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SBD/October 1, 2013/NHL Season PreviewPrint All
The NHL is "remarkably stable as it enters its first full season since" the '12-13 lockout, as there is "no looming labour stoppage, few ownership worries [and] a TV deal," according to Bruce Arthur of the NATIONAL POST. The last six Stanley Cups have been "captured by big or powerful markets." There "won't be another lockout until 2021 or so," and there are new owners for the Devils, Panthers and Coyotes (NATIONAL POST, 9/30). NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said, "The stability we have now with a long-term bargaining agreement has made owning a team more attractive." The CP's Stephen Whyno reported more than a year "removed from the start of the work stoppage," Bettman "isn’t looking back." He said, "In the course of operations of any sports league there are always going to be issues, and what you have to do is tackle the issues, make good, informed decisions, hopefully, and then look forward and move on." Bettman added that he "doesn’t think many people are thinking about a year ago." NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr "considers his interactions with NHL personnel 'normal business-like." Fehr: "I don’t think people take things personally, not when you’re in a situation in which you’re bargaining. Sometimes you get mad, people are tired and on edge and wish it would end and all the rest of it, but it’s not personal. At least not with me." Whyno noted with "at least six more seasons until either side can opt out of this CBA, Fehr can finally settle into a different aspect of his job." Fehr said, "I understand the potential the sport has even better than I did before, I’m sure of that. And I really like it. I’m having a lot of fun, I’m getting a lot of satisfaction out of it" (CP, 9/30).
ROOM FOR MORE? Bettman downplayed the possibility of expanding to 32 teams, saying there is a "limited amount of space" for teams. Bettman: "If we started expanding tomorrow, people would say, 'We've diluted the product.'" Bettman also addressed whether a "troubled" team could relocate, saying, "We have no troubled teams." He added, "It's interesting because a lot of this speculation and rumor and commentary about troubled franchises was exaggerated. Some of it was wishful thinking by place that wanted (to get a team). ... You don’t move unless you have to" ("The National," CBC, 9/30). But in Vancouver, Ed Willes wrote while the league is "generally dismissive of any talk of new franchises or franchise moves, there does seem to be the distinct whiff of change in the air." Over the past couple of years, there have been "any number of reports identifying interested cities: Quebec, the greater Toronto area, Seattle, Kansas City, even Las Vegas." In fact, Seattle has "emerged as one of the front-runners for a new team." If the league "goes the relocation route, Anaheim is thought to be the franchise which will move." So "where does that leave Canada," specifically Quebec City and Toronto? It is "hard to say, but the problem isn’t a lack of interest." A second Toronto franchise "would instantly become an ATM for the league," as the market would "easily support a second franchise even if it encounters some resistance" from the Maple Leafs and Sabres. The "more intriguing" option is Quebec City. However, an NHL source said that teams in "larger American markets can receive double to triple the amount of corporate sponsorships the Jets receive and five times the local TV contract" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 9/30).
GRASPING FOR THE RING: SI's Sarah Kwak noted the Olympics have "given the NHL an international spotlight for two weeks every four years since 1998," but there is now a "growing list of concerns that imperils a powerful brand extension." Insuring the players "remains a big concern," as the estimated cost for the IOC of insuring players' NHL deals for the '14 Sochi Games will be $8-10M. But the NHL's "biggest grievance is the lost business it suffers by shutting down for a fortnight in the middle of its season." The league has "not committed beyond Sochi and doesn't plan to for a while." That decision will "reveal what's more important: international exposure or increasing revenue" (SI, 9/30 issue). In N.Y., Jeff Klein writes the '14 Sochi Games will "cast a long shadow over the season." If those two weeks "produce anything like the 2010 men's tournament in Vancouver ... it will be worth the wait." The Olympic question "will hang over every NHL game" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/1).
