This year's NHL lockout "has left many Canadian hockey fans feeling slighted by the NHL, a factor that has pulled down its overall brand value," according to a Brand Finance report cited by David Friend of the CP. The consultancy firm estimated that the NHL will lose nearly US$328.2M in brand value in '13 as "fans spend less money on hockey in the coming year." Brand Finance Managing Dir for Canada Edgar Baum said, "It is possible to recover (the brand value), but we're not seeing any indication that's going to happen." The report was "coupled with a survey of Canadian hockey fans completed by its partner firm Level 5," which showed that 41% of casual hockey fans are feeling "more negatively about the sport" after the lockout. Level 5 Managing Partner & CEO David Kincaid said that casual hockey fans "say they plan to cut back on season tickets, branded merchandise and watch sports packages they bought from local cables and satellite providers less." The study "seems to contradict recent evidence that Canadian fans are more rabid about hockey than they've been in years." The survey found that of hockey fans polled who consider themselves "very passionate," about 39% say that they are likely to spend less money on season tickets next year. Only 9% say that they will "increase their season ticket spending," while 52% will "stay the same." About 37% said that they "plan to spend less on merchandise," while 11% said that they will "spend more." The Level 5 survey of 2,074 Canadians was "conducted between Jan. 11 and 14, about a week before the shortened hockey season began" (CP, 2/13). Baum said, "If we were looking to rate an investment in the NHL and its teams like you’d rate an investment in a security, we’d value it as a ‘sell’ or at best a ‘hold.’ What remains to be seen is how long the resentment -- and diminished valuation -- will last" (THE DAILY).
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL: In Denver, Adrian Dater writes it "seems clear" that hockey fans "couldn't wait for their sport to come back, and they gave it a big warm embrace when it did." This year's lockout was "annoying to hockey fans, but the interest in the game's resumption was intense." The larger point is hockey fans are "not as many in number, especially in the United States, as in other major sports, but they are insanely passionate about the game." Those who "predicted all that major damage for the sport during the lockout just didn't get that" (DENVER POST, 2/10).
TIME TO FIGHT FIGHTING: In Boston, Christopher Gasper wrote, “In this age of acute concussion awareness, it’s time for the NHL to KO fighting." This "won’t be popular with the paying customers or players," but that is a "small price to pay to protect the brains of NHL players.” Gasper: “I’m not anti-fighting. I’m just anti-brain damage.” Fighting “won’t go down without a fight," as it is "ingrained in the culture of the NHL.” The absence of fighting “would mean the loss of opportunity for certain types of players” (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/10).
The NHL in conjunction with the NHLPA has "worked diligently over the past two weeks on realignment, including a meeting in Toronto" yesterday between the two sides, according to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com. If all "goes well between the NHLPA and NHL -- the two sides are slated to meet again next week -- the NHL could have a realignment framework for the 30 owners to vote on the week of Feb. 25." Neither NHL nor NHLPA officials yesterday would divulge "just what exactly the league and union have been working on the past two weeks," but it is believed the framework is "a slight variation" from the December '11 realignment format. That plan was "quashed by the NHLPA, which is why the league this time is working alongside the union before bringing it to a board vote." LeBrun: "My guess is the NHL has altered the playoff format or criteria in some form or other to help ease the NHLPA’s concern over the inequity of having seven teams each in two conferences and eight teams apiece in the other two conferences." The timing of realignment talks between the NHL and NHLPA is "no coincidence," with Olympic meetings scheduled for tomorrow and Friday in N.Y. with the IOC and IIHF. There is "no NHL club" that needs realignment more than the Jets, who remain in the Southeast Division after the franchise relocated from Atlanta to Winnipeg. Jets Chair Mark Chipman yesterday said, "It’s our hope obviously that we get out of the Southeast Division and we end up in something along the lines that we agreed to (in December 2011). But I’m not aware of what, if any changes, are being contemplated" (ESPN.com, 2/12).
NEED TO BE HEARD: Capitals LW and player rep Jason Chimera said that the players "simply want a voice" in the realignment process. Chimera: "That's all you ever want. As a player, when you play hockey you want a voice, you want to, you know, voice your opinions. They realigned everything without our consent, so that was the biggest thing. I think it's supposed to be a partnership and you want to have some say in some things and they just kind of threw it at us and said, 'Here it is.'" He added that the NHLPA's "biggest goal is to get a travel schedule that is as balanced as possible for all teams." Chimera said, "In Columbus it seemed like you were jumping time zones every time. ... It's almost ridiculous how much some teams travel way more than others" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 2/11).
The AP's Tales Azzoni reported tennis player Rafael Nadal yesterday criticized the ATP for “not doing enough to protect players' health, saying the increase in hard-court events will lead to long-term injuries that will affect players after they retire." Nadal said, "The ATP worries too little about the players. It should care more for them." He also “complained about the tour's attempt to strictly enforce the 25-second rule between serves, saying it will not benefit the sport.” Nadal: “People like to see great rallies, long matches, and for that to happen, the 25 seconds are not enough. ... I think the players in the locker rooms are not very happy with that rule" (AP, 2/12).
SAFE FOR NOW: FOXSPORTS.com's Jon Paul Morosi reports the participation of Brewers LF Ryan Braun and Nationals P Gio Gonzalez in the World Baseball Classic is "unlikely to be affected" by MLB's ongoing PED investigation into the Biogenesis clinic of South Florida. Sources yesterday said that any discipline arising from the investigation is "unlikely to be announced soon enough to impact the WBC, which begins March 8 for Team USA" (FOXSPORTS.com, 2/13).
CHANGE NEEDED: NBC's Bob Costas appeared on ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" today and talked about the future of the NFL. He said, "It’s clear that Roger Goodell ... thinks it’s not sustainable in its present form. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be undertaking the initiatives in terms of changes in rules and the tens of millions of dollars -- if not hundreds of millions -- that the NFL is devoting towards studies at various universities and equipment changes and whatnot" ("Mike & Mike,” ESPN Radio, 2/13).
ON THE UPSWING: Red Bulls F Thierry Henry said MLS has "improved a lot" during his two-plus years in the league. There are a “lot of teams having their own stadium, the fans are turning to all the games." Henry said when he sees "how many fans are watching the games on TV, it’s kind of refreshing.” He also noted a "lot of good players are coming” into the league from overseas. Henry said if Chelsea MF Frank Lampard comes to the league, as has been speculated, it "can only be a massive plus for the league” ("Chronicle Live," Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 2/12).
K.C. KICKOFF: In K.C., Sam McDowell notes the National Women's Soccer League will “make its debut” on April 13, with FC Kansas City hosting Portland Thorns FC “to kick off the inaugural season" of the eight-team league. Each of the NWSL’s teams will "play a 22-game schedule with 11 home games.” A four-team playoff will "begin Aug. 24, with the league championship scheduled for Aug. 31” (K.C. STAR, 2/13).