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SBD/October 6, 2011/NHL Season PreviewPrint All
The NHL season is set to open tonight, and "this might be the year that defines" Gary Bettman's long tenure as NHL commissioner, according to Scott Burnside of ESPN.com. There are "a myriad of off-ice issues" that will play out during the '11-12 season. Ownership issues "will continue to dog the NHL on a number of fronts, most notably in Phoenix, where the league continues to operate" the Coyotes. As much as the "return of hockey to Winnipeg this fall is seen as a victory for Canada, the reality is the loss of a major media market like Atlanta is a blow to Bettman's plan for a pan-American NHL footprint." The loss of "another major market like Phoenix to another smaller Canadian market like Quebec City would be a hard sell for the other owners." This season "also will bring with it the end of the current collective bargaining agreement and the specter of another protracted work stoppage." One reason "to suggest the game will not be interrupted is that it continues to arc upward in terms of revenues, profile and general positive reviews around North America, something that's been the case since the end of the lockout" in '04-05. Bettman said, "Looking at the game and the business end of that game, we're coming off what might have been the best season ever. I think we can take what we had last year and feel very good about what we have this year." With the addition of a "new, long-term television deal with NBC and the network's plans to revamp its cable arm, Versus, the cable carrier of NHL games, the league has achieved a kind of security in terms of television exposure that likewise seemed inconceivable after the lockout when broadcasters showed little interest in committing to the league." The NHL also "remains on the cutting edge of technology when it comes to attracting fans and fans in the most desirable demographics." Bettman said, "All of those things I think bode well for the future of the game" (ESPN.com, 10/4). In Pittsburgh, Josh Yohe noted the NHL "faces a potentially marvelous opportunity for growth this season." It "appears the NBA will endure a work stoppage," and the spotlight "could belong to the NHL." Yohe: "A healthy [Sidney] Crosby could do wonders. So, too, could the league's ability to expose its players, most of whom are likeable. The negative incidents need to evaporate, now more than ever" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 10/2).
CHALLENGES AHEAD: In N.Y., Jeff Klein writes, "It was another in a succession of strong years for the NHL: exciting play, soaring television ratings, record revenue and the fourth straight Stanley Cup finals between traditional hockey cities. But even as the Boston Bruins were raising the silver chalice on June 15, the riot was on outside in the streets of Vancouver." Thus began "perhaps the NHL’s worst off-season." A league "reeling from the accidental death of Derek Boogaard from a drug and alcohol overdose was further saddened by the apparent suicide of two other enforcers and the deaths of several former players in the Lokomotiv plane crash near Yaroslavl, Russia." In the NHL, "enormous success and optimism coexist with dark clouds and trepidation." The "crackdown on concussion-causing boarding and checks to the head is burnishing the league’s reputation, but will that be offset by what could emerge about the widespread use of painkillers, or a civil trial involving a 2004 attack by Todd Bertuzzi that ended Steve Moore’s career?" Klein: "Will the euphoria of the Winnipeg Jets’ rebirth be dampened by continued misery in Phoenix? Will financial growth and fan popularity be tempered by February’s talks on the expiring collective bargaining agreement?" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/6).
LABOR PAINS: The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts wrote the "most important fight" in the upcoming CBA negotiations, "at least in the early going, is not between the players and owners but between the have and have-not owners." The small market owners are "looking for big concessions from the players." League sources said that the small-revenue teams are "marshalling their forces, vowing not to be pushed into an agreement they don't want by their richer colleagues" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/3). In Toronto, Damien Cox writes, "One suspects sadly that the spectre of labour trouble will slowly contaminate the season" (TORONTO STAR, 10/6). The GLOBE & MAIL's Jeff Blair wrote under the header, "Donald Fehr Brings Order To NHLPA." Blair noted the NHL has "a lot riding on Fehr." An "engaged and informed players' association is a must at a time of pressing big-picture and economic issues." Blackhawks C Jonathan Toews has said the NHLPA is "running almost like a company now," while Lightning RW Martin St. Louis spoke of Fehr having a "calming and soothing effect" (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/5). In N.Y., Larry Brooks wrote eliminating the salary floor "should be Priority 1" for Fehr. The floor is "supposed to guarantee the holy grail of competitive balance, but it doesn't." Brooks: "Forcing franchises that can't afford it to commit a certain portion of their assets to payroll means they have less to invest in scouting and player development, areas fundamental to long-term success. ... If Priority 1 is eliminating the floor, Priority 1A is holding the line on the cap applying to NHL rosters only" (N.Y. POST, 10/2).