The NHL this season is debuting a more geographically balanced format that saw the Red Wings and Blue Jackets move to the Eastern Conference, while the Jets moved to the Western Conference. Additionally, the league reduced the number of divisions from six to four and created the Metropolitan Division (THE DAILY). In St. Paul, Chad Graff reported the Wild will benefit from their new division and schedule "on three main fronts -- earlier games, easier travel, and renewed geographic rivals." The team will "play more games in the Central time zone this season ... than in any other season in team history." Wild VP/Brand Marketing & Communications John Maher: "There aren't as many nights now that if you want to follow you'll have to stay up until midnight, 1a.m. for." Wild ratings on FS North last season were up 96%. This season, due to a "number of factors, including the earlier start times, FSN is cautiously optimistic the numbers will again increase." While FS North Senior VP & GM Mike Dimond said that he is "optimistic that the start times could help ratings, there are several other factors that determine a game's rating, including the day of the week a game takes place, interest in the team, the opponent and what else is on TV" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 9/28). Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said, “It’ll take us awhile to figure it all out, but it brings the NHL back to where we used to be in the 1980s when those division rivalries created a lot of animosity between teams. How it impacts every team is different because the schedule is completely imbalanced as well as how you make the playoffs, but for us, it’s unbelievable because of the travel." Wild Owner Craig Leipold: "Realignment was a no-brainer for us. It’s good for our players, good for our fans, good for our TV ratings and it’s good for our pocketbook because travel costs are less and our TV ratings always drop as we get into the 10:30, 11 p.m. time period" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 10/1).
SIMILAR SITUATION FOR BLUE JACKETS: The Blue Jackets this offseason have seen their overall ticket base -- including renewals and new sales -- up 21%, and while Exec VP/Business Operations Larry Hoepfner was slow to cite realignment as a contributing factor, he did acknowledge that fans now will have an opportunity to see teams more relevant to the Columbus region. “Fans are looking forward to some of the matchups with teams they grew up cheering for and have not been able to [see] as much of in the past,” Hoepfner said. “To have the Penguins come in here, to have the Rangers come in and to have the Flyers come in and the Maple Leafs come in, I think that’s exciting for them.” The NHL’s schedule this year will see every team play a home and away series, so even though the Blue Jackets have switched conferences, they will be able to maintain their long standing rivalries with Western clubs. Other benefits cited in the move to the East include shorter travel for players and coaches and earlier start times for away games, which will be a boost for both the Blue Jackets and their TV partner, FS Ohio. Hoepfner said, “Everyone on the Fox side and on the team side are expecting, given not just the teams that we’re going to be playing but also given the start times of those games that, along with the team’s play, we would expect a significant increase in ratings.” FS Ohio Senior VP & GM François McGillicuddy in an e-mail wrote realignment has made the Blue Jackets' schedule "more accommodating for viewers because there will be less late-night games." He noted games "out west to California and western Canada will be replaced by road trips here in the east.” With a projected increase in TV ratings and decreased travel costs, Hoepfner said “early indications” are the move to the Eastern Conference “is going to be positive" for the team's bottom line. He added, “For us, everybody wins. We enjoyed our time in the West and we respect everyone in the Western Conference but this works out better for our fans and our sponsors and our players” (Jillian Fay, Staff Writer).
PLAYERS MIXED ABOUT NEW DIVISIONS: In Pittsburgh, Shelly Anderson wrote despite realignment the NHL has, "in many instances, kept rivalries intact." Penguins RW Craig Adams said, "It's great for the fans to be able to see every team. What that's going to do with travel, we'll see. (The schedule makers) assured us they were going to try to be a little bit more conscious of the scheduling." Anderson noted speculation is that the NHL "might be leaving room for expansion by two teams, to 32, which could lead to an equal number of teams in each division and conference." Adams: "You would think so. I hope there's some sort of a plan. I don't think it's tenable in the long term as it is" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/30). Ducks C Ryan Getzlaf said of realignment, "I don't necessarily like it. I don't know if it's the right answer to the problem but it's right now." Oilers RW Jordan Eberle: "You're playing divisional teams and those games get a lot more intense. It's better for the fans, now they get to see all the players" (Bergen RECORD, 9/29).
Pfizer's Advil brand has signed on as an Official Partner of the NHL in North America for the '13-14 season. Advil also is an Official Partner and the Official Pain Reliever of the '14 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and the '14 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series. Advil will receive significant media exposure, including camera-visible dasherboards and placement at accompanying fan festivals at NHL tent-pole events (NHL). SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Christopher Botta reports Advil's deal with the NHL is "a one-year agreement," and is Advil's "first direct affiliation with a sports league in many years." Pfizer Consumer Healthcare CMO Brian Groves said that Advil will use NHLers "in hockey-specific campaigns." Groves: "We're signing up players -- guys who are using Advil each and every day -- and will do some fun and creative promotion with them." Botta notes the deal was "inspired in part by a courageous shift" by Bruins C Gregory Campbell during the '12-13 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Campbell "slid across the ice to block a shot." Despite being "in immense pain -- he was diagnosed after the game with a broken leg -- Campbell stayed on the ice to help his team" kill a Penguins power play. Groves was "watching from a suite at TD Garden" that night. He said, "Campbell stayed on the ice in excruciating pain so he could help his team. It resonated with us. We started thinking that pain relief, fast recovery and being there for others made the NHL a great fit for the Advil brand" (SPORTSBUSINESSJOURNAL.com, 10/1).
