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Let's Punch the NBA in the Mouth

August 11, 2019

Figuratively speaking, of course.

 

Let's re-establish some parameters before we start just so we're all on the same page here. I am a bitter Cleveland Basketball Fan. Peeved that LeBron left twice and Cleveland got 1 Championship in LeBron's 20+ year career (when all is said and done.) But I'm not enraged because my favorite major sports league is the NHL. The NHL has a better sports product, but horrible management. The NBA has better management, but a worse product. How do I figure? Players more worried about their brand than the sport.

 

Lost in all of the Anthony Davis furor is that NBA Champion Kawhi Leonard can leave the Toronto Raptors. He shouldn't, but he can. I keep reading rumors and more rumors that he is leaving Canada.

 

If Gary Bettman is smart (he's not, but let's pretend that he is,) he would get on the phone with the owner of the Phoenix Coyotes and ask him what it would take to get him to move his team to Toronto. I have been beating the drum forever that Toronto needs 2 hockey teams in its market, just like New York and Los Angeles have multiple teams in multiple sports.

 

I saw Wayne Gretzky on the ABC Broadcast of the Raptors-Warriors series and couldn't help but think that if Leonard left Toronto and then the Coyotes moved to Toronto, that you would KILL the NBA in Canada.- Beacon of Speech, 1 Month Ago

 

Kill the NBA in Canada? How do you figure? I'm glad you asked.....

Until the mid-1990's, the NHL owned Canada.

In 1993 Gary Bettman became Commissioner of the NHL.

In 1995 the Nordiques left Quebec and were re-branded the Colorado Avalanche.

In 1996 the Jets left Winnipeg and were re-branded the Phoenix Coyotes. 

In 1996 the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup.

In 1998 the Edmonton Oilers came within hours of becoming the HOUSTON Oilers (NHL).

In 1999 the Flames publically threatened to leave Calgary.

 

Due to the weak Canadian dollar, almost all Canadian NHL teams struggled in the 90's. Instead of standing at the Commissioner's Podium and and defending traditional Canadian Fan Bases, American Gary Bettman smelled money and let Rich American Looters across the border. 

 

Bettman also sat idly by as the NBA branched out into Canada in 1995 in the form of the Vancouver Grizzlies and the Toronto Raptors. The Grizzlies ended up moving to America, but the Raptors have made in-roads not only in Toronto, but in all of Canada. The NBA and the NHL compete on nearly identical schedules, so they fight for some overlapping Winter Entertainment Dollar$.

 

The Raptors' Championship was marketed as a Championship for Canada. When is the last time a team from Canada went on to win the Stanley Cup? That would be in 1993. The Montreal Canadians' Championship also "coincidentally" coincided with Gary Bettman's first year.

 

What does any of this have to do with Kawhi Leonard? For a very brief time, Basketball had won over Canada. 

You ever hear former Toronto native Tristan Thompson complain that he'd like to go "home?" No, you see Thompson head to Los Angeles at every opportunity he gets to plow skanks

 

During the NBA's offseason, there's been a steady drum beat of news concerning player movement, franchise values, and salary caps. There's not been a day that the NBA ISN'T in the news. The NHL? Since the Stanley Cup ended, I remember reading one article about Ron Francis' vision for the expansion Seattle Franchise. And THAT'S IT.
 

Moving a second franchise (again, I'm looking at the Phoenix Coyotes) to Toronto would be the biggest offseason news for the NHL since.....

 

The NHL has to do SOMETHING. For generations, Canadians loved hockey because it was in their DNA. But today, even soccer is making all kinds of in-roads in Canada. In 2008, the Canadian Soccer Association started something called the Canadian Championship for the top level of soccer in Canada. Since then, Toronto FC has won 7 Canadian Championships and 1 MLS Cup.   

 

I am beating my fist on the table, yelling until my vocal cords are shredded. Hockey is a great game that needs to be marketed better. The Top 5 players in the NHL need to be household names and the offseason needs to be awash with new hockey ideas. 

