHL. you have the CFL, arguing about what the quota for native players vs. imports should be every year.
A couple of data points that are somewhat relevant here, or at least interesting (to me). (*footnote 2)
Where 25 years ago 80% of the NHL roster spots were filled by Canadians, that number is just over 50% now. In the 2006 draft, Canadians were no longer the majority of players drafted — 83 Canadian, 120 not (half of those U.S, followed by Sweden, Russia and Finland). In a way, it’s clear that hockey is no longer JUST Canada’s game; it’s a world game, of which Canada is a very special part of it.
The last season the NHL was Canadian only was in — 1923. For the 1924 season, the league expanded into Boston. (The REAL original six, by the way, is arguably Hamilton, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, the Monreal Maroons and Boston; the current “original six” is really just a marketing hook, it’s the “six franchises that have successfully not kicked off yet”). In 1925, Hamilton went away, and Pittsburgh and the New York Americans joined. In 1926, the league expanded to ten teams, split into two conferences, and added the NY Rangers, teh Chicago “black hawks”, and the Detroit “Cougars”. We now have six teams in the US, and four teams in Canada (with the NY Americans evening out the Canadian division) — and never again would the league have as many (or more) canadian teams. So “Canada’s game” has actually had more franchises in the US than Canada for over 90 years now. The “Black Hawks” became the “Blackhawks”, the “Cougars” became the “Red Wings”, and various teams went away — and that’s how we ended up with the “original six” we honor today.
The Pittsburgh Pirates isn’t one of them. The great depression hit, and the owners of the pirates ran into financial difficulties. After the 1929-30 season, they “temporarily” moved the team to Philadelphia while they waited for a new arena to be built in Pittsburgh, where they played one year as the Quakers, and then went on hiatus, never to be seen again. Pittsburgh, in fact, wouldn’t return to the NHL until the civic arena was built in 1961 and the NHL brought the penguins to life as part of expansion in 1967. The civic arena is the building that now needs to be replaced — or the Penguins will again leave town, but I doubt they’ll call themselves the Kansas City Quakers. (Philadelphia didn’t see hockey again until the WHA moved the Miami Screaming Eagles (who never played a game in Miami) to Philly for 1972-72, where they played one season, then became the Vancouver Blazers for two years, and then the Calgary Cowboys for one final kick at the can. Two years later, they faded to black, and Philly didn’t get an NHL tam until expansion in 1967, Vancouver in 1970, and Calgary in 1980.
(footnote 1: this unfortunately reminds me of the old joke: a woman goes into a pizza parlor and orders a large pepperoni. The man asks “do you want it cut into 6 or 8 pieces?” she answers: “6. I can’t eat 8″)
(footnote 2: there will be a pop quiz. class dismissed)
1) take cats to vet for checkup
2) winter garden cleanup
3) put the rest of the christmas stuff back in storage
4) sharks game saturday night
5) go birding on sunday.
6) work on “outsider’s guides”
1) tear apart bedroom to find cats
2) take cats to vets for checkup
3) decide as long as bedroom is torn up it’s a good time to shampoo carpets
4) find out the carpet shampooer has died a hero (hey, it moved here with us from Mountain View….)
5) off to target for a new carpet shampooer
6) decide to watch the sharks from home — if we stay awake
7) we did (barely)
8) decide to stay home and take it easy, work on “outsider’s guide”
9) spend hours wandering around groups.google.com going “gee, did I really write THAT crap?”
10) afternoon nap
11) catch up on Mythbusters episodes
12) realize it’s time to crash…
How things change. Anyone who knows cats understands how the weekend went sideways. ours have this innate, psychic ability to know that the cat boxes have been pulled from storage, even if they’re not able to see that they’re moved. at some point, Archie will look at one or the other of us and canter off; we now know that he’s headed into hiding, and he usually grabs Manon and she runs off with him. If we’re lucky, it’s under the bed (if it’s not, it’s in the garage or storage room, and then we’re in big trouble)
extricating them involves tearing off all the bedsheets, then leaning the mattress and box springs against the wall with the door and closet closed and locked, and then grabbing the cats (who have welded their claws into the carpet) and stuff them in boxes. If we’re lucky, we can do this in about 20 minutes… We made the vets with 5 minutes to spare….
One of the things we discovered was that quiet, lovable Manon has another side to her. See, in the past, since Apple had christmas week off, we’d head down to my family in LA and board the animals, and the annual checkup and shots happened magically when we were gone. We’ve actually never been IN the room during a checkup since Manon’s kitten check. This year, with everything changed, we had to do the checkup ourselves.
Manon was mostly cooperative; until the vet went to take her temperature (I’ll stop a second while you ponder how cats get their temperatures taken; it’s not under the tongue). She just made it quite clear that wasn’t going to happen, and the vet smiled and declared it optional. More amusingly, when we checked her files, we found out teh ONLY time her temperature has been taken was her kitten checkup. Shots? Mildly annoying? Thermometer? not a chance.
Archie wasn’t happy, but he let us do the necessary.
Both are healthy, both are now up to date on shots and boosters. Manon is 14.5 pounds, and about a pound heavy. Archie’s 12+, and right on. All is well in the world.
And, as long as we have the bedroom torn apart, we can shampoo the carpets and get under the bed easily. No problem!
yeah, right. ohwell. I’ll finish the shampooing of the rest of the house next weekend…
I had a great time wandering through the old blog postings and the old USENET stuff today. wasn’t what I’d planned, but what the heck. Nice to run into some folks (virtually) that I haven’t seen in years. Interesting that I can go back 20+ years and document that I’ve averaged a posting a day that entire time. (note I said interesting; good? useful? productive? god knows…)
And we’re mostly up to date on TV again, except for the last two episodes of Battlestar, which I’d probably say was the best written thing on TV if it wasn’t for Dr. Who coming out of britain… just finished viewing 2nd season from Sci-Fi earlier in the week, and the way they ended year two blew me away. I’ll miss you, Rose Tyler. (now, how do they top this?)
Google Groups: net.singles:
Actually, I think the question of ‘What is love’ is really two questions.
The unspoken side of it is what I will deal with first.
What isn’t Love
Love isn’t living happily ever after. Love isn’t a solution, a way of life,
or an end of problems. Love isn’t never having to say you’re sorry (the man
that said that should be shot, he obviously has never loved). Love isn’t a
do all, a cure all, a see all, a know all, or a remedy for baldness, hay
fever, or hormonal imbalances. Love isn’t music whenever she enters the
room, marriage ceremonies, sex, children, rings, orgasms, or vows. Love
isn’t well understood, well defined, or (it seems, unfortunately) properly
What is Love
Love is trust. Love is letting someone inside that wall, where all the deep
dark secrets of your life are. Love is allowing yourself to be weak when
you can’t be strong, to be vulernable when you can’t be untouchable, to
allow someone the opportunity to really dig deep into your psyche and hurt
you because you know they won’t. Love is caring, and sharing, and wanting
your hopes and fears to be known by others. Love is laughing at the good,
crying with the bad, commiserating with the sad. Love is being there, in
body, mind, spirit, thought, or being. Love is hard work– it doesn’t solve
problems, it creates new problems; problems that you want to solve, but
solve together instead of alone. Love doesn’t happen, love is nurtured,
like a fine rose. If not properly fed and watered, love dies, just as a
vine will die of neglect. Love doesn’t cling, but love is the glue that
binds two very different people into a single being that is nothing like
either, but a lot like both. Love is stroking the hard, grabbing the
fingers, smiling, laughing, crying. Love is looking into each others eyes,
and knowing, without speaking. Love is all the joys and pains and hope and
fears and successes and failures and pasts and futures of two people
congealed into a single energy that allows them to share with each other in
ways others can’t understand. Love is knowing that you have something that
can be freely given, but never have less of; shared, and multiplied; but
never, never taken, stolen, or destroyed.