The NHL opens its national schedule of more than 100 games on the NBC networks tonight with the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks raising their banner before playing the Capitals on NBCSN. Last year at this time, a lockout which eventually reduced the NHL regular season from 82 to 48 games was on, and NHL businesses were in deep freeze. A year later, following an entertaining playoff run between big-market teams, the market has rebounded. NBC Sports Group Exec VP/Sales & Marketing Seth Winter said around 60% of NBC's NHL ad inventory is sold, a bit ahead of past full seasons at this point. "A lot of our clients are in Chicago and Boston, which were the two teams in the finals, so we couldn't ask for much better," Winter said. "I thought we’d come limping out of the (labor) settlement, but hockey fans really are rabid and it shows." NBC’s NHL sponsor lineup sees league sponsor McDonald’s as the presenting sponsor of the pregame show; Jeep is sponsoring "On-Ice Live" during the pregame; Lexus will sponsor the first intermission show; league sponsor Discover will get the second intermission show; new league sponsor Advil is sponsoring overtime; and Bud Light has the postgame show. As for in-game enhancements: Advil has a "Fast Recovery" feature; Progressive sponsors "Inside the Glass;" Wendy's gets the Robo-Cam; Ford sponsors Power Plays; league sponsor Enterprise puts its name on period statistics; league sponsor Verizon has "Game Center Premium;" while league sponsor Honda underwrites a "Start Something Special" feature. NBCSN's Wednesday Night Rivalry series is presented by MillerCoors. For the playoffs, Geico is again the presenting sponsor while Subway sponsors overtime.
After a tumultuous offseason, Flames GM Jay Feaster is finally ready to drop the puck. The Flames traded captain Jarome Iginla prior to the playoffs, longtime G Miikka Kiprusoff retired in the offseason, and the entire lower level of the Scotiabank Saddledome was flooded in June. The Flames also shook up the front office, hiring former Maple Leafs President & GM Brian Burke as President of Hockey Operations. Feaster recently spoke with THE DAILY about marketing plans for the new-look Flames, the chain of command with Burke on board, and the community response to the Calgary floods.
Q: With Jarome and Miikka gone, who do you market? Will you try and promote any individual players to push sales, etc., or do you just market the team aspect?
Feaster: In the past maybe we decided we’re going to have the face of the franchise sort of thing, but what I’m looking for out of this group is that we have 23 faces of the franchise and we have 23 guys playing for the crest on the front as opposed to the self aggrandizement of the names on the back.
Q: You were in Tampa for a while and now have been in Calgary for a few years, what’s the difference in the two markets in terms of selling your product?
Feaster: There’s a tremendous difference. When I was in Tampa we had to try and convince people to come and give people a reason to come out to the games. It wasn't really until we started winning when there were some compelling reasons and people started coming out. The great part about Canada in general -- and certainly Calgary’s market -- is that hockey is so important. It’s such an important part of the fabric of everyday life here, clearly there’s a difference. It’s hockey 24/7. In Tampa, certainly there was one afternoon drive show that occasionally talked about hockey. Here, it’s hockey programming 24 hours a day. It’s radio, it’s print, two different newspapers. Stories about hockey run front page of the paper, not front page of sports.
Q: Hiring Brian, was there a specific plan for chain of command laid out and, if so, how has that played out so far?
Feaster: I report directly to Brian and he’s the president of the hockey department. From our perspective, we've added someone who’s won a Stanley Cup, someone who has such a wealth and experience of knowledge in the game. Now it’s a chance for us as a group, we can sit down and get his thoughts and get his input and thinking. From that perspective, it’s great to have someone of his stature in the hockey department. It’s been great so far. Brian and I have known each other a long time. My relationship with him goes back to my first days in the American Hockey League. So as far as that goes, we have a great relationship and it’s been super.
Q: What has the city’s response been to the flooding at the Saddledome? Any reluctance by fans to come back for any reason?
Feaster: It hasn't had an impact on ticket sales. This is such a tremendous market and such a strong market that the flood demonstrated the resiliency of the people here in Calgary. The minute that it happened, the idea was that we were going to rebuild, and be back bigger and better than ever. I thought it was demonstrated with the Calgary Stampede -- their motto was "Come Hell or High Water." The Stampede went off without a hitch, and once again I believe it drew over 1 million people. What’s incredible here is that you think about this building being under water -- the lower level -- and for us to be able to play a preseason game here on September 14, the building hosted a couple of concerts, it’s just incredible. So many man hours went into it and people working around the clock to get us back into the building. The work that was done in this community to get us back in business -- to get this building back up and running and people back in their homes -- that kind of work ethic, there’s no question that we look to that and are inspired.
