Monday, June 29, 2009

Growth by shrinkage

As we here are probably all aware, business can be ruthless. Successful business, anyway.
Hey, we've probably seen some ruthless moves and assessments here, and we do this for free.
The NHL, like it or not, is still a business at heart, a cold, black, inky heart, just like the big boys.
They have employees in Human Resources, Sales and Marketing, Quality Control, and Production.

They have one overriding objective: To get more profits from customers and to expand their market position.

Just like every other business they have to realize that at some point you have to batten down the hatches, stockpile what you need, get rid of excess, and ride out the storm. It's not fun: feelings get hurt, lives are affected, and security feels to be non-existent.
That's why, generally, only the strong and smart survive.

Surviving is great, but the truly visionary develop a plan that would put them ahead of the curve when the storm finally lifts. While a gamble, this is what can create greatness.

The storm appears to have only just started, so survival is objective number one. The dead have very limited options.

Objective number two is to see how to swing survival to one's advantage. If you're going to survive a situation, try to end up stronger than your competitor, if they survive.
The NHL, if it plays the chess-game correctly, has an opportunity to have a power and domination not seen in its entire history within the next five years.

You may want to take a moment to think about that sentence and consider the possibilities, or to swallow that drink before you scatter remnants of it all over your keyboard. Those with dry sinuses please read on.

In it's primary marketing target area (the United States); the NHL has never been higher than number four on the professional sports landscape. It put up a good show and fight for a while, but has slowly been losing ground over the last 20-30 years as NASCAR, Golf, Tennis, and (ahem) Poker have all had tried to move up the food chain with varying success at staying there.
In its secondary marketing target area (Canada), the NHL has a product that dominates the sporting landscape. Much as baseball is perceived in America, Hockey is bolstered by History, Tradition and Mythology. It is a revered and romanticized entity. The church is already filled to overflowing (so to speak): the sales pitch is not needed.

But the U.S. is a fickle and elusive beast. So much size, population, and ethnic variation make its reactions far less predictable, but the rewards are immense. The money pouring into Baseball and Football in this country, while bound to be reduced over the next few years, would still boggle the mortal mind with astronomical figures. Everything below second most popular may well be up for grabs soon. That's the brass ring that the NHL needs to target, the number three position.

...then sink its hooks in deep enough to stay there.
The NHL has several ingredients for success percolating along nicely:

1) Youth hockey in the U.S. is on the rise. The popularity is slipping down the age brackets at the amateur ranks.

2) Say what you will about the southernmost franchises, they have helped to raise “awareness” of the sport, where none previously existed.

3) Carbon fiber, advanced electronics and lightweight materials make hockey one of the more technologically savvy sports products (excluding F1).

4) Filmed right, hockey can pick up dramatic and sensationalistic attributes not available in other sports.

So how does this make Hockey more of a saleable product, and why does it need a five year plan to reach its ultimate success?

More quality product will be available:
The rise of interest in hockey, at a younger age, will increase the available amount of talent that is coming to draft age. Couple this with the inevitable dissolution of the KHL (nice try guys, but no cigar) and hockey may no longer look quite so…diluted…as it has for the past few decades.

Awareness of product in new areas:
Hockey is perceived as, for the most part, a Caucasian dominated sport. No one race has a lock on all talent, so consider all the untapped ability and talent out there that is just waiting to be nurtured and cultivated.

America is technology obsessed: everyone knows it and everyone caters to it. Hockey is a natural as it could readily accept all sorts of gadgets and gadgets sell.

Camera presence:
Filmed capably, hockey has a bit of everything: Racing speed, screaming crowds, obscene chatter, and John Woo levels of violence.

F*#! art, baby…lets dance.

Hockey has a certain “traditional” filming technique, pick up a few out of work rock video guys to inject some new blood into the filming crew and see how interesting the results are.

Put all these factors together and Hockey could dominate the landscape, accommodating and evolving with they future while keeping its past identity. The best of both worlds.
So what’s the catch?

The catch is that thing have to get worse before they can get better. A lot worse.
…and by worse, I mean contraction. When the market tanks and the purse isn’t big enough, that means lay offs and sacrifices.

The NHL has to sacrifice some parts to keep the rest of the body healthy. It cannot sustain maintaining franchises in area that are not capable by either population, available disposable income or marketing interest, of supporting their own survival. It’s time to cull the herd.
Who to cull? That’s a possible avenue for future discussion, and I’ve expressed enough conjecture and theory for one article.

But consider, for a moment, the possibilities. Younger fans probably have little recollection of when Hockey was a viable force in the U.S. of A: but older fans remember a time where most hockey players would be recognized on the street, when a hockey game could be found on a major network, when local sports radio actually discussed hockey on a regular basis.
Believe me kids, these things once existed.

…and could again.

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