I think, though, that the most important definition is this:
Someday, some poor student working on a Ph.D. is going to try to explain USENET and how it operated (and didn’t) as part of their thesis; maybe they’ll be crazy enough to look at it in the wider context of the birth of the Internet in its current form, and whatever it decides to become.
I doubt there’s a better explanation for what it was like to live through USENET from start to finish than the USENET Olympics. Scott Forbes had this wonderful ability to both put things in perspective and make them horribly funny at the same time, without ever taking things very seriously. Sort of like Dave Berry, sort of like Scary Movie, finding the essence within the silly.
So running into this again today was truly a trip back to the past for me; for most of you, for all I know, this is going to be gibberish….
(and, in fact, I did actually use the phrase “they aren’t rules, they’re guidelines” in the last couple of weeks, and then laughed a bit. Much to the confusion of the people I was with at the time; I declined to explain then, because that was a rathole not worth travelling. But the answer is actually here in Scott’s piece…..)
Google Groups: rec.arts.sf.misc:
[Chuq and Peter are walking away from Lawrence Stadium on a
road made entirely of asbestos bricks.]
>Isn’t there SOMETHING you can tell me about this place, other
>than the obvious “Wizard of Oz” parallels?
>You must find the answers for yourself. There is no other way.
>Who or what is at the end of the road? Emerald City? The Wizard?
>It will all be clear to you when we reach the end of our quest.
>Look, all I want to do is change the Guidelines. Why is –
[There is a terrifying high-pitched wail, trailing off into
frequencies beyond human hearing, and filled with terrible purpose.
A Rulewraith on a winged steed descends from the sky, blocking
the path before Peter and Chuq. The Rulewraith looks suspiciously
like Jose Martinez:]
>THE GUIDELINES ARE INFLEXIBLE! THEY MUST BE FOLLOWED TO THE
>EXACT LETTER WITHOUT ACCOMODATION! THEY MUST NOT BE BENT OR
>ALTERED OR MODIFIED! YOU WILL NEVER CHANGE THEM!
[Horrified by the evil in the words of the Rulewraith, Peter
stands frozen in sheer terror. Chuq calmly pulls a bucket of
water out of his cloak and throws it at the Rulewraith.]
>AIYEE! I’M MELTING!
[The Rulewraith dissolves, leaving an inky puddle. Peter stares
at the puddle, then stares at Chuq.]
>Please do not say those words again.
Blast from the past: January, 1984….
I have found what I think is a great quote to keep in mind the next time
you want to flame someone for bad spelling:
You can’t help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he
doesn’t spell it right; but spelling isn’t everything. There are days
when spelling Tuesday simply doesn’t count.
– Piglet, about Owl
Winnie-The_Pooh by A.A. Milne
He has a point. There ARE days when spelling Tuesday doesn’t count, like
It’s taken a little while, but it’s starting to sink in: NHL expansion is a possibility.
There are subtle hints popping up many places.
While I’m not ruling it out, I think the fans are way over-reacting to this. Bob McKenzie on XM today echoed that thought noting that yes, some discussion about expansion probably will occur at the all star GM meeting, but he felt it was far from a front-burner item. I don’t see the NHL as being all that interested in expansion. the idea that was driving this, the two conference/four-division schedule realignment, seems dead, and the two options being looked at most seriously at the GM meeting in Dallas is “do nothing” and “go back to how it was”, not an unbalanced set of divisions. So that pressure (which was arbitrary and subjective anyway) seems dead.
The other reason why I don’t think the league is hot to expand: even if Pittsburgh stays in Pittsburgh (and everyone is making serious positive noises — but there’s no deal, and it doesn’t seem imminent; there are too many ways it can fall apart still), there’s the recent public noises out of Nashville.
So, think of how many cities are able to take on an NHL team quickly, if a team needs to move. Think about the number of teams you might need to move if things go wrong or don’t improve. the NHL isn’t going to expand into cities it’s reserving as new homes for possible moving teams. You also need owners willing to own the teams in these cities.
Cities that can handle an NHL team today: Kansas City and Houston. Maybe (very Maybe) Portland, OR. Any other city would need to build a building. The only one on the “probable” docket in the US is whatever happens in Seattle. You have Balsillie in Kingston, and you have wishful thoughts in Winnipeg and Quebec City.
Winnipeg just built a brand new, smaller arena that (from what I can find out) can’t be expanded to NHL capacity. Marcel Aubut has been trying to get a building in Quebec City for going on 20 years now, and is no closer. His latest “hope” is that they can somehow tie it to an Olympic bid and fund it that way for 2016 or 2018 — but with 2010 in Vancouver, the chances that Canada will get another Olympics within a decade is very small, at best, even if thet could work out the funding to pay for an Olympics in quebec, and make building an arena part of it. Personally, I’d bet my money on Peter Pan getting married and having kids first.
So we basically have two NHL-caliber (or close) buildings that could take on NHL teams in 18 months notice or less, and two buildings that might be available in 3 years (or 5, or 7, or… But the minimum is 3-5 years for the Bellevue/Seattle venue, and whatever Baslsillie decides to build, when he chooses to build it)
Owners? Balsillie and the guy (who’s name I’ve misplaced) who owns the rights to Kansas City seem ready to buy in. Mark Cuban’s recently made some noises of interest, but who knows how serious that is (Mark: buy an NHL team. hire me. we won’t regret it, and you’ll do the league a lot of good and drive Bettman crazy doing it….); There’s also Paul Allen, but I don’t think he’ll have a significant interest until he has a building to put a team in, and the whole Seattle/Portland/Rose Garden/Key Arena/Allen/Sonics/Tblazers thing is still very chaotic (I believe, ultimately, that the Sonics will move out of town, Allen will build a new building in Bellevue, and Allen will move the Trailblazers to Seattle, leaving Portland open to a possible expansion or move-in by the NBA from somewhere else. But that’ll keep him busy for a while — if you want to bet on NHL expansion, bet on it not happening until Paul Allen’s building is ready…
Teams to move? Pittsburgh still leads the list. It IS moving. the only question is where: to a new building in Pittsburgh, or a new building in Kansas City. After that? Nashville is a serious worry to me. the New York Islanders are depending on a 1billion (US) redevelopment project by ownership to fund and build a new building. Until they break ground and the financing is settled and the foundation is poured, they are one stock oops away from being on the market; we can’t forget that the money funding Charles Wang is from Computer Associates, and his colleague (Sanjay Kumar) and CA are both in deep trouble with the feds (Kumar is awaiting a ruling on his prison sentence and $8 million fine for fraud). While Wang has not been implicated in any of this, you still have to worry that he’s one certified letter from the SEC away from being way-too-busy to build a new arena (not saying it should happen, or will. just worrying it MIGHT). you also have to look at Florida as a place that’s not thriving. Some put Atlanta and Carolina in the list, too, but I don’t at this time.
So, even if the penguins stay in Pittsburgh, I don’t think the NHL is hot to expand as long as they have franchises not thriving — I’d say Nashville is 50-50 to move in five years; Florida 20-80 against moving, and the Islanders are entirely dependent on the redevelopment happening. If it does, they stay. If not, they move and Wang probably sells off. And it’ll take a couple of year to find that out.