Q: (Oilers President of Hockey Operations) Kevin Lowe said a while back that hiring Brian was great for the Battle of Alberta. Would you say the rivalry has died down a little and, if so, would Brian be able to pump some extra life into it?
Feaster: Perhaps they believe it’s died down because they haven’t been able to win too many games against us for quite some time. They gave us a pretty good drubbing in one game last season here in our building which stung and we won't forget, but from our perspective it hasn't died down. If in fact Brian being here takes it to another level, that's great with us.
Q: What are your thoughts on the league expanding to six outdoor games this year? Will they lose any luster?
Feaster: I don't think so at all. I'm confident that in the individual markets themselves, the fan bases within those markets, I think it's wonderful. We had the good fortune of participating in the Heritage Classic here in Calgary a few years back against Montreal and it was absolutely tremendous. Our players loved it, our coaches loved it. The NHL does a great job of involving the families and communities in that. I applaud the league for being visionary in terms of continuing to grow that brand and product.
Q: What kind of impact will realignment have on the league?
Feaster: I think overall for the league, it's positive. I applaud it and think it's good within the context of getting the new CBA in place, it was something the league was prepared to do a year ago and the players weren't. Now everybody's on one side and I think it's going to be good. I think it will be tough on some teams -- certainly you look at the guys in Florida having to fly to the northeast. But that's part of the give-and-take of being one of the 30, there will be some pluses and minuses for each individual team.
The Bruins organization was a "moribund franchise" just a few years ago, but the club has "resurrected and reshaped as a perennial championship-contending heavyweight," according to Kevin Paul Dupont of the BOSTON GLOBE. The key to the turnaround has been "a successful concoction" of Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, President Cam Neely and coach Claude Julien, a "somewhat eclectic bunch brought together in a span of less than 18 months following club owner Jeremy Jacobs’s decision in 2006 to broom out his old management guard." Neely is "head of concept and vision, charged with identifying, restoring, and helping to maintain the franchise’s image, culture, and ethos on both the playing and business sides of the operation." Chiarelli is the "chief hockey integrator, managing both up and down the organization, empowered, he says, with autonomy to make all player moves he and his group deem necessary." Chiarelli said it is a management team that has grown "organically." He added that there have "routinely been differences of opinion throughout the organization ... but nothing yet that has impeded a steadily-improved trajectory leading to two visits to the Stanley Cup Final the last three seasons." Neely said that those disagreements "have been few and relatively easy to settle." Dupont notes what became "abundantly clear in lengthy interviews with Julien and Neely is that Chiarelli ... works through decisions deliberately and methodically." Chiarelli: "You make a major organizational decision like [a major trade], you have to talk to your owner and talk with your president, and let them know what you are doing and why you are doing it. So that’s a decision, while I have the autonomy to recommend and make that decision, it would be negligent of me and anyone else sitting in my chair not to apprise and get counsel from everyone, whether it’s a board, a board and owner, a president" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/1).
There is a "different feeling in the air" around the Maple Leafs at the start of the season, as the revamped organization has an "opportunity to sustain some degree of success for as long as or longer than those achieved" by former President Ken Dryden’s teams from '98-'04, according to Damien Cox of the TORONTO STAR. Despite the "embarrassing" Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Game 7 loss to the Bruins last spring, that series was "still seen by most as a step forward by the Leafs, a demonstration of an ability to compete with the best in the league." For the Leafs, ownership has "often been a source of the team’s inability to have extended periods of competitive success." Cox: "How stable is the dynamic duo of Bell/CTV and Rogers/Sportsnet as joint majority owners?" That is "hard to say." MLSE has "heaved a bunch of bodies overboard in recent months under the leadership" of President & CEO Tim Leiweke. If he "keeps his mitts off the hockey club and the pictures up in the hallways, and if Bell [President & CEO] George Cope doesn’t wake up one morning and decide [GM Dave] Nonis doesn’t fit the brand, there’s a chance for the Leafs to remain stable after a decade of constant player change and management/coaching upheaval" (TORONTO STAR, 9/28).
