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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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Yearly Archives: 2012
For a day or two, it seemed like some hope was shining through the murky clouds of the NHL lockout.
That hope has been dashed. I now feel this is going to go on for a while. It doesn’t have to, but it will.
the NHL put out with a lot of publicity a new, improved proposal. It seemed finally one side had moved off its position enough for some serious negotiation to begin.
The two sides sat down. the NHLPA made some counter proposals working off of the NHL’s proposal.
The NHL walked out.
And cancelled games.
Fan’s hopes plummeted.
My bottom line: it continues to be the reality that there’s very little common ground for the two sides to negotiate to a final deal. The league’s position is that teams are losing money, and they will fix that by taking money away from the players.
The player’s position is that there’s plenty of money if the owners just share among themselves more, but they are happy to be part of the solution to the problem of some teams losing money. Just not all of it.
The League’s view is “take it or leave it”.
The player’s view is “let’s see if we can find a way to make this happen, but what you want to happen isn’t going to happen”.
There is no “let’s just split this in the middle and start playing” position to find here. One side or the other has to abandon their position, which isn’t going to happen until there’s enough pain that they feel they have no choice.
This whole — charade — was really for the league to try to put the onus of public opinion on the players. The players were winning the PR war, and this was a game to try to change that. To some degree, it’s succeeded in the short term, although I don’t know if it’ll continue. The pro-player wing of the commentary/feedback PR group is quite effective (just watch twitter. between the players and the player-sympathetic media, they’re doing a good job of tearing down the NHL’s maneuver). The NHL is not as effective at controlling their message, and the pro-team side of the media/commentary group is much smaller and less enthusiastic.
But the league made it clear it’s willing to wait out the players, and so I now don’t see an agreement coming any time soon. I don’t expect hockey until at least the end of November now, if then. This seems to have been the plan all along. Try to blame the players for the shutdown, not seriously look for common ground for a negotiated compromise, and keep pushing at the players to simply give the owners what they want or there will be no hockey.
This isn’t a negotiation, it’s a game of “take it or leave it” by the owners. Right now, the players are (and, IMHO, should be) playing “leave it”, The players are at least trying to suggest options that might lead to serious negotiations, but even there, you have to wonder if it’s for real or whether they know they’ll get thrown out (or are designed to be thrown out), but make no bones about it, the primary reason for lack of progress on solving this lockout is that the owners don’t want to. They want capitulation, not negotiation.
If I were the league, I’d be worrying about winning the battle but losing the war. But they clearly aren’t, and they know more about this than I do. What I do know is that the league has made a big statement, and that statement is that it’s in no hurry to cut a deal, unless it’s the deal it’s demanding. There’s no real room for negotiation when one side is unwilling to realistically negotiate.
Oh, well. Back to doing other things.
We’re thrilled to be able to congratulate Pat Curcio and the Bulls on a successful opening night. Laurie and I have been watching them put the franchise together, and I have to admit I’m impressed. It looks like a good first night and a good starting crowd.
Now the hard part begins….
Hockey returns to San Francisco as Bulls open with 4-3 loss:
The Bulls announced an impressive crowd of 8,277 on Friday night, so they’re off to a good start in that regard. They had a stated goal to reach 1,000 season ticket holders, and a team spokesman said they are close to reaching that number.
The Bulls’ first game marked the return of hockey to the Cow Palace for the first time in more than 15 years. The San Francisco Spiders of the now defunct International Hockey League lasted only one season, shutting down operations after reportedly losing more than $6 million in 1995-96.
The way Curcio sees it, the Spiders were victims of playing in an unstable league, as the IHL shut down operations after 2001. He points out that the Spiders drew more than 5,000 fans per game, which in minor league hockey, is a respectable number.
A few bits of history on the Spiders, since Laurie and I were two of the few that actually were there for that little mini-drama. We were the Spiders web masters, running their web site for the entire season. We were also season ticket holders, and in fact had the same seats we had when the Sharks were in the Cow Palace (because it amused us to return to the scene of the crime). We did all of the online material for the team and dealt with getting their marketing info and press releases online as well as team info and stats, and for game days, also made sure the game note package and summaries got posted. Laurie also did most of the photography for the web site and as the season went along (and spiraled) was for some games the only photographer there.