LET'S MAKE A DEAL: In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont wrote the NHLPA office "sure is quiet." NHL Senior VP/Player Safety & Hockey Operations Brendan Shanahan is "doing more for the game as league disciplinarian/safety engineer than anyone has done for it since the invention of the Zamboni, helmets, and forward pass." Dupont: "And we hear nary a peep from Donald Fehr's corner office up there in Toronto. I doubt it, but could it possibly mean that Fehr and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman are quietly figuring out how to hit the 'refresh' button on the current CBA? A third lockout would not be a charm" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/2).
The subject of concussions “has become a predominant issue ever since” Penguins C Sidney Crosby, the NHL’s “most valuable commodity, went down and out with one" since Jan. 3, according to Larry Brooks of the N.Y. POST. The head blows “have just kept on coming throughout a preseason during which” NHL Senior VP/Player Safety & Hockey Operations Brendan Shanahan “had handed out nine suspensions through Sunday, a couple to repeat offenders.” Brooks wrote the NHL "just hasn’t quite figured out how to evolve with a changing world in which the athletes get bigger, the game gets faster and the players are most certainly their own worst enemies." The league has “strengthened Rule 48 regarding head shots and Rule 41 regarding boarding hits from behind,” and has also “empowered Shanahan to be stricter than his predecessor.” Yet the league "has refused to outlaw fighting" (N.Y. POST, 10/5). SI's Michael Farber notes Shanahan's nine suspensions through Sunday have been worth 31 regular-season games and $701,682.56. Predictably, there "has been blowback." Devils G Martin Brodeur said that Shanahan "was going too far," while Maples Leafs LW Clarke MacArthur "complained the NHL seemed hell-bent on removing all hitting from the game" (SI, 10/10 issue). MacArthur said, “I just think there’s going to be no hitting in this game. I think that’s what’s going to happen. No one wants to take five-, 10-game suspensions” (TORONTO STAR, 10/2).
UPON FURTHER REVIEW: In Denver, Adrian Dater noted Shanahan “introduced some new-school elements to his new job, including a video explanation for every suspension he hands out.” And so far, a majority of NHL players “seem to be in favor of the crackdown on head shots -- but some are worried that things will be taken too far” (DENVER POST, 10/2). The GLOBE & MAIL’s Jeff Blair wrote under the header “Shanahan’s Candour Gives Fighting Debate A New Punch.” Shanahan “might be more comfortable in front of the video camera, giving out a dry, written, pseudo-legal interpretation of the latest suspension he’s handed out, but he also seems able to think on his feet.” But Blair added, “It would seem that a league smart enough to use video to explain its suspensions would also realize it’s time to get in front on fighting” (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/3). In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont wrote the NHL.com videos with Shanahan “explaining the many suspensions he has handed out of late are appointment web watching” (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/2). SI's Farber writes Shanahan explains each decision with "succinct eloquence" (SI, 10/10 issue).
FIGHT FOR CHANGE: The GLOBE & MAIL’s David Shoalts wrote the goal of Shanahan and the league “is laudable but the process is sure to be uncomfortable” (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/2). In Pittsburgh, Josh Yohe wrote Shanahan’s early work “has received praise from players, and his hands-on approach feels refreshing.” Yet his job "remains daunting, as a faction of players seemingly always will push the envelope with controversial hits" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 10/2). A GLOBE & MAIL editorial stated, “This should be the season to end headshots in hockey.” But the NHL’s "determination to take headshots out of the game and protect the brains of its players is still in question." The editorial: "If the league is serious about headshots, any deliberate targeting of the head should be ruled by definition an ‘attempt to injure,’ and subject to an automatic five-minute ‘major’ penalty, and expulsion from that game” (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/1).