 

  • #1 Build a Tournament into your season.

Subtract 4 meaningless regular season games and have a "fun" mini-tournament that would still count toward the final standings. How would you do that? 

Well, for example, you'd split the NHL into quarters

 

Canadian Tournament

 

Edmonton 

Calgary

Vancouver

Winnipeg

 

vs

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto (Coyotes)

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

 

Every year you'd have a 50/50 shot of a Toronto playing for the Northern Tournament Championship. The format? Easy. Round robin in groups of 4. Then 1st plays 1st for Championship.

2nd plays 2nd

3rd plays 3rd 

4th plays 4th for a grand total of 4 games that would count toward regular season standings. 

Each team plays 2 home and 2 away games. Every team would want home game in the finals round, so you'd have to rotate who'd be the home team in the last round every other year. Same format for all 4 tournaments.

 

Western Tournament

 

Seattle

San Jose

Los Angeles 

Anaheim

 

vs

 

Los Vegas

Dallas

Colorado 

Minnesota

 

Every year you'd have a 50/50 shot of an L.A. team playing for the Western Tournament Championship.

 

Central Tournament 

 

Chicago

Detroit

Columbus 

St.Louis

 

Nashville

Carolina

Tampa Bay

Florida

 

Eastern Tournament

 

New York Rangers

New York Islanders

New Jersey 

Boston

 

vs

 

Pittsburg

Buffalo

Washington 

Philadelphia

 

Every Year you'd have a 50/50 shot of a New York team playing to the Eastern Tournament Championship. You could argue it's gimmick-y, but no one is watching hockey in October and November. TRY SOMETHING.

 

  • #2 Free TV

While I was typing up this article, I was watching MLS TV on the Pluto Streaming Service. I watched soccer highlights for about 2 hours. You can't tell me that MLS has more money in its coffers to market their game without fans paying an arm and a leg for cable highlights.

 

Again, MLS TV doesn't show current games, only highlights and "classic" games. The NHL should have been the FIRST sport to think of that model.

 

  • #3 Hire Non-Hockey Personalities

The NFL hires comedians to show up on its halftime shows. The NHL needs to hire personalities to create some friction both in the studio and covering the games.

 

When you think of Hockey Personalities, the first person you think of is Don Cherry.

DON CHERRY IS 85! 

 

My point is, you've got to get yourself a Canadian Version of Steven A Smith, where half of the hockey fans LOVE him and half of the hockey fans HATE him, but everyone knows who he is.

 

  • #4 You've got to play up the angle that NBA players just don't want to go to Canada. 

You need to beat the drum long and loud about the NBA exploiting Canadians. The NBA wants the Canadian Dollars, but the players lament that Toronto just isn't L.A or New York. NBA Players Simply Don't Like Playing in Canada. Who's the Toronto Raptor's biggest free agent signee in their history? I could argue that it's Jeremy Lin.

 

When was the last time you heard a hockey player whine that he didn't want to play in Canada? The only hockey players I recall complaining about where they played were Russians. Pavel Datsyuk just wanted to go "home." For Datsyuk, home is Yekaterinburg, Russia, half a world away and a totally different culture. I get that. Just as an example, if an NBA Player is signed to the Raptors, they don't need to learn a new language, don't need to learn a new culture, and don't have to navigate a WHOLE different set of <ahem>...let's use the term Local Politics. An NBA player not wanting to play in Toronto has the same wrong-headed mindset as one that doesn't want to play in Minneapolis.

