The National Hockey League opened its season on Saturday.
What? You didn’t hear?
That may be because the NHL doesn’t care about you. What’s even better is that the 2008-09 season has started and they don’t want your money. Want proof? If they wanted your money they would have started the season in hockey hotbeds like Detroit or Boston or Buffalo or some puck-mad outpost in Canada. Instead, the NHL played Game No. 1 in Prague, Czech Republic, some 3,000 miles away in the middle of the Old Soviet Bloc. And Game No. 2 wasn’t much closer — Stockholm, Sweden.
Now, did I miss something? When did the NHL become Major League Baseball? That is, when did it become so popular that it could ignore its core market — North America — in an effort to expand its global market? MLB now opens its season in Japan, in part, because it’s so profitable at home and can afford to experiment in outside markets. It’s a strategy that can only work if a league is secure in its home footing. But this is the NHL, which has one or two players worth getting excited about and no big-time national TV deal to showcase them. That doesn’t sound secure to me, but hey…
There could only be one reasonable explanation for this — the NHL is so worried about the new Russian League that it’s trying to remain relevant in Europe so more players aren’t tempted to defect, i.e. players wouldn’t have to leave in order to play in Europe from time to time. The Russian League already netted Jaromir Jagr and a few others but they all WANTED to leave.
The NHL could have played it cool and played games in places like Seattle (no NHL team), Portland (no NHL team), Wasilla, Ala. (no NHL team but plenty of insane hockey moms). Instead, they’re panicking to outside pressure and using resources that could better be spent in the cities that actually have franchises or creating relationships with cities that don’t. Doesn’t the league ever again want to be relevant on the national stage? You know, where the real money is (economic catastrophes aside).
In contrast, when the NFL begins a season, everyone and their grandma knows. There’s endless advertising, a nationally-televised game on primetime Thursday and a double-header on Monday night. That’s how you guarantee a successful opening. Not by playing a game where the only footage is Zapruder-style and can only be found on YouTube.
It makes me wonder if the NHL even has a marketing department.