The NHL "has increased its base of full-season-ticket holders for the second consecutive season," according to Fred Dreier of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. With 90.3% of season-ticket holders renewing this year -- a 2.5% increase -- the league "will raise its total number of season tickets sold by 4 percent." This year the league "will average just over 9,500 season-ticket customers per team, with 20 of 29 clubs improving their renewal rate from last season." The league data "does not include sales numbers for the Winnipeg Jets, who sold 13,000 season tickets on June 4 after relocating from Atlanta." Team and league sources "credited the increase to the NHL’s on-ice performance last season." Others, though, pointed toward "new pricing structures and value-adding benefits for the boost in sales." Of the 19 teams that divulged season-ticket sales, "10 clubs raised prices, eight remained flat and one club, the Anaheim Ducks, lowered prices" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 10/3 issue).
Blues Chair Dave Checketts has a "verbal agreement to sell a majority stake in the Blues to Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer in a deal in which Checketts would remain with the club in some capacity," according to sources cited by Jeremy Rutherford of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH. Two sources said that Checketts has "signed a letter of intent with Hulsizer, although one source indicated that it's a verbal agreement and is far from being completed." The deal is "not considered binding and would not become official until the two sides enter a purchase agreement and it's approved" by the NHL. Rutherford notes there "continues to be some pressure to get a sale finalized soon." The deadline for Checketts' "extension on his $120 million loan with Citigroup was Sept. 30, but a source says the bank is working with Checketts until a sale can be completed" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 10/6). ESPN.com's Scott Burnside cited a source as saying that the sale price "could go as high as $190 million if the Peabody Opera House, adjacent to Scottrade Center in downtown St. Louis, is included among the assets." Burnside noted Hulsizer previously bid to purchase the NHL-owned Coyotes, but "withdrew his bid weeks ago and began exploring other opportunities" (ESPN.com, 10/5).
In West Palm Beach, Ethan Skolnick notes the Dolphins' 0-4 record "could make it easier" for the Panthers "when it comes to stealing some of the South Florida sports fan's attention." As could the Heat's "absence, at least until the NBA lockout is settled, which may not be for months." Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said, "There's a window." Panthers C Stephen Weiss: "We've talked about that, that it's a perfect opportunity to grab the spotlight here." The Panthers this season will "return to their roots, and red home sweaters." The change "spawned the 'We See Red' campaign which, starting in June, has been on billboards and buses all over Broward County, along with some of the players." Panthers President & COO Michael Yormark said the campaign has "helped us distance ourselves from the past several years which, as you know, have not gone well. It's a symbol of hope" (PALM BEACH POST, 10/6).
SOUTHERN COMFORT: The Hurricanes played their first preseason game in Charlotte last month, drawing 10,433 fans for a game against the Jets, and President & GM Jim Rutherford said the team "would love to come back." But with Time Warner Cable Arena hosting the DNC next September, Rutherford said, "We might have to skip a year." In the meantime, the Hurricanes have no plans to explore other markets. “We get calls all the time certainly from places in North Carolina and South Carolina,” Rutherford said. “But we do not have a plan at this point in time to go anywhere else.” He added the team will “see if it makes sense to go into Atlanta and do a game.” Rutherford emphasized the Hurricanes will not be competing with the Predators for the Atlanta market, which lost its NHL team to Winnipeg this offseason. “We’re just trying to keep the National Hockey League alive and well in Atlanta without having a team, and keep people interested in it," he said. "I suspect that that would be a shared promotion with Nashville, not that we’re trying to go in there on our own” (Matt Schiffman, THE DAILY).
NO HARD FEELINGS? The AP's Paul Newberry wrote Atlanta Spirit co-Owner Michael Gearon Jr., whose ownership group in May sold the Thrashers to Winnipeg-based True North Sports & Entertainment, "feels the partnership did everything it could to keep an NHL team in Atlanta." He pointed out that "none of Atlanta's prominent -- and richest -- citizens stepped up to help the team." Atlanta Spirit had been "seeking additional investors since 2008, and Gearon made it clear in February that the current ownership couldn't continue to absorb some $20 million a year in losses." Gearon said, "I feel bad as an Atlantan. I don't feel bad about the way we did things. I was the one guy in the city who stepped up and did what I could, when there were other people in this city who didn't step up and could have." He added, "I don't agree with people who say it's my fault. Over eight years, we put more than $100 million into that team, basically subsidizing entertainment for the city of Atlanta" (AP,10/5).
