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Saving the game

My six radical steps for making the NHL more popular

Posted: Monday October 23, 2006 3:16PM; Updated: Tuesday October 24, 2006 3:45PM
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Surely, a surly, unstable and unpredictable Alexander Ovechkin would do wonders for putting fannies in those empty seats.
Surely, a surly, unstable and unpredictable Alexander Ovechkin would do wonders for putting fannies in those empty seats.
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

NHL attendance is down. Reports from New York to Anaheim show declining numbers in fan participation. In Denver, the Colorado Avalanche did not sell out a home game for the first time since November 1995. The Blackhawks dispensed 8,000 tickets for their second home game, which put about 5,000 in the actual seats. Even Red Wings fans could not sell out Staples Center in L.A., which they've annoyingly done for seven years.

I'm told that local radio stations bid into the tens of millions for the rights to broadcast NBA games, but certain NHL franchises must PAY radio to be aired -- if they can find a willing outlet. Combine this with the fact that I still can't find OLN/Versus on the cable box, and the lack of a Wayne Lemieux to transcend the sport, and it's a bit of a depressing time for hockey enthusiasts.

I am therefore pleased to see the NHL finally taking an interest in marketing its stars. For whatever reason, the NHL has been late to the game in hyping heroes. As the hockey player is the least narcissistic of any professional athlete, perhaps it's understandable why hockey culture has been reluctant to blatantly market faces. After all, The Gospel preaches T.E.A.M. Still, in the age of content, branding and hyperbole, competition for eyeballs is fierce, and the NHL must enter the 21st Century.

On that E flat, I'm happy to provide my own six-step plan to yank the NHL off page eight and into the headlines of every tabloid, rag, fishwrap and cable news channel in North America. Let's have a go:

1. Have A.O. go T.O.

Alexander Ovechkin is a burning talent on the ice, perhaps the best we have. Initialed nicknames are key to breaking into the mainstream (think M.J., L.T. etc.) After proper training in incendiary behavior, egomania, and irrational diatribes, A.O. will proceed to destroy franchise after franchise while concurrently increasing his market value. As A.O., Ovechkin's hourly press conferences with newly-hired agent Donald Trump will crash through the content clutter. After a few years of pop culture obsession, our strategy will culminate in a mysterious A.O. overdose, allowing publicist Paris Hilton to declare the answer to life's riddle comes in 25 million sacred increments.

2. Inject the Clear and the Cream.

The Steroid Era has dominated national conversation for years, so why should hockey be immune? Think of the opportunities. Goalies, already disadvantaged by the new rules, could grow heads big enough to cover both top shelves. You think Sean Avery has an anger management issue now, just wait. We might even see Jaromir and Pavel lose the visors and start scrapping. The ensuing court cases, jailed reporters, Congressional testimony and speculation will bond hockey in perpetuity to the Big 3 sports. Imagine: we could plant selected rumors about the hallowed Mario. Frankly; nobody could be that big, and that good, naturally.

3. Allow head coaches onto the ice to dispute penalties.

Think laced-up Lasorda. In addition, rescind penalties if the pursuing coach can catch either referee in less than two minutes. You don't think Mark Crawford rink-chasing Kerry Fraser in front of 15,000 screaming fans would make the 11 p.m. news hour?


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