Business, overall, is pretty good, especially after the fiscal blow that was the 2004-05 lockout. Financially, the rebound has been extremely impressive, especially in a sport so challenged to boost TV ratings in the USA.
Why, then, is there something so obviously lacking in today’s product?
Simple answer: passion, or lack of it.
We all know the fight game is gone, and by the looks of it, gone for good. Since the late '80s, the Lords of the Boards have done virtually everything within their power to take fighting out of the game. My guess is, they didn’t expect the passion to go with it.
But it did.
True, the game’s overseers haven’t truly banned fighting, because on very rare occasions, a couple of guys still drop sticks, put up dukes, and let the hate out, much to the delight of the fans in the stands and the viewers at home. If the Lords truly wanted to wipe out the sweet science, they could issue mandatory suspensions for fighting, and the suspensions would escalate with each incident, ultimately leading to lifetime suspensions.
Then we would truly have a league embraced and loved by soccer moms the world over, wouldn’t we?
Perish the thought.
In the late-‘80s and early-‘90s, hand in hand with Gary Bettman being named the league’s first commissioner (Feb. 1, ‘93), the NHL became serious about sanitizing the sport. In the U.S., were the league ever to capture a significant viewing audience on a national level, Americans wouldn’t tolerate fighting. The strategy made sense. At least it did back then. If you want to be taken seriously, showed some respect — and more importantly, showed some serious TV ratings — then act like an adult, right?
Fact is, at least by my eye, the game is far too polite for Americans en masse to appreciate. All of 15-20 years ago, the NHL was afraid Americans would shun the game because of fighting. So, out went fighting, and the ratings ... and the ratings ... uh, and the ratings?
Isn’t it time to give Americans what they want? Heck, look at what they do watch. High on the list is the whole reality-TV genre, and the more vulgar, the better. Lock someone in a glass box, and have snakes slither over their chest, and hairy spiders tap-dance across their forehead, and look out, the ratings rocket will launch.
The Lords, remember, feared that hockey fights would offend the senses of the American viewing public. We are now a few million Jerry Springer shows past that brainstorm. If Americans won’t watch fighting, and they’re all in a huff about violence, then why is there still a rather vibrant pay-per-view business shaped around the boxing industry? Why do we flock to MSNBC and CNN the moment a war breaks out or a natural disaster occurs?
PHT: Tuukka Rask has frustrated the Blackhawks to the tune of a 1.22 GAA and .959 save percentage in the Stanley Cup Final. Can Chicago find any luck in Game 4?
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