PACKING THEM IN: Blackhawks Chair Rocky Wirtz Tuesday discussed the state of the franchise since he took over in '07. Wirtz said, "Did I think we would have 160-plus sellouts, that we could sell-out three exhibition games, that we could sellout a practice and have 18,000 people coming and watching the Hawks? I knew eventually we could get there, but I didn't think it would take four years." Blackhawks President & CEO John McDonough said the team had to be "reintroduced to the city" because it "had gotten to the point where Blackhawks hockey was almost irrelevant." McDonough added, "Our fan base needed to see significant change. They needed to see in a new way, a new way of doing business, getting out of the grudge business" ("Chicago Tribune Live," Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 10/3).
LOOKING UP: In Columbus, Michael Arace notes the Blue Jackets have "never looked better on paper, and season-ticket sales are rebounding." Nationwide Arena was "filled to 96 percent capacity through" the team's first five seasons in Columbus, and the "possibility is there for the Jackets to recoup the heady atmosphere that pervaded during their honeymoon." But Arace writes the "notion that the Jackets can seize the city is as specious as the idea that Ohio State football leaves little room for anything else" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 10/6).
The NHL drops the puck on the ’11-12 season facing a host of off-the-ice issues. Concussions -- a hot topic this offseason -- will be a dominant theme with the league’s biggest star, Sidney Crosby, still sidelined due to the lingering effects of two jarring hits last season. Meanwhile, three franchises -- the Coyotes, Blues and Stars -- begin the new campaign with ownership uncertainty. And with the league’s CBA expiring at the end of the season, labor will become a much-talked about issue in the coming months. However, it is not all doom and gloom. The NHL has steadily grown its revenues since the ’04-05 lockout, and the 10-year, $2B TV rights deal signed this offseason with NBC/Versus promises to continue to raise the league’s profile. THE DAILY caught up with Yahoo Sports' Greg Wyshynski, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Shelly Anderson and the Montreal Gazette's Pat Hickey to discuss some of this season's hot-button issues.
Crosby will start season on IR as he continues
to recover from concussion suffered last season
Anderson: The overall issue of safety, in particular head injuries, and the perception of what the NHL is doing about it.
Hickey: Resolving the ownership/arena issues in Phoenix, St. Louis, Dallas and Long Island. St. Louis and Dallas appear to be coming along, but others are highly problematic.
Q: Finish this sentence: Over the last few years, the business of the NHL has...
Wyshynski: … been better than anyone could have anticipated after the lockout, but not as good as the NHL touts it to be. There’s no denying that the NHL is printing money on merchandise -- thanks in part to the Winter Classic -- and at the gate in most cities, with the price of tickets growing forever higher. The sponsorships have increased and grown more prestigious; no more Waste Management sponsoring the between-periods show on Versus. And speaking of Versus: 10 years and $2 billion is not a bad television contract in 2011 for hockey. But problems remain. Salaries have escalated as revenue has grown, and the salary cap floor is forcing some teams to spend irresponsibly to reach it.
Anderson: … grown and gotten more corporate, but let's see what the new CBA brings.
Hickey: … been expanding but the overall rise in revenues overshadows the problems in the have-not cities which have trouble coping with the rising salary cap floor.
Q: Which ownership situation will be resolved first: Phoenix, St. Louis or Dallas?
Wyshynski: Dallas appears to be on the fast track. St. Louis seems to be holding out for a higher offer, and Phoenix has had more false starts than the 50-meter dash at the Caffeine Olympics.
Anderson: Looks like Dallas.
Q: Which city should be next in line for an NHL team?
Wyshynski: I’m intrigued by Seattle. It’s a natural fit for the Western Conference, a natural rival for Vancouver and a market whose demos would seem to fit with the NHL’s. In Canada, it’s Quebec City, hands down.
