Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Realigned Schedule Revisited

I was never a big fan of the new NHL schedule, and I like it even less now after watching a very entertaining Canucks/Senators game last week - easily one of the most exciting games of the season and a rare game that actually lived up to its billing - then realizing that the Senators won't back for three more years. For a league that is trying to build exposure, it seems asinine that, in any given year, a city will not be able to watch 10 out of other 30 NHL teams.

This excerpt from Hockey Nation:
The game had been hyped for a week in Vancouver, almost reaching that frenzy one sees at the start of the playoffs. Which leads one to wonder about the NHL's scheduling template for the next few years. As things stand now, with the unbalanced and inter conference rivalries in place, the Sens will not be back for a regular season visit in Vancouver for three years. Which seems like a complete waste of entertainment and box office potential.

Here's some math for the NHL to ponder for next year, earlier this weekthe Sens played Florida before an announced crowd of 10,000 people (widely reported as much less) and no television audience. Friday night the Sens and Canucks played before a sold out crowd of 18,630 at GM place and a Sportsnet audience that will surely report in as huge.

The question for Gary Bettman and the owners is this. Which would bring in more money and more interest to the new NHL, eight games of the Panthers and Sens or even four games of the Sens and Canucks? Unless the NHL calculators are broken they'll realize that it not only makes good hockey sense to feature the Canadian teams against each other more often, it makes good business sense.
It makes sense to me. The NHL's argument for the realigned schedule was to emphasize divisional rivalries. But is it worth it at the cost of losing league-wide exposure of some of its best players so that intra-divisional teams meet eight times a year rather than six? How much of an impact is there in those two extra games and does it balance out the impact of some of the league's best players not playing in exactly 1/3rd of NHL cities?

For example, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have Sidney Crosby, the NHL's most-hyped rookie in recent history, in their lineup, won't play in Vancouver this year. They won't play in Phoenix either where the Coyotes are only averaging just over 15,000 fans per game. Neither in Anaheim who are averaging around 13,600 fans per game. You don't think a visit by Sid the Kid can provide a boost at the gate? An average of 16,873 fans have attended the Penguins' first 15 road games, and in those 15 games, the home teams filled, on average, 90% of their building, including eight sellouts.

Of note, the Penguins won't play in LA either - this means that the NHL's most-hyped rookie won't play a game in Hollywood, in one of the league's largest markets.

The NHL needs to revisit their schedule to allow teams - and their marquee players - to appear in as many different NHL cities as possible. The benefits of marketing and ensuring that their best players are the most visible far outweigh what two extra divisional games bring. It seems like common sense to me and certainly makes good business sense, doesn't it? But then again, this is the same league that built their ad campaign around Will whats-his-face.
posted by J.J. Guerrero, 9:55 PM


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