Tuesday, July 19, 2005

 

NHL: The Sidney Crosby Challenge

Ben Wright of The (now revived) Net Files had an interesting challenge for some of us hockey bloggers: Where, in my opinion, would Sidney Crosby best serve the NHL?

We've speculated on the fact that he's likely to end up in New York as a Ranger or any big market that Gary Bettman hand-picks during the secret lottery this Friday (moved from Thursday, apparently).

Now, it's time to give my thoughts on where I feel Crosby would serve the NHL the best and where he might be wasted.

Standard Line of Thinking I: "Sidney Crosby is the next Wayne Gretzky! You can plunk Sid the Kid into any troubled market and he will pull the team and the whole league up from the grave into financial heaven! Millions will flock to see Sidney Crosby, Nashville Predator, as he carries the NHL to heights unseen."

Standard Line of Thinking II: "Sidney MUST end up in one of the NHL's prime markets: New York or Toronto. The NHL suffers when the NY Rangers are doing poorly, and only in these two markets can the hype machine generate enough momentum to spread over all 30 NHL markets. If the NY and Toronto tabloids are writing 100 Crosby articles a day, the league will benefit."

As I see it, Crosby needs to play in a good hockey (not necessarily the biggest) market in order to maximize his playing and marketing potential. When Gretzky was traded to the Kings, he WAS the man. Crosby has not established himself south of the border, and he won't make the same impact (if at all) for a few years. It's not enough to plunk Crosby into any market and expect arenas to sell out.

So, here are my picks for the top 3 and bottom 3 American markets in which I would place Sid the Kid as well as the top and bottom Canadian markets.

Top 3 USA:

Los Angeles - This is one of the rumoured choices that Gary Bettman might FIX Sidney Crosby into, and it would be a good one. The NHL desparately needs some 'Street Credit', and what better way to obtain such props than by having Hollywood and other celebrities at LA Kings games and openly showing how much they like the sport. Remember when Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell were attending Kings games to watch Gretzky? I'm sure you've seen Jack Nicholson and many other celebs at LA Lakers games. The big stars shine brightly in LA, and the Crosby effect would definitely filter out to the other California hockey franchises.

If Crosby were to become one of the big stars of LA, it would give the NHL some recognition outside of the small circle it is currently confined to. Gretzky was one of the few hockey players that had real 'cred' outside of the hockey world thanks to the fact he was playing in LA, appearing on Saturday Night Live (in a very forgettable performance) and marrying a Hollywood actress.

Chicago - I know, I know, Bill Wirtz does NOT deserve Sidney Crosby.
Still, ChiTown is one of the best sports markets in North America, has a very good history as an Original Six member, and a large population. I believe the NHL really does feel the pain when the Chicago market is struggling as it is.

Under Wirtz, the Hawks have managed to kill a good deal of their current and future fan base. Despite this, there is still an appetite for hockey in ChiTown as the AHL's Chicago Wolves actually outdraw the NHL Hawks and other NHL teams on a regular basis. There are a LOT of people in ChiTown that would come back to the Hawks if they were a legitimate contender.

The ChiTown market is in need of repair, and, short of assissinating Bill Wirtz, having Sidney Crosby as a Chickenhawk would really bring this franchise back into good times once again. Remember when Jeremy Roenick and Ed Belfour led strong Hawks teams in the mid-early 90s? The NHL would really benefit from having Crosby take this team and make them into a strong force in the US Mid-West.

New York - I might hate to admit it, but we all know that having Crosby in Gotham City would benefit the league. New York represents the largest hockey market (well, any market) in North America and has the largest media contingent available at its disposal. Having Crosby on the front page of the New York Post on a regular basis would give the NHL exposure it would die for.

You'll notice I said New York, and not necessarily the Ranger$. Although only an outsider would ever put the Islanders and Rangers together, I believe Crosby's impact as an Islander would still be felt throughout the NHL. If Crosby was leading a new Islander's dynasty, you can bet the NY media would jump right on that bandwagon. If Crosby were to end up on the Isles, it might just speed up the process of getting out of the death trap that is the Nassau Memorial Coliseum.

Obviously, Crosby would better serve the NHL as a Ranger, rather than an Islander...but having him in the New York market, period, would be a great marketing boon for the NHL.

Bottom 3:

Florida/Carolina - I hate to pick on these two franchises all the time, but they really are a Black Hole when it comes to hockey coverage, attendance, and general interest.

Florida, as is stands right now, is in real danger of being the first NHL franchise to fold or relocate since the 30-team NHL began. Their arena is located in the middle of nowhere, the fan base is very small, and there are many whispers about their current financial and debt troubles that are too hard to ignore. The hockey coverage in South Florida is limited mainly to two dedicated writers (Russo and Neal), and Crosby would not get much exposure at all if he were playing so far away from the rest of the hockey world. Sunrise, Florida, is not where you want your top hockey draw to be practicing his craft.

On the plus side, The Florida Panthers have a good young team on the way up to respectibility (thanks to many good drafts). If Crosby was a Panther, this team would achieve powerhouse status for a few seasons and sustain such success thanks to a good, young core.

Carolina, as we've seen, is similar to Florida in terms of attendance and generally lousy media coverage. During their improbable run to the Cup Finals a few years back, they were met with a loud chorus of yawns and more apathy than is normally mentally possible. Carolina has always been derided by Canadians and the 'Yankees' as NASCAR Country (plus the fact they stole a team from Hartford), so having Crosby there would not result in a whole lot of bandwagon jumping from the North.