Anderson: Hamilton or Quebec City would probably make the most sense in terms of instant fan base, so it will probably be Las Vegas or Kansas City.
Hickey: Quebec City.
Q: Who would you rank as the most effective/least effective owner in the league?
Wyshynski: The most effective is Mike Ilitch with the Detroit Red Wings, who has put some of the smartest hockey men in the NHL on the same staff and the results speak for themselves. The least effective is Charles Wang of the New York Islanders. He can’t attract an elite free agent, he can’t convince the locals to vote for a new arena project and -- rightly or wrongly -- he’ll never live down the [Rick] DiPietro contract.
Anderson: Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh seems to be getting things done on local and league levels. The least effective would be the lot of owners whose teams are struggling financially.
Hickey: Most: Jeff Vinik. Least: Charles Wang.
Q: How should/can the NHL take advantage of a possible NBA work stoppage?
Wyshynski: Get creative. Offer gear exchanges at games (NBA hat for NHL hat). Offer ticket discounts to NBA fans who bring in gear. Hire former NBA players to cut promos talking about the virtues of professional hockey. Have a little fun at the expense of someone else’s misery.
Anderson: Simply put out the best possible product, fill the void as much as possible and hope that Sidney Crosby comes back soon. If the NBA is still offline past the end of the football season, that's when the NHL should ramp up marketing, advertising, etc., to take full advantage.
Q: What are the odds the NHL and NHLPA reach an agreement on a new CBA before its expiration at the end of the season?
Wyshynski: Slim. Not with so many issues on the table for both sides. I still don’t see this as the system-shattering standoff that produced the lockout. But when shares of revenue and long-term contracts are your starting point, that’s not an agreement forged during a season.
Anderson: Probably not by the end of the 2011-12 season, but before it expires next September. There has to be time for some posturing and old-fashioned haggling.
Q: Is fighting good or bad for the league?
Wyshynski: From an on-ice perspective, I think fighting is good for the game. … It’s also entertaining, though many fans have different appetites for it. … The videos we run featuring solid fights get more traffic than ever. Whether they admit it or not, fans watch fights. Is it good or bad for the league? I think a fighting ban would do more harm than good. But from a personal standpoint, an NHL without fighting would be unrecognizable to me.
Anderson: It's moving more and more toward being bad for the NHL. It's hard to imagine there would really be much attrition among established fans if fighting were weeded out of the game in spite of some of their claims, but easy to imagine that the league would have a better time attracting new fans in that scenario.
Hickey: Bad in Canada; good in many U.S. markets.
Writer would like to see NHL put more of
a marketing focus on goalies, defensive players
Wyshynski: The league has done a hell of a job growing multiple stars beyond the Crosby/Ovechkin duo and growing compelling teams beyond the usual suspects. But my go-to answer here: defensive players and goalies. They’ve never figured out how to make these players as marketable as a linebacker in the NFL or a pitcher in MLB.
Anderson: Alex Ovechkin and other top players not named Sidney Crosby. Crosby is a great ambassador for the NHL, but he's not the only great player.
Q: Who’s the best play-by-play announcer and analyst in hockey?
Wyshynski: The best play-by-play man remains Doc Emrick. He’s a national treasure in the U.S., and one of the few announcers I’ve heard that can perfectly match his tone and tenor with the mounting chaos on the ice. Honorable mention: Jack Edwards of NESN, for his fight calls and obscure Revolutionary War metaphors. The best analyst, with John Davison unfortunately in the St. Louis Blues front office instead of behind a mic, is Daryl “Razor” Reaugh, who does Dallas Stars games and some national work. Informed, opinioned and very clever.
Anderson: Gotta go with Doc Emrick. Lots of good analysts.
Hickey: Play-by-play: Gord Miller (TSN) and Doc Emrick (NBC). Analyst: Pierre McGuire (NBC).
Q: What’s the best arena in the league?
Wyshynski: For atmosphere, it’s Bell Centre in Montreal, where the fans are just deafening and fun. For amenities, The Rock in Newark is the best barn in the league.
