Saturday, October 6, 2007

Well, That's A Thought

I don't know if you guys ever read the Google links on the right of this page but at this moment there is a link to an article in Slate on how the NHL should adopt a relegation system similar to that of British soccer.

It is an interesting concept but flawed nonetheless. The writer, Nate DiMeo, makes a good point in saying that hockey's popularity would likely grow with a smaller league. There would be a higher concentration of talent, and the markets that were left would be stronger after not having to prop up the weaker ones.

However, Mr. DiMeo goes on to say that television ratings would improve as the battle against relegation to a lower league would increase interest in losing teams. It may, but only if they came down to one final game, and that game didn't coincide with any big NBA games or the beginning of baseball season. Oh yeah, and it wasn't on Versus.

He believes that 'minor' teams that would battle for promotion into the NHL would "be going crazy." Unfortunately he used WHL powerhouse Vancouver Giants as an example even though they are a junior level team, so that is completely flawed. But he also threw Hersey and Providence out there - AHL cities that physically can't accommodate 15,000 fans. Granted there are some that could (Bring Back The Whale!) but most could not and let's face it, its hard enough to get a draw when you are playing a city like Atlanta, could you imagine Manchester, New Hampshire? Try selling a really small market like Wilkes Barre, PA to corporate sponsors. It just doesn't work.

As I mentioned in a post this summer, one of my solutions to improve the league would be to move the struggling teams to Canada. There are big corporate dollars in our neighbor to the north, granted many not as big as the ones in the states, but something is better than nothing.

I would rather the NHL sign a big deal with Canadian National or RBC than a nickle and dime contract with Southwest Airlines or whomever. Home Depot and McDonalds already are Canada-only sponsors of the league and imagine the increase in their deals if the NHL put another two teams north of the border (say, a team in Hamilton and one back in Winnipeg). Not to mention the draw for multinational corporations if the NHL ever moved globally.

So back to the original point, a relegation system just wouldn't fit the NHL today. There is no way the owners or (more importantly) the sponsors would allow team contraction and relegation. Yes, it would make for a better game on the ice, but it wouldn't help the flawed television product or the all-important bottom line.

EDIT - Wow was I out of it while at work yesterday, apparently this topic has been covered in a few places with BMR thinking it isn't that bad an idea and Mirtle calling it "compelling".

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