Carolina, unlike Florida, has an extremely poor farm system and would not be any threat to contend for the next 200 years. As long as GM Jim Rutherford is running the show, Crosby's talents as a Cane would wasted playing for a team that misses the playoffs almost every season.

Phoenix - As I expressed in a previous post about my travels to Phoenix, this place really is an oasis for hockey. In other words, if you don't want to think about hockey, Phoenix is a great place to go.

Geographically, Phoenix's weather lends itself to any sport that DOESN'T play on ice. It's very hard to tap into such a market when the weather is constantly in the 80s and 90s (Fahrenheit). Even a hockey fanatic such as myself had a hard time getting in the mood for a hockey game when it felt like golfing and suntanning weather. Phoenix is also not very close to any hockey market, so it's hard to develop a rivalry of any sort. Being close to the Mexican border also lends itself to a very large latino population which largely ignores hockey in favour of soccer or baseball. (I could count the number of visible minories at a Coyotes game on my right hand)

Media - Well, they really never cover hockey. Baseball (especially Spring Training), football, and basketball all get about 10000% more coverage than hockey. Like the Florida Panthers, the media coverage is rather poor and limited to one/two dedicated writers. The big hockey media of Canada, NY, and LA don't want to pay much attention to a market so far out of the normal scope of hockeyland.

The team is bad, and will be bad for some time...the arena is in the middle of a desert and surrounded by miles of parking lot and cactus plants.

Top Canadian Market - Montreal

"But Jes, Toronto is the centre of the UNIVERSE!! Crosby should be here!!"

Toronto doesn't need any help or any more attention than it already gets. If Crosby were to become a Maple Leaf, he would probably become one of Canada's least favourite players due to the incredible backlash of "Shut the hell up already!!!" cries from the rest of the country.

Montreal, on the other hand, has been in a funk for the last decade thanks to some financial tough times and some lacklustre teams. The Habs desparately need a superstar player and Crosby's favourite team happens to be the Canadiens. Imagine how good a happy Crosby will be?

When the historic Montreal Canadiens are doing great things, the rest of the country is very jealous ("Damn seperatist pigs!") and the Toronto/Montreal rivalry really does generate a lot of great and intense passion in many hockey fans. Even us Western outsiders tend to enjoy watching a great Montreal/Toronto tilt.


Bottom Canadian Market - Ottawa

Face it, Sens fans, your team is the "6th team out of 6" in Canada and well behind the others in terms of popularity outside of Ottawa. The Senators have had some great players over the past few years, but I see very few Sens fans outside of Ottawa...

1. Ottawa (the new incarnation) hasn't been around that long compared to the other 5 teams. While the Oilers and Flames built their fanbase through the 80s (thanks to championships), the Canucks built theirs over the past 30+ years, and Toronto/Montreal have been around forever, the Sens are the young baby that doesn't have a long history behind them.

2. There is a general disdain of Ottawa from outside of Ottawa. Given that Ottawa houses our corrupt federal politicians, is it any wonder why it could be hard to like a team from there? Torontonians and Montrealites also have a natural disdain for Ottawa given past sports and non-sports history.

3. While the CBC and national media drool over Toronto and Montreal (The French CBC), Ottawa is stuck in the middle of these two giants and definitely gets far less respect and media attention.

It's not that is having Crosby in Ottawa would be BAD, but it certainly would be less effective for the NHL to have him in a 'small market' like Ottawa compared to any of the other 5 Canadian cities (including 'small markets' Calgary and Edmonton)

---

Of course, the absolute best place that Sidney Crosby could end up is Vancouver. Why? Just because I live here ;) Maybe I could start the official Sidney Crosby Blog just because he doesn't get enough attention.

Comments:
Who's Sidney Crosby?
 
Jes, knock off the friggin' NASCAR bulldada already. There are races closer to Detroit, Chicago, and other such "hockey hotbeds" than to Raleigh. A CANADIAN team asked the NHL to reschedule one of their games--after the schedule already came out--to accomodate their TV rightsholder's broadcast of a NASCAR race in Canada. NASCAR is far more popular down in Charlotte (which may as well be in another country) than it is in Raleigh.

Not only that, but we DIDN'T steal the Whalers--they were dropped in our laps. Our media coverage (at least in the press) is better than people seem to think, and it's not THAT bad here.

So leave us the hell alone already, please.
 
You're being silly, Jes.

Crosby belongs in Pittsburgh. ;)
 
TAC is right Jes -- Carolina is not NASCAR country..... It's NCAA Country! College Football and Basketball! High School football and basketball! Tobacco Road Baby! Yeee-haw! :-p

I stand with you on your critique. Sending Sid to the Carolinas is a waste of what he has. He could boost the market but it's also an absolute waste of his appeal.
 
And sending him to Tampa would be any better?

And no, you don't get a bye because the Bolts are the Division's Cup champ.
 
Tampa gets a bye because they're good and people pay attention to them. I don't doubt the loyalty of Carolina fans- there just aren't enough of you. Outside of Raleigh Durham you'd be hard pressed to find a single person in North Carolina that knows a thing about the Canes. Crosby wouldn't change that.
 
Tampa gets a bye because they're good and people pay attention to them.

Only as long as they're winning.
 
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