So until Pittsburgh, Nashvill and NYI all settle down — nobody’s expanding. Any talk now is preliminary, and any expansion is (IMHO) 3-5 years away at best. Since the imbalanced realignment is dead, we can just let talk of it fade for a while, unless the NHL does something next week to denote interest. I doubt it.
We don’t need a 32-team NHL.
In fact, we don’t need a 30-team NHL. There just aren’t enough NHL-caliber players to stock the existing NHL teams (no calculator necessary).
I question this. I’d love to see a list of the players people think aren’t qualified to play in the NHL. I sincerely doubt you’ll find 40 (two team’s worth) that we’ll get consensus over. In fact, I think it’s easier to expand now than it was five years ago, because the rule changes (especially the TV time outs) means the first three lines are getting most of the ice time, and what used to be the fourth line is now more and more often special team guys; with the growing opportunities in europe, a number of players have opted to play there rather than the AHL or to stay in the NHL as a fringe player — but create another 40 jobs in the NHL, and you don’t think we won’t find qualified bodies to fill those spots?
The 2006 canadian spengler cup roster included Jason York, Josh Holden, Hnat Domenichelli, Stacy Roest, Glen Metropolit to name a few ex-NHLers now playing in europe.
Sorry, telling me there aren’t enough talented hockey players who are capable of being a fourth-liner in the NHL and skate 6-8 minutes a night without killing the team; I don’t buy it. Expansion means, basically, that each of the 30 teams in the NHL gives up 1.5 players to expansion and has to fill them out of their depth; give the expansion teams a chance to bring in free agents and draft well — there’s plenty of talent here.
Here are two articles (one, and ), both of which place the average hockey career around 5 years; They’re both fascinating reads on their own, but not directly relevant to this discussion (one is a study of the myth of pro sports as a vehicle for upward mobility financially, and the other is a historical look of career lengths in hockey). They both dovetail to a career length I’ve run into anecdotally, so I’m going to use 5 years. That implies that on a 23 man NHL roster, EVERY season, an NHL team has to replace an average 4.7 players. That’s 141 players every year, out of a draft pool of 210.
To handle expansion, we’d have to find — one time — 46 players, and then we’d have to extend the pull out of an annual draft from 141 players to 150 players. Some of this demand will be filled by players playing longer instead of retiring (or going to europe, or the AHL), and now that I think about it, this article actually has some interesting data to indicate that in previous expansion cycles, that’s exactly what DID happen, and that the 5 year average career lenght is more driven by new talent coming on board than old talent no longer being capable of playing.
So I don’t think there’s a factual basis for either “not enough talent for 30 teams”, and in fact, I think that we could easily fill 32 teams using the current playing rules, since that allows teams to focus ice time on 9-10 forwards and 4-5 defense instead of needing a full continent of 18 skaters. The increased demand on the talent pool is actually minimal.
The league was and is doing whatever they can to keep the team in Pittsburgh, something many wish the league would have done with Quebec City, Winnipeg, Hartford and the original Minnesota franchise.
How many folks in this discussion were around for these moves? I was.
I actually was in Quebec (outside of Quebec City debugging a problem at a Bombardier plant) the day Marcel Aubut handed over control of the team to Pierre Lacroix, so it was a big topic of discussion between myself and the locals; and being on the scene, the general feeling was one of having given up — that all of the attempts had been made and hadn’t worked. they knew the team was moving, and had stopped trying. Without a new building, there was no way for the NHL to survive there. It wasn’t a “league didn’t try” problem — EVERYONE tried, but nobody could find a way to build a new building. Over a decade later, they’re no closer — even to a smaller, AHL-caliber building.
In Winnipeg, the province of Manitoba was subsidizing the team $10mCDN a year, and the only way the Jets were staying was for the province to commit to that subsidy (or a larger one), indefinitely. Multiple attempts at a new building were tried, none worked. Ultimately, the province decided it couldn’t justify a permanent subsidy to the team — and that sealed the team’s fate. I was actually involved in a “save the Jets” group here in San Jose, and spent some time talking to Greg Jamison about the problem and what the league could do for the franchise. Ultimately, though, you need enough local revenue/committment/ownership/infrastructure to support a team, and winnipeg didn’t.
Hartford? bad building, and it was losing $20m US a year. Say what you want about Carolina: the reason the team moved is because it’s losing less money in Carolina than it did in Hartford, and it actually has a chance to make money at some point, and there was no chance in Hartford.
The North Stars? bad building, losing money. After they left, they built a new building, got a new team, and local ownership and support. That’s a great model for how this CAN work — but the politics of getting a new building, and the politics of the ownership of Norm Green and his fights with the local and state politicians, made a new building for the North Stars impossible (just look at the fun the twins are having replacing the Humphrey dome!). The new building simply wasn’t going to happen FOR Green, and Green wasn’t willing to sell the team to a new local owner; instead, he moved it. This problem was (in theory) avoidable; the people involved made it inevitable.
Having watched all of these happen, and watching the fans rip Bettman over the possible moves of Edmonton and Calgary as well — which never happened, in no small part to Bettman fighting to make things work for the Canadian teams (which he hasn’t gotten proper credit for) — I wonder what the league is expected to do? Fund arenas for cities unwiling to pay for them themselves?
The big difference between Winnipeg (which moved) and Calgary (which didn’t) is a series of things: the differential between $US and $CDN, which was really hurting the Canadian teams for a while since all contracts are written in $US, has moderated. That makes canadian teams a lot more competitive, even if it makes my art collecting more expensive… Calgary had a building that they could upgrade, and got financing to do it ($40mm CDN in 1995); winnipeg didn’t. And the league has instituted revenue sharing from high revenue teams to low revenue teams, which didn’t exist when Q.C. and Winnipeg moved, but the revenue sharing would have barely covered what the province of Manitoba was subsidizing the Jets at the time, if it’d have covered that completely
The question I have — and I leave it open for anyone to comment on — is where is the responsibility for a league to keep a team in a city, and where is the responsibility for a city (or region, or whatever interested governmental sector) to take steps to keep the team from leaving? And where to you set limits and say “this is not the right use for our money?” — you see that a lot in the governmental side of things these days (and that’s a good thing), but when owners and leagues do the same, they get ripped. The right answer is that all sides have responsibilities and limits, and sometimes, the answer is “it won’t work”. And then a team moves. It’s JUST as insane to say a city HAS to spend any amount of money for a new arena as it is to say that an owner HAS to pay for his own building or withstand financial losses forever. Ultimately, this *is* a business, and business needs have to be handled. Yes, governments have been abused by pro sports — but generally those governments have been willing partners in going into the financial agreements that ended up being stupid investments.
so I’m curious what the league could have done in Winnipeg or Quebec City, but didn’t. If the region doesn’t have local ownership to support the team, if nobody can be found to build a biulding that will make a team financially viable — where does it say the league has to subsidize the team indefinitely anyway? Just like Manitoba subisidized the team for a few years and then realized that didn’t make sense, you have to recognize the same sort of limits exist for the league and the owners. Right?
Some Canadian cities supposedly lack the corporate base to sustain an NHL club. But they don’t lack a built-in audience appreciative and savvy about hockey. And wasn’t the new collective-bargaining agreement sold to the fans as being a system in which all markets, big and small, can compete on untilted ice?
This ties back to stuff I’ve already talked about in “why not canada”…. Fans are important. But not enough. And you need enough fans, and it’s unclear a city like Winnipeg actually has that. More detail in the linked article…
Why let any rich Canadian relocate a franchise when he/she/they might be willing to pay some heavy expansion fees instead?