Anderson: Bell Centre -- the fans, the hockey knowledge, the video screen.
Hickey: Bell Centre Montreal for media, Consol Energy Center for fans.
In Toronto, Josh Rubin notes with the NHL season opening tonight, the “fate of the league’s ‘monster’ $375-million sponsorship deal with Molson Coors is still in an Ontario judge’s hands.” Despite the delay, Molson Coors is “already going ahead with its NHL agreement,” and is sponsoring the “Molson Canadian Face Off Festival” in Winnipeg tonight. Molson Coors Canada Dir of External Communications Adam Moffat said, “We’re hopeful a decision will be made soon, but are not letting this delay get in the way of our preparations.” Level5 Brand Marketing consultant and former Labatt VP/Marketing David Kincaid said that having a sponsorship deal “up in the air as the season begins means broadcasters can’t count on ad revenue, the breweries don’t know if they can plan marketing campaigns, and the league takes a hit in its image among its other advertisers.” Kincaid: “It’s getting way too late in the game for a contingency plan. Having this fight go so long isn’t good for anybody” (TORONTO STAR, 10/6).
CHAMPION MATERIAL: Reebok's Sports Licensed Division yesterday announced a partnership with Champs Sports, establishing the chain as the "pinnacle retail destination" for Reebok's NHL apparel in Canada and the U.S. Champs Sports will create stores within the store. The new areas will feature men's and women's jerseys, apparel and headwear. To help promote the launch of the partnership, Reebok and Champs Sports have launched a sweepstakes with prizes including tickets to the '12 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic (Reebok).
LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE: Liquid Nutrition has added Lightning C Vincent Lecavalier to its roster of endorsers as the supplement store franchise plans to expand into the South Florida market (Liquid Nutrition).
The NHL has "never been on stronger ice" in the U.S., as NBC and Versus "saw ratings increase 84% over the past four years, including record audiences" for the Stanley Cup Final and the Winter Classic, according to Thomas McLean of DAILY VARIETY. The NHL during the offseason signed a 10-year deal with NBC/Versus, worth a reported $2B. NBC Sports and Versus President of Programming Jon Miller said that the "audience for hockey and NBC's ability to use its resources to reach them, make for a strong fit, and the demo is one the network is looking to attract." Miller said, "They're affluent, educated and predominately men. It's an audience that advertisers want to reach, because it's not that easy to get them." McLean notes making it "easy for marketers and advertisers to reach that aud led the NHL and NBC to forge a second pact under which they will pool their media shares." NBC's sales group "will represent the NHL for ad sales for every platform -- mobile, online and traditional broadcast" (VARIETY.com, 10/6). NBC Senior VP/Group Sales & Marketing Seth Winter "would not give specifics," but said that sales "for NHL games are pacing well ahead of last year, with most advertisers bundling the sale with another sports property on NBC." Winter said, "We're asking people to participate in a deeper way. We always look to do broader deal" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 9/26 issue).
BIGGER AND BETTER: The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Etan Vlessing noted the NHL on NBC also is "getting more Canadian, with Canuck hockey analyst Pierre McGuire now working exclusively on NBC and Versus telecasts, alongside American on-air talent Eddie Olczyk, Mike Milbury, and Mike 'Doc' Emrik." Those commentators also will "start showing up on the NHL Network, as part of the new NHL-NBC relationship." NHL COO John Collins said of the NBC and Versus telecasts, "We'll look better, we'll look bigger, and have more bells and whistles and more story-telling" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 10/5). Meanwhile, VARIETY’s McLean writes digital offerings “such as video content on NHL.com, the online game-streaming subscription service ‘NHL GameCenter Live’ and mobile content have all grown rapidly.” NHL.com reports that average monthly unique viewers “grew 30% in 2010-11 over the previous season, while subs to ‘GameCenter’ rose 37%” (VARIETY.com, 10/6).