So we were there before opening night, for opening night, for closing night, and for about home games in between, and were interacting with various people in the front office throughout. In fact, it becomes a bit of a running joke that whoever was assigned to be our contact ought to update their resume, because that was a sign they were the next to get laid off. which was unfortunately, as the season went on, more often true than not.
(I should really write more about that majestic, crazy year. Maybe later, especially now that enough years have passed that lawsuits are really unlikely and the bankruptcy stuff is long settled.. except I’m not sure anyone really cares, or that it matters in the grand scheme of things…)
The Bulls need to be really careful about that 5,000 fans a game number. It’s — somewhat fanciful. Attendance early in the season was pretty good, but it trailed off quickly. As the season went on, the team started liberally distributing free passes through organizations as a promotion, similar to the “merchant night” passes you can get for the San Jose Giants minor league team. That 5,000 a night number is some combination of paid, free attending, and distributed but not really used. I’d say that the last ten games of the season the real in-house, butt-in-seat number was under 2,000 consistently. By then, of course, it was obvious that the franchise had spiraled and it wasn’t coming back to San Francisco.
The Spiders were a team with great intentions. To be honest (and I hope they take this as a cautionary tale), life with the Spiders leading up to opening night sounds a lot like what I’ve seen with the Bulls. There was no idea that lurking just out of view was this iceberg… It was the season just after the first NHL lockout of 1994-95, and revenues and attendance numbers for the IHL were boosted. The IHL sold these numbers as part of a plan to expand the league, and the Spiders were one of those expansion teams. They paid, if I remember correctly, about $6m for the franchise. Dave Pasant bought the team; he had made a big push to buy the NBA Minnesota Timberwolves but that deal didn’t happen, and he ended up going for a minor league hockey team instead.
Things started out well when the team traded for a starting goalie who had a solid NHL tenure, and he categorically refused to report. We ended up going into the season with Stephane Beauregard, another ex NHL goalie, and Corrado Micalef, a goalie that had seen some time with the Red Wings and had spent a number of years in the Italian leagues; he was originally brought in mainly to be an emergency backup and/or practice goalie but he backed up Beauregard pretty well. Beauregard was a pretty good goalie — I’d say NHL-backup caliber — but was in the AHL because, well, your backup goalie can’t be high maintenance. Stephane was. And occasionally hilarity ensued, like when he tossed a water bottle at a referee. The team celebrated that later by having bottle-tossing contests during intermission…
The Spiders caught a break when Dean Lombardi and Sandis Ozolish (technically, Lombardi and Sandis’ agenthad a spat over a contract and Sandis sat out. He ended up signing with the Spiders and was in uniform opening night and scored the franchise’s first goal. He also signed quickly and only played two games as as Spider, ending that PR fest. The Spiders knew the Sharks were part of the draw, so they signed a lot of ex-Sharks, including the legendarily infamous Link Gaezt and a personal favorite with Dale Craigwell. Gaetz survived three games (no points, 37 PIM. any questions?) and Craigwell had suffered a nasty ankle injury and had lost a couple of steps off his speed. The fond memories of these guys were attractive, actually watching them play again? A bit sad for the most part.
There were some definite positives to the season — I got to see Rod Langway play hockey. Late in his career or not, he was still Rod Langway. John Purves was one of those classic career minor leaguers who went off and had a career year and scored 105 points, 20 more than his career best and a tally he’d never match again. He really bloomed that year and carried that team.
For Laurie and I, it was one of those things we always wanted to do, work with a pro sports team. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and I’m happy to say it also cured me of any real thought of doing it again. But damn, I’m happy I did. And I’m sorry it didn’t work out better, but the Spiders were set up to fail from the start by unrealistic revenue expectations from the league, an owner who didn’t know the league was blowing smoke at him and talked about building a franchise as a long-term investment (but as soon as it didn’t start making money right away, ripped apart the organization to save money and ultimately put it into a death spiral), a lousy media market for minor league sports, and a building that, well….
