Friday, November 19, 2010

Be Like Hockey?

First off, Happy Birthday Nichole. 

If a puck falls in a net and no one sees it, does it make a sound?
According to past television ratings and the reduction of nationally televised NHL games on major network channels, I would likely guess not.  But hockey continues to trudge on despite meager numbers in their target audience. 
The NHL has tried to gimmick up the game for a number of years, attempting to pull in new fans, sparing no idea regardless of the fallout in the media before and after each change. 
 When the Dallas Stars moved to the area in the ‘90s, I was one of the many that elected to support my new hometown team, no matter how oblivious I was to the game and the rules of said game.  Soon thereafter came the glowing puck on so new fans could follow the action and know where play was headed.  It was fun for a while but the usual culprits, the media and purists, were adamant that it would destroy the game and alienate the fans hockey had because the luminescent puck was seen as more of a distraction. 
Then came the outdoor games, the first of which I remember was in Fenway Park and I watched and enjoyed it because it was different. 
They tried All-Star type games versus the world and countless other devices in order to pull in a larger audience, but nothing much has stuck and their numbers continue to decrease.
But Commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL competition committee continue to tweak the game no matter the outcome or outrage because their goal is a simple one; add to their numbers and increase their dwindling fan base. And while I am not sure if the latest adventure in gimmickry will be a success, I think it will be worth the watch nonetheless.
Starting this All-Star game in Raleigh, N.C. Jan. 30, the NHL will attempt another foray into the business of grabbing new fans and attaining the lead story on that evening’s Sport Center by adopting a “choose-up” format instead of the traditional East v. West game. 
The new format (televised on Jan. 28) will consist of six, fan-chosen picks (one goalie, two defensemen and three forwards) and 36 hockey operations’ picks to create the pool of All Stars to be drafted.  Those 36 players will pick the two captains and the captains will pick their teams from the pool of players and have the option of choosing anyone they want, regardless of conference. 
And while I still believe it will be a tough road to hoe for the NHL, I think they have the right idea of trying something new and different, no matter what in order to increase the popularity of their sport.  I just wish more leagues would attempt to do the same.
I know the NFL decided to change their Pro Bowl schedule, but it still sucks because as we all saw prior to last season’s Super Bowl, half of the teams in both leagues had to be replaced because they were about to play the following week.
The NBA has also dabbled in changes to their ASG format by adding WNBA players to their skill challenges but that’s been about it.  The games are still terribly non-entertaining and there is no defense resulting in games ending 176-172.
MLB has probably made the most radical of changes in the last 20 years by adding wild cards and making their ASG mean something.  And they’re not done yet.  There is a possibility that in the next two years, we may have two more wild cards with the division winner on a bye week of sorts.  And I may be at odds with the purists, but if that gives my team a chance to make the playoffs every year, I am for it. 
So would a choose-up game work in the other sports?  Well it depends on the rules in place and, in the case of football, how and when the game will be played.
I don’t see it happening in the NFL because they are more concerned with the playoffs and regular season than their exhibitions.  The bottom line for the NFL is, if it don’t make dollars it don’t make sense.  So there’s not a lot you can do except maybe bringing back the skills competitions like they use to with quarterbacks years ago.
The NBA, however, is one that could benefit from tricking up the game a bit.  Could you imagine taking the top scorer in the game and the top defender and making them captains and then allowing them to pick not only their teams, but their coach as well?  Hell, why not even throw some WNBA players in the pool or make it mandatory that one female has to be chosen per team?  How about adding a classic player as a coach or player? 
I would still allow fans to pick the All-star pool, but I wouldn’t let them choose anything beyond that because all they pick are names and not hard-workers (how many times was McGrady and All-Star and he barely played 20 games leasing up to the ASG?).  I think the fans would love it and it would be a hit.
Can you imagine Kobe, James, Artest, Pierce and Rondo against Howard, Dirk, Duncan, Paul and Roy?   
 And the games would end less like triple digit snooze fests and be more like real true contests that people will enjoy and anticipate from year to year.
It’s sad to say, but even though hockey may be losing fans and revenue out the ying-yang, there is no shortage of ideas that they are willing to try.  And it’s about time the other leagues followed their lead for a change.

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