This is, of course, a big point. Expansion fees can be a nice hack for the owners — and don’t need to be shared with the players as part of the CBA. But expansion fees don’t help if the league ends up contracting teams a few years later; moving new teams into K.C. and Houston and then contracting Nashville because there’s no building or owner for it — well, the NHL isn’t as stupid as the IHL was. At least, I hope not. (the IHL sold a number of expansion teams based on attendance numbers from the first NHL lockout year, which of course weren’t sustainable. So they built a financial model on too many teams and too many tickets sold, none of it came remotely true, teams (like our Spiders) imploded (and left us unsecured creditors, where we sat on the sideline and watched the floorshow of the Spiders owners trying to move the team to Victoria) — and within a few years, the league failed and merged the survivors into the AHL. Some fun.
But then, fans seem to be acting as if the NHL’s already agreed to expand, and complaining about it. I suggest we wait and see; expansion isn’t a short-term option, not remotely.
Greg dropped me an email on one of my other pieces, and so I went to read his writing over on Fourth Period, which is new to me.
I think he’s done a great job of some of the issues leading to the frustration I’ve had this year; I’m not as quick to blame the league for all of this — a lot of these things seem fairly small, except that the media has focussed on them and made them seem bigger than they are.
But having said that, read his piece, then come back and I’ll run further down this rathole…..
The hockey fan in me wishes the preamble to my obligatory snark-fest of year-end awards (see the end of the column) could focus on what the NHL considers to be reasons to rejoice.
Faster play. More scoring. Parity to the point of parody. Young stars who will carry this league on their shoulder pads (under their form-fitting aerodynamic new jerseys, naturally) for the next two decades.
The hockey cynic in me knows better than to swallow that sugar-coated dung. It used to be that the league was broken; now, regretfully, it’s the game as well.
Two years of rules tinkering have left the NHL with a baffling, damaged product — tentative where it should be explosive, passive where it should be physical, tedious where it should be tantalizing.
It has left players wondering what they’re allowed to do, what they’re allowed to say, and when body-checks and slapshots will be banned for safety’s sake.
It’s a game that would have left fans reaching for the remote control to change the channel, but that would assume the majority of them could find VERSUS or HDNet in their cable universe to begin with.
Yet the tide is turning. It’s no longer an issue that the casuals are not coming to the arena or watching on television — it’s that some of the diehards aren’t, either.
In the end, 2006 may be the year when we’ve all decided just not to take it anymore.
The biggest mistake we, as hockey fans, made was not holding the owners and players more accountable for stealing a season from us during the lockout.
We were just glad to have the game back. But the honeymoon is over. The alarm clock has sounded.
Cost certainty? The only certainty is that watching this game is costing more every season.
In 2007, we’ll be faced with more problems, from realignment and relocations to skin-tight jerseys and even tighter rules enforcement. Raise hell of you don’t like them, on the blogs and on the message boards and in the stands. And keep raising hell until the league corrects not only its most recent mistakes (hello, overtime format), but also its lasting ones.
Like acknowledging that VERSUS, with its empty promises and disappointing coverage, has become SportsChannel America Part Deux and that the league needs a new cable home in the U.S., pronto (though not necessarily ESPN).
Like dropping the instigator penalty, a move that would serve as a coded message to disenfranchised diehards: “Friends, please be advised that you can start watching hockey again.”
I’ve left in a few pieces I wanted to comment on — there’s a lot more, well-written and well-thought, over on his site (I TOLD you to go read it. I’ll wait….)
I think the biggest problem this year is simple: lack of patience, and that lack of patience is being fueled by the media. We’ve had one season under the new CBA, and the the wardrums are beating all around the league: the salary cap is a failure, Versus is a failure, reffing is falling apart, the intensity is out of the game…
The CBA is no miracle worker. To think that all of the problems in the league will be solved in ONE year by one piece of paper — to me, that anyone can think that way is insane. The new CBA is the foundation that allows the league to build on to solve the other problems. By declaring that those other solutions have failed when they’re barely starting is wrong. It’s like having a custom house built, and going out to inspect the construction, and, seeing the foundation and some of the framing going up, declaring that the living room furniture is ugly.
The CBA was about stopping the bleeding; the league was rapidly becoming one where four or five teams could spend their way to success, and seven and eight teams were out of the playoffs october 30th, every year — they had NO chance to compete. that’s GREAT for those five teams, but for the other 25? Not so. And for those seven or 8 teams that had the chances of the Montreal Expos?
Name another large sports league that’s suffered bankruptcy among its franchises in the last 15 years. We’ve had two.
the lock out sucked — but the alternative was worse. It was a league that was clearly going to shrink, and shrink violently. you think shutting the league down for a year hurts your ability to draw fans, think about having a team shut down and go away mid season would play among the media and the non-fans it speaks to. That’s where we were heading.
Now, team finances and competitive balance are being balanced. This is a multi-year thing, though, because of some of the contracts teams signed under the old CBA that have to be honored, and some of the (*really freaking stupid like the Rathje or Hatcher contract*) deals signed by teams that should have known better. Some teams have figured out how to thrive under the salary cap (the Sharks) and are. Other teams weren’t paying attention, and now they’re hurting. As they learn how to make deals under the new CBA, and as their old, stupid deals expire — this will settle out.
But the point is, we’re in transition. The league needs a few years to let the changes settle in, and the league needs to be willing to let them do it.
on the TV side — to me, ESPN vs. Versus (vs. anything else) is irrelevant. I’ve been doing some research on this, but not quite ready to write it. Basically, though, the best numbers I’ve seen are ESPN: 90 million households, Versus: 70 million. Relative ratings for the NHL on ESPN before the switch and Versus since are equivalent, with the different in total audience being mostly due to the smaller reach. Versus, however, continues to push to grow it’s reach in markets where it’s not available. What isn’t in there (and what I haven’t found yet) is ESPN2, which has a smaller reach and much smaller audience than ESPN.
And that’s my gripe on the whole “let’s go back to ESPN” thing. Move the NHL back to ESPN, and what you REALLY mean is back to ESPN2. the NHL would go back to being a team relegated to the “scottish strongman competition channel” station, not really on ESPN itself. Versus is treating the NHL like a big thing (which for Versus, it is); ESPN always treated the NHL like an afterthought and a time filler. Where is the advantage of going from being the big fish in a smaller pond to being a tiny fish in a huge pond. Personally, I think staying with Versus, who’s willing to try to work with the NHL to generate interest and where the league is a focus gives them a much better chance of making noise and getting seen than going back to ESPN, where the league will be buried on ESPN2 and pre-empted every time something ESPN likes better wants broadcast time..
But again — growing an audience was a magical act caused by the CBA. The CBA merely gives the league a good, solid starting point to grow an audience. That’s a multi-year project — and no, I didn’t expect to see gains this year. Last year was the year after the lockout, lots of pent up energy and interest in the fan base. Of course things will settle down a bit after that. but as I noted here, the league-wide drop in attendance is actually limited to three markets: Boston, St. Louis, and New Jersey. Two teams in strong hockey markets that, frankly, suck badly, and the fans have decided to stay home in droves, and New Jersey, which seems to be leaking fans primarily because it’s about to move to a new building, and fans that aren’t going to move are fading to black on them.