FOREIGN CURRENCY: YAHOO SPORTS’ Greg Wyshynski wrote fans in Europe "won’t have the NHL available on television when the puck drops this week." The NHL’s contract with ESPN America “ended after last season, and the League sought to expand and rethink its television coverage in Europe.” It signed a “five-year deal with Medge Consulting and its partner Advisers Media International (AMI) to represent the international media rights for the NHL in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.” This third party “is trying to cut a dozen deals at the same time, their asking price buoyed by increased competition for the rights and the popularity of the product." Wyshynski noted, “This has made some television providers cringe” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/4). SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Fred Dreier examined the NHL's overseas strategy under the header, "A Goal To Reach Europe" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 9/26 issue).
ON THE TUBE: CABLEFAX DAILY noted that the NHL Network “is no longer carried by AT&T U-verse TV, the victim of weekend darkness after the telco said it tried but was unable to reach a fair, long-term deal with the net it had delivered to U450 and sports tier subs.” Meanwhile, In Demand and the NHL “are offering an 18-day free preview of out-of-market games package 'NHL Center Ice' from Oct 6-23 via at least 9 multichannel ops including all the big cable MSOs” (CABLEFAX DAILY, 10/5).
NHL.com averaged just over 4.7 million unique visitors last season (October '10-May '11), up 12% from 4.2 million viewers for the comparable period during the '09-10 season, according to data from comScore. The site saw 6.4 million unique visitors last April, which marked the end of the '10-11 regular season and the beginning of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The number of uniques in April was the highest monthly level over the last three years and was up 5% from the corresponding period in '10. The last two Aprils were the only periods over the last three years where the site has seen over 6 million unique visitors. The Rangers' website led all NHL clubs with around 229,000 average U.S. online visitors per month last season, followed by the Wild at 136,000 visitors. Among U.S. traffic to Canadian team sites, the Canadiens saw the highest monthly average of visitors last season (40,000). Listed below is a month-by-month trend of unique visitors to NHL.com over the last three years (THE DAILY).MONTHUNIQUE VISITORS
(000)July '081,348February '103,932August '081,178March '104,527September '081,598April '106,092October '082,581May '105,315November '082,476June '103,547December '082,716July '102,188January '092,473August '102,091February '092,372September '102,618March '092,929October '104,300April '093,108November '104,127May '092,830December '104,530June '091,974January '114,555July '091,325February '114,224August '091,366March '114,943September '091,857April '116,407October '092,675May '114,590November '092,488June '114,214December '094,272July '112,507January '104,337August '111,924
The NHL has 1.9 million Facebook likes and 718,779 Twitter followers as the '11-12 season gets underway. The Red Wings lead all teams with 1.1 million Facebook likes. The only other NHL teams topping the one-million likes mark are the Bruins and Penguins. The Blue Jackets, Panthers and Islanders rank at the bottom in Facebook likes. On Twitter, the Canadiens lead all teams with 175,130 followers. The Canucks and Penguins are the only other clubs topping 100,000 followers. The Coyotes rank at the bottom in Twitter followers with only 17,768 (THE DAILY).NHL TEAMS' FACEBOOK LIKES, TWITTER FOLLOWERS THROUGH OCT. 5
TEAM TEAM Avalanche316,61727,488 Jets106,45231,918 Blackhawks985,95593,236 Kings149,20640,156 Blue Jackets58,36521,556 Lightning199,20732,744 Blues134,63733,781 Maple Leafs471,53177,257 Bruins1,017,54087,099 Oilers177,74967,811 Canadiens902,333175,130 Panthers53,87818,359 Canucks623,661164,712 Penguins1,006,504115,947 Capitals391,89456,195 Predators84,57224,588 Coyotes70,33017,768 Rangers338,17750,344 Devils228,35532,178 Red Wings1,120,44786,582 Ducks154,38827,476 Sabres286,95238,562 Flames145,93859,470 Senators114,52926,670 Flyers660,67770,627 Sharks372,23046,972 Hurricanes140,34323,263 Stars129,76126,822 Islanders50,72619,114 Wild146,84126,872
NOTES: Charts reflect the number of Facebook likes and Twitter followers as of Oct. 5. The respective sites tracked were those sites identified as official sites by the teams. Many teams have multiple sites used to reach fans, including sites created by front-office personnel.