 

  • #5 Hockey Day

Don't get me wrong, the Outdoor Stadium game on New Year's is great, but you need something that involves all the teams. You should try a slightly altered NCAA Basketball Kickoff Model. At 9:00 am on a February Saturday, right after Football Season, you should have a North American Hockey Day. All NHL teams play every half an hour. Sample Schedule below:

 

9:00 AM Toronto Maple Leafs v Toronto (Coyotes)

9:30 AM Montreal v Ottawa  

10:00 AM New York Rangers v New York Islanders

10:30 AM New Jersey v Boston

11:00 AM Pittsburg v Buffalo

11:30 AM Washington v Philadelphia

NOON Chicago v Detroit

12:30 PM Columbus v St.Louis

 

1:00 PM Nashville v Carolina

1:30 PM Tampa Bay v Florida

2:00 PM Seattle v San Jose

2:30 PM Los Angeles v Anaheim

3:00 PM Las Vegas v Dallas

3:30 PM Colorado v Minnesota

4:00 PM Edmonton v Calgary

4:30 PM Vancouver v Winnipeg

 

NBC should cut in and out of games like it's NCAA March Madness.

Give those hard-core hockey fans a reason not to get off of the couch for a day and the casual fan an opportunity to come in and out of multiple games at once.

 

#6 The Hockey Movie

The Greatest Hockey movie of all-time, Slap Shot, is over 40 years old. Despite the hockey and humor being timeless, the soundtrack and the actual film stock quality are dated. The NHL needs to invest in a great script and make another awesome hockey movie. (Those reminding me of The Mighty Ducks Movie Trilogy....YOU'RE BANNED FROM THE BLOG.)

 

#7 The Hockey Movie (Alternate Idea)

One of HBO's most popular shows is Hard Knocks. Hard Knocks follows an NFL Team through the pre-season and gives the viewer a peak behind the NFL curtain.

What's practice like?

The drama of who gets cut.

Dealing with the Heat.

And, most importantly, the show humanizes the gladiators behind the pads.

You root for the undrafted rookies and pick your favorite players.

 

HBO needs to take the viewer up close to the NHL product. Instead of Hard Knocks, once a month, HBO follows an NHL team in real time. They turn on their cameras at 6:30 pm and cameras are everywhere until 10:30. In the locker room, on the bench, in the net, on the helmets. And don't skimp on the production costs. Have microphones everywhere and Go-Pros anywhere that they can fit.

 

Make the production of the game a Movie Level Experience.

 

Every time I hear an NBA Player say "there's no place like home," it comes out as disingenuous. 

 

 

The first player I remember who wanted to go "home" and play pro ball was Bernie Kosar. The Cleveland Browns and Kosar "manipulated" the supplemental draft so that Kosar could play for his hometown team.

 

Kosar still has a place in Cleveland today and if you head out to the casino, you can eat at Kosar's Wood Fired Grill.

 

As a matter of fact, you see members of those iconic 80's Browns teams all over town. My Father-in-Law just bought a car from Reggie Langhorn. Hanford Dixon is a successful local realtor. You can listen to Bob Golic on Akron's WNIR. At one time, you could buy your car from Mike Pruitt Honda or Clay Matthews Pontiac.

 

You used to see Kosar all over the place. He was part-owner of the Cleveland Gladiators (AFL), he used to be the preseason voice of the Browns, and you'd hear him talking sports on all the local radio stations. Despite winning a Super Bowl ring with the Dallas Cowboys, if you cut Kosar, he would bleed orange and brown.

 

You know who you never heard on a local Cleveland talk show....EVER? LeBron. Local TV Broadcasts? Nope.

But he built that school in Akron...

 

Yeah, we're not going to talk about that PR Stunt........

 

The Truest thing I ever heard on SportTalk Radio is that if the fans care more than the players, that is "unhealthy."

 

In this case, it's unhealthy for ME to care more than the Commissioner of the NHL.

 

All I know is that Hockey is a Great Game that should be able to market itself. If it can win back over Canada, it will be on a roll and possibly regain its status as the fourth major North American Sport. To watch it get slaughtered in the ratings by a bunch of Basketball "Businessmen" pretending to be sentimental is disheartening.

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