Thursday, May 7, 2009

Another sports columnist is wrong about the NHL, what else is new?

Evan Weiner
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Business of Sports Examiner

Another sports columnist is wrong about the NHL, what else is new?

May 5, 10:14 PM

Four years ago, newspaper sports editors were in a joyous mode. There was no need to even think about the National Hockey League Stanley Cup playoffs. The league's 30 owners had locked out their players and as far as the sports editors were concerned, the NHL fell off a cliff and thankfully would never be seen again. Hockey in the United States was a dead sport and nothing would revive it. Of course the sports editors, most of whom have little understanding of the business of sports, were incorrect. There is global interest in hockey and hockey is a multinational business beyond the United States and Canada.Newspaper sports editors have never liked hockey and a good many sports editors showed their distain for the sport by assigning women and minorities to cover the games. It is no coincidence in the 1980s that the NHL was celebrating diversity among the press reporting on games. There were women assigned to games as reporters. But the truth of the matter and there should not be any sugarcoating this, the sports editors felt they were saddled with women writers in the sports department and needed to give them assignments somewhere and that somewhere was the NHL. Look at the bylines of the writers of baseball and football. Real “sportsmen” covered those games for newspapers, mostly white males. Basketball got a little better treatment than the NHL with more men assigned to cover games. Women did get some other assignments, horse racing, maybe some golf as well but it was the bottom of the barrel stuff that real sportswriters, men, would never cover. If the sports editors say anything different from those days and continuing into today, they are liars. Women covered the NHL because the NHL didn't matter to sports editors.Apparently the anti-hockey sentiment is still alive and well in Oklahoma City or "Big League City" as the Oklahoman, Oklahoma's Most Trusted News source put on display today (May 5). Oklahoman sports columnist Berry Tramel is still stuck in that old sportswriters rut. Tremel wrote that Oklahoma City's failure to get the Quebec Nordiques owner Marcel Aubut to move or sell his franchise to local interests and not getting an NHL expansion team in 1997 was "the best thing never to happen to Oklahoma City." He added, “Sometimes we should thank God for unanswered prayers.”

The Lord must have been busy when Oklahoma City’s hockey fans were asking for an NHL franchise.Tremel's logic seems to come right out of the sports editor playbook of the 1960s or 1970s or 1980s or 2005."Because we suffered one hockey disappointment after another, today we have the NBA. Because the Nordiques nor the Penguins nor expansion arrived, we have Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Nothing against the NHL. Better to have major-league hockey than major-league nothing. NHL teams are precious possessions to the towns in which they play.

“But the NBA is a bigger prize. Better game. Better profile. Better bang for your buck. The Stanley Cup playoffs are in their third week and drawing barely a blip on the national stage. When the Thunder makes the playoffs — April 2011 is the best bet — Oklahoma City will be a much higher plane."

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a big international deal and that is where sports are headed. The most popular athlete in Washington isn't the Redskins starting quarterback. Alexander Ovechkin, who was born in Moscow, back in USSR days and grew up in the Soviet then Russian capital, is the guy in DC. Ovechkin also seems to have a pretty big fan in Lebron James, the NBA's most valuable player. Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are playing the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team led by another pretty hot sports property, Sidney Crosby although the best player on Pittsburgh might be another Russian Evgeni Malkin.
The defending Stanley Cup champions, the Detroit Red Wings, have captured the Swedish sports market because of the number of Swedes on the team. In Canada, and if Tremel did the math, which he probably didn't, the NHL-NBA TV viewers if you throw Canada into the mix with the US, is nearly the same, Vancouver is still playing. The NHL held the annual outdoor game in Wrigley Field in Chicago and that created a big buzz, and Chicago's hockey team is good again and that has brought back Blackhawks supporters.

Tramel did everything that sports editors across the United States would like to do daily, trash the National Hockey League. What Tramel doesn't understand is that the NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball are umbilically tied through ownerships of teams, cable TV networks and sponsors. Tramel should be educated in the business of sports. Ralph Wilson's Buffalo Bills, a National Football League team, benefited from the 2007 New Year's Day NHL game between Pittsburgh and Buffalo. MLB teams have gone after the New Year's Day game, Sam Zell's Chicago Cubs got the 2008 Detroit Red Wings-Chicago Blackhawks game at Wrigley Field. Zell, who once was a Chicago White Sox minority owner under Jerry Reinsdorf, happens to be partners with Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz and Reinsdorf's White Sox and Bulls in a regional cable TV network. Reinsdorf and Wirtz are partners in the Chicago arena.

The 2009 New Year's Day game will take place in Fenway Park in Boston.

The business of sports includes leagues sharing information and players associations trading data.

Tramel ignored in his column just how much money Oklahoma City residents are really shelling out for the privilege to be a "big league" city. In order to attract Clay Bennett to move his Seattle SuperSonics to Oke City, the city had to spend millions upon millions of dollars to upgrade the city's five year old arena which Bennett thought would need to be replaced sometime in the next decade.

As far as newspapers, at one time the newspaper coverage was essential to sports and even though Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is suggesting that leagues subsidize newspapers so that sportswriters remain on the beat as newspapers fire people because they cannot generate advertising revenue at the same rate as prior years or just fold. The newspaper is no longer all that important as the nature of news content deliver changes from paper to electronic devices. Sports leagues and individual teams have websites that deliver news, sports talk radio stations said radio reporters on beats who can deliver news just as well as newspapers.

It is an evolving world.

American newspapers sports editors have given the NHL the short end of the stick forever and if they say no, they are not telling the truth. Just look at bylines. The NHL isn't going anywhere except for a continued expansion into Europe and that makes sense because there is great interest in the NHL in Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Russia, Germany, Norway and Belarus and there is money to be made there.

Ovechkin is on a global stage as is Lebron James. Tramel should expand his viewpoint beyond Oklahoma City and by the way, Oklahoma City probably needs additional revenue sharing from NBA owners to hope to stay competitive once the team gets better players even with all that municipal money from Oklahoma City and Oklahoma.

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