LEADER OF THE PACK: Cox wrote Nonis is "less flamboyant and outspoken" than former President & GM Brian Burke. While he is "less of a face of the franchise, Nonis still has his hands full." He has been a GM before with the Canucks, but Nonis "is now under the microscope more than he's ever been in his 23-year career as a hockey executive." Asked if he felt he was out of Burke's shadow, Nonis said, "I never really felt like I was under his shadow. I've always been my own person, done things my own way. I think there's more separation now." He added of differences between running the Canucks and Leafs, "There's great interest in Vancouver but in Toronto there's just more. There are more fans, there's more media, there's more attention. There are more obligations. There's more history. There's just more of everything. I think Vancouver was a good training ground for me. I think this is a place and a job that would be difficult as a first job. It's hard enough as it is." Nonis said the most important quality for a GM to have "is patience." He added, "There’s some pretty bright people over the past 15, 20, 30 years that weren’t good managers because they were impulsive. The ones that have had success, not only are they bright and have nerve, they wait for things to happen. You can’t make things happen in this business. Sometimes you have to take your lumps and wait" (TORONTO STAR, 9/28).
POPULARITY CONTEST: In Toronto, Rob Longley writes, "In ways far beyond the control of the coach, management and the players, sometimes it sucks to be the Maple Leafs." When it comes to the "rough start to the 2013-14 season, start with television." TSN "successfully lobbied to have its Wednesday night national schedule debut with the Leafs and the league complied with the Flyers -- a guaranteed ratings blockbuster." However, it "didn't take long for CBC to object, likely at full volume." With the "big-ticket rights the public broadcaster shells out, Hockey Night in Canada wasn't about to let TSN get the jump on the first Leafs telecast." As a result, the Maple Leafs will open at the Canadiens before traveling to face the Flyers. Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said that there "won't be sympathy in any quarters -- especially for a franchise that pulls so much weight with the league and the networks that cover it." Longley notes, however, what has "resulted is the rather odd predicament of Leafs 'partners' who stand to benefit from any success the team has in the form of big ratings inadvertently creating a situation that makes winning more difficult" (TORONTO SUN, 10/1).
The Bruins and Blackhawks both saw a surge in social media popularity on the heels of their matchup in the NHL Stanley Cup Final last season, according to an analysis of Facebook and Twitter followers over the last 12 months. The Blackhawks added 447,000 new followers and the Bruins added 353,000, respectively, to lead the league in gains. Popular franchises like the Rangers, Maple Leafs, Penguins and Red Wings were the only other ones to add more than 200,000 followers in the last year. When judging by increase in percentage points, a majority of the teams with big gains started with a low social media base relative to the more popular franchises. For example, both the Islanders and Blue Jackets saw gains of over 35% for new followers, but still added less than 60,000 total over the last year. Listed below are combined Facebook likes and Twitter followers for NHL teams’ official pages/feeds from October '12 compared to October '13.
TEAMTOTALPREV. (OCT. '12)% GAIN Wild221,743160,905382,648257,44948.6% Senators187,485158,301345,786233,42248.1% Blue Jackets108,525101,049209,574150,44539.3% Islanders124,96791,908216,875160,69635.0% Maple Leafs713,185405,7971,118,982831,92334.5% Panthers92,39887,218179,616134,15633.9% Stars192,944122,939315,883237,73332.9% Blackhawks1,404,218440,0011,844,2191,397,13632.0% Kings375,389265,842641,231490,67130.7% Blues298,411166,496464,907357,71830.0% Oilers277,150242,497519,647401,20129.5% Coyotes121,51790,221211,738163,72529.3% Rangers1,051,322258,1381,309,4601,018,91428.5% Jets197,108168,153365,261287,17227.2% Predators139,477116,676256,153203,14526.1% Ducks223,553118,453342,006272,81125.4% Lightning292,218123,155415,373336,11123.6% Bruins1,417,520438,8671,856,3871,502,68423.5% Sharks559,822165,246725,068590,56522.8% Hurricanes182,360101,074283,434230,87922.8% NHL2,799,6592,008,0574,807,7163,924,70022.5% Flames208,581181,529390,110320,47321.7% Devils344,328155,076499,404416,17920.0% Sabres352,043165,667517,710431,40920.0% Penguins1,317,514424,6611,742,1751,475,60618.1% Avalanche410,504129,315539,819459,92617.4% Red Wings1,406,148338,4251,744,5731,531,80013.9% Flyers875,573280,9591,156,5321,025,49612.8% Canadiens1,023,001454,6181,477,6191,313,98112.5% Canucks827,404419,4361,246,8401,092,47514.1% Capitals519,336184,780704,116614,22914.6%