Everywhere else, a team that’s down attendance is offset by a team that’s up in attendance, and where attendance is up, you have a playoff-bound team playing well, and everywhere you have bad attendance (including St. Louis and Boston) attendance goes down. So the attendance changes aren’t nearly so much about new rules, CBA, or any of that — it’s about whether the local team is playing well or not, and how patient the fans are with the team. In both Boston and St. Louis, fans have seen a lot of stupidity and bad hockey, and clearly have told the teams to stick it. When the teams win again, they’ll come back (and, in fact, as St. Louis has clawed out of the cellar, that’s been true already this season). New Jersey has always been a weird market, since it is — sort of — the third team in the New york Market, except not really, sort of. It’s never been a great draw, even when winning cups, and this year is no exception. it’s still not a great draw. go figure. (frankly, I would have pushed the Devils to move to K.C. or Houston, not Newark….)
Problems? the league definitely has problems.
The big one? a seeming lack of backbone to let some of the things they’ve started finish. they’re over-reacting to media criticism, which is where the larger nets are coming from. Media is screaming that scoring is down again — which is true, but to me, misses the point that the games are a lot better flowing, faster and more interesting, and frankly, we shouldn’t want to become indoor lacross (stealth won this week, 17-16…). The scoring was less an issue than the slow, stodgy play, so I’d strongly recommend the league just shut up and leave it alone for a while. Let the rules settle out before making any significant structural changes again. unfortunately the league looks like it’s reacting to criticism instead of standing firm, which reinforces the view by the fans and media that it’s broken.
The schedule? IS broken. fix it.
the reffing? needs some work. the league does have to figure out how to allow battles around the slot — but not the abuse and obstruction of the old-school hockey. There has to be a reasonable understanding of “fair fight for the puck” versus “taking unfair advantage” — and then figure out how to get the refs to call it consistently.
The instigator rule? I’m sorry; you simply won’t convince me this league can be a major sport when the league and fans say that the referees should stay out of it and let the players police the game. that’s not hockey, that’s WWE. Or maybe Rollerball (the original, the remake sucked). Bring back the instigator, and you simply reinforce to the non-fans and the media that loves to jump on hockey that it deserves the criticism. And I’m not sure they wouldn’t be right.
But the big problem is people expect miracles out of the league, and many of the issues folks are complaining about are things that take time — and that time has barely begun. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see that when everyone’s running around declaring it already failed…
(OH, greg: no RSS? makes it hard to read you, because I have to remember to check you out… sigh)
Today is Hockey Day in Canada. I don’t know what that means, really, but it means something. It is a commemoration of hockey in a nationalistic vein, a celebration of the idea that there is some deep, reciprocal relationship between Canada and hockey that transcends the simple statement that a lot of Canadians like it.
A national sport is a shared image.
There must, I think, be an equivalent image of hockey for Canadians, some meta-scene of the sport that speaks in some mysterious way to the sense of national identity, but I don’t have that image. All I know of hockey are actual players and actual games, a thousand specifics in search of a generalization. I have no sense of the Platonic ideal of Canadian hockey, but I wish I did, because I think somehow that it would then be more meaningful for me.
So to the various and sundry Canadians who might stop by this site today (or tomorrow, or the day after that), what’s the image that makes hockey more than just a sport for you? Not the logic of it, but the visceral sensation of it, that thing that flashes through your mind for a second when you think of hockey, which makes it not just yours personally but yours as a Canadian?
I’m not Canadian, but I’ve been given honorary Canadian status by a bunch of my Canadian friends.
Here’s my view of Hockey Day in Canada as the crazy American guy.
Laurie and I haven’t missed a HDiC since it’s inception. (yes, we live in the U.S. Sitting out on the roof is a StarChoice disk, next to the DirecTV dish, in the shadow of the original dish, a 10′ Big Ugly that we’ve finally decomissioned, but these have given us access to CBC for the last decade+, and more recently, TSN and SportsNet. And yes, on New Years Eve, we celebrate the way Canadians do, by curling up around the TV and watching the Air Farce Chicken Cannon. But I digress. But thank you for nailing those damn beavers!)
Hockey Day in Canada started out fairly simply: the NHL offered CBC a saturday where all six Canadian teams played each other, and CBC realized it needed to do something to fill in the gaps around the games. They’ve done so by going back and celebrating the roots of the game, by going out into the community and meeting the people that make hockey happen around Canada, by examining the sport and looking at what works and how to make it better.
To me, I think the best way to explain HDIC to Americans is not through baseball, but football. Imagine a Superbowl Sunday where all of the pre-game and post-game was focussed not on commercialism, but on the game; John Madden in Plano Texas, talking about Texas High School football, while Marv Albert heads down to Florida to talk to the coach of the Seminoles about the college game. There will be discussions with former players about growing up in football and the people and things that helped them succeed. You’d see pee-wee players being taught by NFL coaches, and you’d see stories about how these non-professional teams and leagues and programs have been built around their community, and built community around their program.
Every year CBC chooses a city to host HDiC; this year, it was Nelson, British Columbia. The focus was on the volunteers — the people who donate the time and sweat equity to make hockey at a local level work. There are secondary broadcast locations, this year, Yellowknife, Camrose AB, Tignish, Prince Edward Island, Toronto and Regina.
It is both a celebration of the bond between Canadians and their national sport, and a recognition that the NHL is but one small part of what “hockey” is; and an appreciation for all of those people and places — the 4AM practice, the hockey mom, the rink rat, the pee-wee coach — that both make Canadians Canadian, and makes the NHL possible.
Now, Laurie and I have spent a lot of time in Canada — we head up there on vacation whenever we can. We’ve met lots of neat people up there, and considered relocating on and off. It’s given us an opportunity to see hockey in a number of places and at many levels. One thing that HDiC means to me is the NHL is not hockey; the NHL is a business based on hockey. Hockey is a game that no lockout and ruin. It’s a game you can’t truly understand if all you see is a game on TV or from a seat in a big arena. It’s a game that, to understand, you have to get away from the business part of the game back into the grassroots; get away from the double-decker arenas. The best hockey game I’ve ever been to was in Victoria, between the Victoria Salsa (seriously; owned by the owner of the local mexican restaurant) and the Cowichan Valley Capitals. It was in the old (now gone) Victoria Memorial Arena — built in the 1940′s, shaped like a Quonset hut, and about as comfortable. You stare down to the end of the rink, and there’s a Stanley cup banner (Victoria Cougars, 1924-25).
Now, the Salsa and Capitals are Junior A (minor junior) — 15 and 16 year olds. If you’re a canadian hockey player, at this age you generally have to make a choice; Major Junior (the WHL, OHL, QMJHL) leagues, or minor junior. If you go to major junior, you lose NCAA eligibility, so minor junior has become the career track for kids moving into US college scholarships. These are the last stops before turning pro (or going home). Most kids in the league, of course, go home. The only players we’ve seen there you might have heard of is a kid named Kariya (not paul, his brother Kevin, who went to UofMaine, but he’s even smaller than his brother) and Tiger William’s son.
Now, as you might imagine, a couple of teams of 15-16 year olds is not (by any definition) the most skilled hockey you’ll ever see. No 100MPH slapshots, you aren’t going to see tape to tape passes three times in a row. But it doesn’t matter; what made that game so — transcendent — to me was the place and time. That building had serious history, and you could feel the stories and events in its bones; the kids were playing — maybe a bit for a chance at future, but mostly because they loved the game. And we found ourselves surrounded by about 3,000 folks, most of them in jerseys, almost NONE of them in jerseys of the teams playing, because they were all wearing the jerseys of their own teams.
And THAT MOMENT, a bunch of people who love hockey standing around watching a bunch of kids who love hockey, in a funky old building — and a Stanley Cup Banner (the last Cup awarded to a non-NHL team, in fact) – that moment is what made me really understand what hockey is and why it’s so important to Canadians. And it changed my view of the NHL forever, because it put the NHL into perspective with the greater part of the sport. the NHL is merely the tip of the iceberg most of us see. going and finding the rest of the iceberg is how you truly come to understand the whole of it.