It took some work to make the Cow Palace, built in 1941, ready to house a team again.
“Here at the Cow Palace, every time we opened a door to correct something, we found something else that needed to be corrected,” said Curcio, who spent 10 years playing in the ECHL and Europe. “It was tiresome, it was stressful, and a lot of times we thought, can this really be fixed?”
At first glance, they did a good job. There is a new scoreboard that is much more high-tech that those found at most minor league arenas, but there remains a certain charm about the old place, which was home to the San Jose Sharks for their first two years of existence.
Our motto on the Cow Palace was “It’s a pit, but my god, it’s OUR pit”. I do wish the Bulls luck, but it’s got lousy sight lines, parking is expensive (and not under their control unless they pulled off a miracle deal), transit is between lousy and nonexistent, and there’s a fine line between “eccentric” and “my god, what is THAT SMELL?” and the Cow Palace was far too often on the wrong side of that line. You can, to a degree, market a barn like that for its character, but only to a degree. Especially in the spring when things warm up.
He’s confident that the Bulls can keep drawing fans on a regular basis after what can only be considered a successful opening night, despite the one-goal loss.
“We had a vision, and I think for the most part it’s pretty much in line with what we imagined.”
I agree, but it’s not going to be easy. the Bulls are actually much further along the path than the Spiders were on opening night; they have broadcast agreements, something the Spiders didn’t get until mid-season (and at that point, it was on a university “around the neighborhood” station). The shift from news reading on paper to news reading online has improved things — the simple fact that CSN Bay Area is talking about opening night indicates the landscape for coverage has changed for the better. Back in the Spiders days, this region and the newspapers had a huge “we are a MAJOR LEAGUE market” mentality, one that went to the two baseball teams, two football teams, the Warriors, Sharks, UC Berkeley and Stanford — even San Jose State was more or less shunted off as irrelevant, so a minor league team had real struggles getting coverage and the online universe was just starting to open up as a new opportunity.
I’ve long thought there’s an opportunity for a team like this in this market. When San Jose and the county were fighting over the right to build a new entertainment building (12,000ish seats, concert focus) I did some informal chatting with a few Sharks staffers and some of the people involved with the city about whether the building might be ice compatible, but the day of the general purpose “do 12 things sort of okay, do none of them well” building are dead (and I don’t miss them!) and that building was going to be a concert hall, not something convertible. Of course, once the county won the legal fights and killed the city’s idea on the building, it didn’t matter. And then the economy tanked and killed the county building, so we ended up with neither.
The Bulls are heading into a price point where I think there’s a market. We found out (the hard way) with the Spiders it wasn’t an easy market to crack; it takes time, and patience and consistent marketing and promotion. The Spiders suffered from an owner who thought it’d be easy and panicked when it wasn’t. It sounds like Curcio understands this is a multi-season challenge.
To me, though, the Cow Palace will continue to be the big challenge. There’s only so much makeup you can put on that pig. If I’m Curcio, to be blunt, I’m starting quiet friendly chats with Oakland NOW about moving into their arena if and when the Warriors build their new building in downtown SF and move out (but you do not, repeat, do not, want to be second tenant in that building to an NBA team, even if they’re remotely interested in having you). That building is actually too big for the Bulls, and the footprint is a challenge for hockey, but it’s on transit, I’m guessing Oakland would love to cut a deal to have a tenant, and it’s an improvement over the Cow Palace, which if you haven’t figured out by now, I think should have been torn down years ago.
And at some point this season, I expect Laurie and I will head up there and take in some games. With two seasons of Sharks hockey there, and a full season of Spiders hockey, there are probably few people alive who’s seen more hockey than us in that building, and I’d hate to lose an opportunity to put a third franchise on my life list there… And I’m curious what they’ve done with the place.
When I do, I promise I’ll show up with my Spiders jersey, if I can get it out of storage…