- wadE

I'm sure some of you read this last week, but I just came across it today.

In case you are coming across this article after the free Sports Guy archive timeframe (don't even get me started on having the SG's archives part of the "Insider" subscription on ESPN.com... I will never, repeat, NEVER pay for any content on espn.com...) I'll give you the quick recap.

SG wonders why no one is up in arms about the NHL Lockout, and at the end mentions that Vince McMahon creating the XHL would be far more successful than the XFL.

Before we get to that, let's talk about the NHL Lockout. I think the SG has a great point when he says:

This was a blue-collar sport for middle-class fans -- a quality dive bar with one good TV, a few solid beers on tap and a ballbusting bartender named Fitzy. Then they tried to retool into an upscale joint with $15 beers and bartenders in bow ties. Suddenly, the price of NHL tickets rivaled that of the NFL and the NBA. Does that make sense? Would the WWE charge $200 for a WrestleMania pay-per-view? Would Jeff Foxworthy charge $150 a seat for the "You Might Be a Redneck 2005" comedy tour? How could the NHL misunderstand its audience so badly?

Now the owners are pushing for massive pay cuts and a salary cap. It's like dropping 10 grand in a casino and then calling for the abolition of blackjack. Still, it's the right idea. I believe NHL players should make $10 an hour, maybe $12. And we should be able to buy two tickets, park, throw down some beers and dogs and brawl in the bathroom for no more than $70 per person. Everyone would live happily ever after.

It's a good point. I don't think I'd go so far as to compare Hockey to Jeff Foxworthy, but it's true. Hockey priced themselves right out of their prime demographic. Sure, the "small" TV deals and the uber-casual corporate fan made up for the loss of the average fan, but once push came to shove, and the season was effectively gone, who is going to lead the charge to complain? The guys in the luxury boxes? They've already moved on and scored some seats at the local NBA arena.

There are plenty of people who are bummed out about the lockout, but how many are up in arms about it, and have the numbers to do anything about it?

An even more intriguing question is whether or not there really is a gap without Hockey. Do we really need 4 major sports, economically and socially?

Football. September - January (*cough* February). Expensive tickets, but only 8 home games per year. Baseball. April - October. Cheap Tickets (relatively speaking), 81 home games. Basketball. November - June/July. Mid level ticket prices, 41 games. A nice balance between all three. Hockey. October - June. Mid level ticket prices, 41 games. Looks like that niche is already taken. True, not everyone who is a fan of hockey is a fan of basketball, and vice-versa. Those two are decidedly the numbers 3 & 4 of major sports.

So let's talk about what really matters... TV $$$. Hockey was on its way in the 90's. Big TV deal with FOX (I'll get to the FOX-Bots in a moment), national exposure, and what happened? It flopped. Not because of the FOX-Bots (even though they were the most god-awful creation FOX has ever done, and that includes "Who's Your Daddy?") ...not even because of the glowing puck. Because Hockey isn't a product for TV. The professional hockey rink is 200 feet by 85 feet, compared to Basketball which is 94 feet by 50 feet. And keep in mind this is after the NHL thinned the rink by 15 feet. A hockey puck is 3 inches in diameter, and only 1 inch high; a basketball is over 9 inches in diameter, obviously much easier to see. Basketballs don't disappear behind boards from time to time leaving everyone (including the TV cameras) confused on where the puck is. And finally, there is little confusion when a goal is scored in basketball, hockey, wait for the replay. I'll skip past minor things like the myriad of rules that confuses most casual hockey watchers: icing, two line pass, etc.

So why does anyone even like hockey? Well, it's an amazing game of skill, speed, and endurance that is perhaps unmatched by any other sport. And yes, some people really like the fighting. :-) But it's a complicated game that you have to be exposed to for a long time to really appreciate it.

Part of the problem is that playing hockey is expensive. Basketball, all you need is well, a basketball. You can find a basketball court (or at least half court) in just about every corner of the country... from the crowded streets of Manhattan, to the spacious parks of Manhattan, Kansas.

Hockey? Well... you need a puck... everyone playing needs a stick, and skates. If you're remotely serious you'll need someone playing goalie, who's going to need more protection than a bunch of pillows tied around his legs and arms.

Have you seen the costs of hockey skates?

Ok, let's say you got all your stuff... now, where are you going to play? Well, if you live in the northern states like I do, you can play outdoors for 3-6 months depending on how harsh the winter is. Or you can pay for ice time which is going to run you a bit more per hour than it would to get a membership from your local YMCA to play pick-up hoops for a month.

Last point... how many people have played some sort of basketball? Probably 75%. Hockey? 10%... at best.

So what's the point of all of this? Well Hockey has a small fan base and a game, while fun, is not TV-friendly.

So what's next? Well, I personally think the NHLPA (player's union) has no choice but agree to the owner's demands, or spend their careers in Europe, Canada's myriad of leagues, or convert to Lacrosse.

So in the absence of the NHL, what about the XHL?

And that leaves an opening for the Fourth Major Team Sport. ...my vote goes to letting Vince McMahon retool his XFL idea for hockey: low costs, cool cameras, snazzy uniforms, identifiable gimmicks, fights galore. I'm telling you, the XHL can't miss.

And if he ever canceled a season, you can bet there'd be more than one person saying, "You know what's killing me? This XHL lockout!"

Sad, but probably true...

- 02/08/2005

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