And that — that moment in victoria, and the search for the whole iceberg — is Hockey Day in Canada.
Earlier in the week I wrote about how using reported attendance numbers probably won’t lead to any insight about whether or not the NHL has an attendance probelm.
That’s why a part of Ted Leonsis’ latest blog post stood out to me. He wrote about the Capitals game against the Lighting last night:
The arena here is a big one and it was about 80% full.
If you check out a boxscore from espn.com, you’ll see the number reported is quite different:
Attendance: 18,804 (95.2% full)
That’s a big difference. Leonsis obviously didn’t sit there and count, but his comment wasn’t made with any sort of malicious intent and shouldn’t be thrown away. It was just a casual observation, the same one most of us have made.
Whatever the reason for the difference, arenas that aren’t close to full just don’t have the same feel. It affects the game as well as the game experience for the fans. At some point NHL teams are going to have to ignore tickets, and just look at butts in seats.
No, they don’t have the same feel, but a lot of those seats are actually paid for — and not used. Most of the seats paid for and not used are typically corporate seats.
So I guess the question is: if someone buys a ticket, and then doesn’t use it, the team still gets the money. So, how do you make someone use a ticket?
Actually a number of teams have worked to set up ways to allow season ticket holders to recycle tickets. Some teams have set up programs to allow season ticket holders to donate tickets for use by charities (when laurie and I were buying into seats in Calgary to help make sure the Flames survived, we donated our seats to that program, for instance). The Sharks have a new program that allows season ticket holders to (virtually) turn in their seats back into the available pool and if/when they sell, get a credit on their account.
What if season ticket holders don’t take advantage of any of that? It’s not like the teams aren’t trying.
In general, even in full houses, you’ll see empties. In San Jose, even if it’s announced as a sellout, you’ll see empty seats; I’d say 3-500 is typical, but it can roll higher at times, too. San Jose has a strong population of corporate support that are fans, too. In other cities, that may not be as true. I know in places like LA or Anaheim, we’ve seen lower bowls with large number of empty seats that we know are sold, because we’ve tried to buy tickets and seen they aren’t avaialble. It looks like they simply aren’t used regularly.
Why? If a company buys tickets primarily for client entertainment, it may simply decide it’s too much hassle trying to find users at the last minute, and not want to lose use of a game for a client until the last minute. From their point of view, it’s good business to keep the tickets avaialble and eat them. Many companies create some way for tickets to be used by employees — but not all of them do, and not all of them publicize it. Tickets owned by companies tend to be sunk costs: they pay for them before the season starts, and there’s no strong incentive to try to get those tickets into circulation beyond the primary users.
Then, of course, there’s the category of “stuff happens”; think about a building with 17,000 people in it. How many of those people end up having to work late at the last minute? A kid comes down with a cold? they come down with the flu? Flat tire? headaches? 500 seats is about 3% of a 17,000 seat arena. Expecting to lose 1-2% of an audience to “stuff happens” isn’t that unreasonable. baseball sees even higher rates, and basketball’s similar. Football less so, because it’s once a week and so fans tend to take going to the games as more of an event, but even they end up with empties.
Then, there are other aspects. If a building gets ALMOST full, a team will “eat” the last seats to declare a sell-out. In San jose, the number seems to be around 2-300, maybe a bit more. So you might have a few blocks empty, but still officially sold, because sellouts are good marketing. I’ll bet some teams are a lot more liberal about what “sell-out” means than San jose.
There are allocations to group sales, which if they don’t sell to a group go to individual, but there are many times some small differences between the block allocated and size of the group that may not get sold; it may only be 20 seats, but that could be 10% of the empties.
And there are team allocations — seats reserved for the home team, for the visiting team. friends, family, VIPs, etc. And these won’t settle down until day of game, when they get added to the forsale pool for walkups. (and sometimes, get pulled back. we were in vancouver one night, where we’d been comped tickets through a friend of a friend, so we were in one of the blocks the Canucks reserve for themselves; After the game had started, the seats next to us were taken by Trent Klatt’s wife and kids (two of the most adorable weeblings you could ever imagine, although I spent much of the time they were there playing goalie and keeping them from running off into the aisle… his wife, it turns out, was a Minnesota native who played softball on scholarship at my old college, CSU Fullerton, so we had a good time chatting about hockey and complaining about LA traffic and Vancouver weather until the plaintive pleas for ice cream won and she decided to call it a night. I will admit I was not at all surprised when Klatt went free agent and signed with the Kings….)
Actually, when David first brought this up (in response to my numbers on attendance), I started looking for data on how many free tickets various teams were handing out. It’s a tough number to find. Tom Benjamin found the numbers on Nashville, which doesn’t surprise me (and also not suprisingly, Nashville’s one of the teams I have on my list of teams in trouble); at about 1500 a game with listed attendance of 14,000 or so, that’s bad.
On the other-other hand, freebie tickets aren’t a bad thing — within reason.
The year we worked for the Spiders, one of the things that team did was give away blocks of tickets through promotions (you see this all through minor league sports, the San Jose Giants (baseball, high-A) do this routinely for vendor nights, where someone like Orchard Supply gets to issue free tickets (and may or may not pay a nominal fee as the sponsor) and give tickets away at their shops. It’s a way to get people into the house, and it was the strong belief of the president of the Spiders that if he could get people into the building once, he’d convert a decent percentage of those into paid tickets later, especially if he had two or three years to build the team and market it properly.
Which, of course, he didn’t have; the team folded after one (and I’ll tell that story someday, after certain people are dead and I won’t have to worry about the lawsuits any more….) — but he was right. We DID see people grab freebies and then come back.
At the same time, the Spiders were careful not to issue TOO MANY free tickets, or to make free tickets too available through the same businesses. They felt it was death for people to come to see the team as a “free deal”; getting a free ticket as a special generates excitement. If people come to believe they can get free tickets just by looking around — you’re dead. The value of your ticket from the point of view of potential buyers just went to zero, and they’ll sit back and wait for freebies.
(another problem of “vendor nights”, as any season ticket holder for the baby-giants will tell you, is that you get these swarms of free tickets running around acting like they own the place — and generally not spending a dollar more than they have to. Freebie nights have some incremental sale of concessions, but cheapskates are cheapskates)
You can’t expect concessions to save you here, either. Prior to the lockout, the Kings opened their books to a fan who was a financial auditor. I can’t find the links to my writeup of that at the time (sometimes google fails) but the average concession sale per ticket sold in Los Angeles was $6.00. Giving away $20 seats for $6 in incremental concessions is a fools game, given that you split that $6 50-50 with the concessionaire who operates the stands.
Now, I don’t know the details of the Predators freebies; but keep in mind there are probably 200 allocated per game for home and away team use right off the bat. Not all of those are going to “fill seats” type promotions. I’d be curious what kind of giveaway promotions they ARE running, if someone can find details.
But to be honest? 1,500 is a big number here. I wouldn’t want it higher than 500. Maybe 1,500 on a special night — but not every night. I sincerely doubt there are more than 6 teams in the league giving away 1,000 a night. If they are — it’d be scary.
Now, I’d love to find those numbers, even for a few teams. Anyone with hints, plesae feel free to leave comments with the references or URLS.
News – Sharks Unable To Overcome First Period, Fall 3-2 To Oilers – San Jose Sharks:
San Jose may have lost 3-2 against Edmonton Wednesday night, and fell behind 3-0 in the first, but Team Teal played much better than those numbers would indicate.
“I can’t complain about the way we played,” said Ron Wilson. “We had all kinds of scoring chances. You have to give their goalie a lot of credit. Territorially we probably had puck 75 percent of the time, but the calls didn’t go our way and you move on.”
On one difficult play, with the Sharks trailing 1-0, Mark Bell was kept from reaching the point man who scored tally number two.
“It was just one of those things, when the guy is pushing you to the outside you tell yourself to stop and block the shot,” said Bell. “He kept pushing me, I made a mistake and just should have stopped. I just should have stopped and that can’t happen.”
It’s hard to discuss how I feel about the Oilers game without risking a $10,000 fine from the NHL. Now, normally, when the reffing crew is Dean Warren and Don Koharski, I feel pretty good. that’s a crew I don’t mind see coming in for a game or two.
Of course, Warren was the guy who botched the power play that led to the Sharks going 2 for 1 on the power play the game before.
And in this game — well, about midway through the first period the folks in our section all sort of looked at each other and went “I’m just confused”.
So were the refs. Warren is — just plain struggling right now. no other way to say it. He was trying to call a fairly tight game, while Koharski was letting more stuff go in his end. Early on in the game, there’s a faceoff, and a King picks off Bell — I mean, just steps in front of him, stops him cold from going out to the defenseman, and then for good measure, puts him to the ice. If you want video of “interference on a faceoff”, this is it. Warren got the yells from the Sharks and told them to play on — and the Kings, with no shark anywhere near their defense, got effectively a gimme from the point.
Not too much later than that, while going into the corner, Doug Murray went in with a King, who had position. Murray actually pulled up and came in behind him to chase, and while doing that put a hand on the King’s shoulder. Didn’t grab, didn’t push, it was as much as anything for balance while he let the King go by (to avoid taking a penalty, beacuse he was beaten). Warren whistled it for two minutes holding.
Warren later whistled a puck dead — not having noticed it was not only still live, but that it was on the stick of Marcel Goc, three feet from a wide open net. Losing sight of the puck is one thing, but being that wrong?
and so it went. The Sharks didn’t get a power play until 2 minutes left in the second (at the time, i was 6-0 oilers on power plays, I think). Now, unlike some hockey folks, I don’t think penalties should even up or crap like that but in this case, it was lopsided not because one team was taking penalties and the other wasn’t, it was because penalties were being called on one team, and not on the other. Really frustrating for the Sharks and the fans (who have never, ever done quite so loud or enthusiastic welcome of the refs as that. well done, folks…. but we’ll need about a buck a piece from everyone in the house for the NHL fine…)
Finally, Koharski called a king for interference — and it was, honestly, a LAME call. But he was clearly looking for any opportunity to generate a power play, just to give the sharks SOMETHING. he did everything but get on the mike and apologize for calling a make-good.
In the end, the Sharks lost 3-2. Two of the goals were goals scored primarily by Warren through clear and blatant mistakes.
ohwell. I normally don’t rip referees. And I think Warren is a pretty good one for his seniority, and I like Koharski’s work a lot. I know how tough their job is. I know mistakes happen. I don’t demand perfect reffing. I don’t particularly care if the reffing is good or terrible, in fact, as long as it’s balanced and fair. Stuff evens out, and as long as the mistakes don’t decide the game — the referees did their job.
Last night, it wasn’t balanced. it wasn’t fair. it wasn’t good. and it clearly decided the game.
And I lay this one on Dean Warren. Were I sitting at the right hand of Steve Walkom, I would be suggesting strongly that Warren take a few days off to clear his head and study the rulebook and some carefully chosen video of his recent work, so he can see what he’s doing wrong.
Oh, and some windsprints. lots of windsprints. it’s to — work on his conditioning. honest.
and please, let him ref somewhere else for a while. The shark tank has a memory. they’ll recognize him, and it won’t be pretty.
This posting, and $4.00, will get you a latte at Starbucks. Except the one Steve called, the barista’s a bit backed up.
I was blown away. Once again, Apple (with the help of Steve and Johnathan Ives and their mighty crew of elves) figures out how to walk into a new market and not only become a player, but redefine it.
They made sure that it matched Blackberry functionality — so the phone-erati have no excuse to not buy it.
They made it — sexy — to the phone-erati will want it.
They changed the rules of the market; not completely tearing the market open (as an unlocked phone would imply), but by working with Cingular to bring out a “no compromise” networked phone, it works for both sides. True, Cingular won’t be able to create funky charges ($2.00 for bad access to MySpace, $1.50 for this crappy ringtone, etc), because the phone is outside the walled garden. Instead, Cingular will happily let all the data geeks buy unlimited data packages and pocket the money. Instead of the cable-TV model, they’ve decided to make money off the plumbing: the Akamai model.
It’s clear Cingular saw the writing on the wall, and Steve likely helped a lot: the walled garden model was going to fail and die away sooner or later. That leaves a company two choices: embrace change, and use it to suck as much life out of the competitors as you can before they catch up again, or fight and hold on to the old way, an increasingly expensive prospect with increasingly bad returns, and no exit strategy. Cingular obviously wanted to be the winner here, and they’ll see a lot of people coming over. Sprint’s in trouble, so is T-mobile. The business strategy has been shot in the heart…
No, we didn’t go all the way to unlocked phones and blow it up completely, but the important part, the crippled phones and the walled garden with extra charges, that part’s served a mortal blow. I’ll take it.
I was frankly curious how Apple was going to avoid leaks on this puppy (yes, I’d heard enough “stuff” to feel pretty confident the iPhone was in the cellars somewhere). Answer: just not let it out of your hands until announce time. This is one of the visible side effects of the rumor sites, folks, and their ability to play with trademark databases, FCC databases, etc. Apple’s starting to shift from “isn’t this neat? avaiable today!” to “wow! but avaialble soon…”, because, as Steve noted, he didn’t want the FCC doing the announcement for him. For toys that have to go for certification, you’ll start seeing more delays between announce and ship. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.
the one significant weakness? This version doesn’t allow for adding other tools — or perhaps I should add “— yet”. I expect that’s clearly in the cards, ti’s more a matter of when. for a first gen product, while they figure out how to get the functionality for syncing into iTunes and the development tools scaled up? I’m okay with that. If you aren’t, wait for the version that brings it. That’s okay, too. (and lack of significant upgradeability didn’t kill the Hiptop version1….)
Will I buy an iPhone? I’m really tempted, honestly. but laurie and I are due to upgrade phones now, and hers can’t wait, and I’m not sure I ought to. So right now, we’re planning on going for a pair of Blackjacks and one year deals, and this time next year, look at moving to the iPhone V1.1 (or whatever it is then). so the answer is — yesbut. Yesbut, not in June. More timing than anything else.
Re: Apple TV — like it. gonna buy one. Since I fully believe the move to IP based video (IP TV) is now in full force, Apple now has a good starting setup for moving video into and around the house. (one thing that hasn’t gotten a lot of notice: the New York Times company just sold off all of their TV stations, to focus on the newspaper/Internet parts of the business. If you understand how the TV business operates, the thing MOST at risk to a move to IP-based TV is the network affiliate. And once networks are willing to start dismantling their affiliate networks for direct via DBS or Cable of a regional feed, and once prduction houses start selling direct through iTunes and other shops instead of selling to networks in the first place, what’s the value of a plain-old broadcast TV station when it’s not one of the top 2-3 in a city like LA? mostly of nothing….)
New airport. I like the airpots because they’re easy; It’s nice to see them upgraded. I’m not so sure of the price. I’m looking at upgrading to N in the house soon; I’ll probably do it with some other device than the new Airports. (hint: a little birdie warned me not to buy any unit that can’t be upgraded to final -N, because upgrades are going to be needed….).
Overall: damn. And to be honest, I missed the adrenalin of keynote day. Being on the outside was weird. But I love the iPhone and what it represents. Rarely is a first gen product THAT good. And that’s something we need to remember. this is just the beginning — and Apple expects it to be from a $0 to a $500-600mm a year gross revenue business in the first year.
On some nights this season, it seems like it can all come together for the NHL.
Take Thursday, for example. There were 10 goals scored by a team in one game, nine by a team in another, a late two-goal comeback in a third and one more where superstar Jarome Iginla might have been injured in a fight because he wasn’t going to take it anymore.
The 10 games even included a milestone victory for nice guy veteran Curtis Joseph, so the night produced high-powered offense, goaltending, physical intensity, scoreboard drama and a little nostalgia. It had everything the NHL believes necessary for the league to flourish — except enough people to see things.
Pull out the two games played in Canadian venues where sellouts are the rule, and six of the other games were played to between 60 and 80 percent of capacity. It was a typical night for a league that has produced compelling action and feats but has seen flagging interest become its bane and biggest story in the season’s first half.
Here’s a great example of how you can play games with numbers to prove a point.
What Wes Goldstein says is probably perfectly true. But is it meaningful?
let’s look at attendance numbers in a different way. Using data from ESPN’s attendance stats, in 2005-2006, the NHL had 11 teams that averaged 100% attendance for the season (well, 10, plus the rangers at 99.7%. I rounded up). 1/3 of the teams in the league sold out every ticket (or more, since arenas like detroit consistently do SRO and go above 100%). 18 of 30 teams were at 90% of tickets sold or higher. Only five teams (NY Islanders, New Jersey, St. Louis, Washington and Chicago) averaged < 80% of capacity for the season. In the NBA, 26 of 30 teams averaged 80% of capacity, as opposed to 25 of 30 teams in the NHL.
So far this year, this year of “disappointing” attendance, let’s see what’s happening. 10 of 30 teams are averaging 100% of capacity (instead of 11), 19 of 30 are 90% or greater (UP from 18), and 7 of 30 are below 80% (up from 5 — Boston and Florida joined the list). the NBA is still showing 4 of 30 teams below 80% of capacity.
So if you look at attendance as a whole — it hasn’t changed a whole lot. Sure, you can find arenas below capacity, but they existed last season, too. What’s also not mentioned is that in some cases, even if an arena is well below capacity, it’s a lot more full this year than last year. Here are some of the notable year-over-year changes:
St. Louis < 2,900/game
Boston < 2,300/game (*)
Phoenix < 1,500/game
Los Angeles < 1,300/game
NY Islanders < 1,200/game
New Jersey < 1,000/game
Washington < 900/game
Florida < 800/game (*)
Tampa < 500/game
Philadelphia < 400/game
Buffalo > 1,800/game
Carolina > 1,200/game
San Jose > 500/game
Atlanta > 400/game
Anaheim > 400/game
Nashville > 400/game
Everyone is focussing on empty arenas, and yes, ten teams are trending down a noticable amount (400 seats a game is about 2% of an average 17,000 seat arena, enough to be statistically significant). Even at that, one of those teams (St. Louis), was MUCH WORSE early in the season andsince changing coaches and improving the team, so it’s likely their numbers will be less dismal at the end of the season.
Nobody seems to want to talk about the fact that six teams are UP in attendance by that 2%, compared to 10 that are down. Right there, it’s clear this isn’t a LEAGUE problem, since a bunch of teams are doing better.
This is simply a case of the natural cycle of attendance. Good teams draw improving attendance, bad teams lose fans. Look at the “losers” here. Boston? Last year, traded away Joe Thornton, finished out of the playoffs for the first time in four years, adn this year, currently last in the Northeast.
St. Louis? missed the playoffs last year after 20 years of playoffs. Had the team sold. Had the team GUTTED. the old ownership pissed off the fans on the way out, the new owenrship is just starting a rebuilding cycle. They started off horrible. Fired their coach, and got back to at least skating hard, and since then, their attendance has been recovring. But face it — they’re not a good team, and haven’t been.
Phoenix: Finished last in the Pacific last year, well out of the playoffs. Started out this season and absolutely sucked. Has recovered somewhat, but is still well out of the playoffs and 4th in the Pacific.
Los Angeles: trailing Phoenix this year. missed playoffs three straight years.
islanders: lots of off-season controversy. A building that needs to be condemned. a Team that’s 4th in the Atlantic. Struggling to be in the playoff fight. Missed the playoffs last season, and 7 of the last ten seasons.
New Jersey: They are the good team nobody wants to be a fan of; effectively, third team in a two team market in New York. In a bad building away from the fan base. With a new building coming online, you can see the fans that are not going to the new building draining away. they’ve never drawn better than 82% capacity, even when winning Cups (that, friends, is when you should relocate a team. Here’s hoping the shift to Newark is enough to change things around.
Washington: out of the playoffs last season, and 3 of the last 4. playing .500 hockey this year. They honestly ought to be flat to a bit better, and aren’t, but let’s see how they end the season as the word gets out on this team, which has hit bottom and is now up-and-coming. but this is what happens to a team at the bottom of a rebuilding cycle — it takes time for the casual fan to realize they really are better. Attendance improvements aren’t overnight. Waht they really need is to make the playoffs.
Florida: traded away luongo, pissing off fans. Playing badly — last in the Southeast. five years out of the playoffs, and no real prospect this season.
Tampa: won the cup two seasons ago, lost in the first round last year, chasin Florida for worst record in the southeast this year.
Philadelphia: this team has been condemned. It’s roadkill.
Okay, look at the teams with significantly better attendance. they’re all first or 2nd in their divisions, playing well, building on good seasons LAST season, and giving the fans good hockey and winning hockey.
So, if you look at the numbers in DETAIL, instead of simply a box score and a wild leap of making-it-up-as-I-go, it’s pretty simple: teams that play well draw more fans. Teams that play badly draw fewer fans. The worst attendance drops are in two traditionally really good hockey cities, one where the GM made a trade that pissed off the fan base, and after which, the team sucked (oh, Boston? THANK YOU for Joe Thornton… nyah), in the other, you had a long, slow withering of the team under the old ownership, it finally missed the playoffs for the first time in 20 years, was sold to new owners, and then imploded and became a horrible team (not helped by having a curse on their goalies, who over the last season or so seemed to have had the longevity of a Spinal Tap drummer).
So the worst of the league attendance problem can be summed up easily: in Boston and St. Louis, the fans said “this sucks. call us when you’re good” and went home. Isn’t that what you expect them to do? You take those two teams out of the equation, and the net difference between the other 8 teams that are down 2% or more and the six teams that are up 2% or more is a net league-wide downturn of, oh, about 1,000 a game. That pretty much is covered by New Jersey, where it looks like the “I’m not going to the new building, go to hell” factor is cropping up.
But take the other 7 teams that are down, and the 6 teams that are up, and they pretty much wash out. The net difference in the league this year seems to be about 6,000 a game down — and those 6,000 a game are attributable to three teams, in three long-time NHL cities. And the teams that are down are down because they’re PLAYING BAD HOCKEY, and the teams that are up — are playing GOOD hockey.
Gee, this is, I guess, a massive league-wide crisis. Or maybe it’s a bunch of bloggers and reporters who aren’t doing the math and analysis and making it up as they go along….