Friday, December 14, 2012

Preds must find a way to continue positive momentum

This season's NHL Lockout threatens the long-term health of every team in the league, and the Nashville Predators are no exception. In a time where hockey in Nashville had been reaching new heights, the lockout threatens to destroy the positive momentum that the Predators and the Nashville area have seen over the past few seasons.

The Predators are coming off of their two most successful seasons in franchise history, both on and off the ice. They advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the last two seasons, and attendance has been steadily rising.

Nashville is in a better situation during this lockout than it was in the 2004-05 lockout, but the challenge remains virtually the same. Back then, the Predators had just made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in the 2003-04 season and suddenly found that momentum halted by losing a full season in 2004-05.

Once the NHL came back, the Predators knew they had to make a splash to regain the interest of local fans around the Nashville area. They were able to make that splash by acquiring superstar free agent forward Paul Kariya. It was exactly the jolt of energy that hockey fans in Nashville needed, and the 2005-06 season saw the Predators reach heights they had never seen before. They finished fourth in the Western Conference Standings and once again made the playoffs.

Things are slightly different this time around, but the challenge remains the same. Obviously, the entire 2012-13 season has not been canceled as of yet. However, the NHL has missed enough time to alienate their fans all across the league, and it's very likely that attendance and winning fans back to the NHL will be a challenge for teams all across the league whenever they do resume play.

Nashville has to find a way to continue to build upon the momentum they have gained over the last two seasons. In all likelihood, that solution isn't going to come in the form of a new free agent signing or by way of a trade. The Predators have a pretty good roster in place already. Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne are arguably the best at their respective positions in the entire league, and the Predators have a good mixture of veteran and young talent at the forward position. They shouldn't have too much of a problem putting together a competitive team on the ice. The challenge is going to be maintaining the interest of the casual fan and continuing to grow the game and fan base.

If the current lockout comes to an end sooner rather than later, it's going to be a little bit easier for the Predators to regain the interest of the casual sports fan in the greater Nashville area. After all, the Tennessee Titans have been nothing short of awful this season. There's no telling how well the Predators could have been doing right now from an attendance perspective had the season started on time.

The big challenge that the Predators will face is the same challenge that every other team in the NHL will face. The longer this mess goes on, the more apathetic the fans will get. That's the true doomsday scenario for the NHL. People can be mad all they want, but that means they still care about the game and will more than likely return once the games return. Once apathy starts to set in, that's when things get hairy. It's hard to sell your product to people who have become so fed up with nonsense that they simply do not care anymore.

Over the past few seasons, the Predators have been fortunate to have some of the very best in the business from a marketing perspective. Predators CEO Jeff Cogen and COO Sean Henry, along with a good on-ice product, have been able to fill Bridgestone Arena consistently. The Predators are visible in the community, hosting all sorts of different events to engage with their fans. They have even put together some events during the lockout to continue an engaging relationship with their fans and maintain an interest level.

All of that positive momentum and growth will truly be put to the test once the NHL returns. A good on-ice product is obviously going to be the biggest step in trying to get fans back and build on the success of the past two seasons. Cogen, Henry and the rest of the Predators' staff will have their work cut out for them, however. It's no different from any other team around the NHL. It's just the way it works when the business sees two work stoppages in an eight year span. However, if the last two seasons are any indication, the Predators are in a pretty good position to regain that positive momentum that this NHL lockout has put on hold.

(Photo Credit: Leanne Charles)

Friday, December 7, 2012

NHL, NHLPA speaking two different languages

The NHL is running out of time. After Thursday's disasterous turn of events, talks between the NHL and NHLPA have stalled, and hope seems to be dwindling pretty fast.

Gary Bettman and Bill Daly's question and answer session with the media on Thursday evening, which can been seen here, was quite telling. Bettman was visibly upset and flabbergasted on exactly how this process has reached this point.

Before Bettman and Daly spoke to the media on Thursday evening, NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr spoke to the media and painted a fairly rosy picture about how close the two sides were.

"We think there is a complete agreement on dollars. If that's the case, and we think it is, there wouldn't seem to be very much reason why we shouldn't be able to conclude an agreement in the near term. And we certainly expect and hope that that turns out to be the case," Fehr said.

Bettman and the NHL had a very different message. In the media sessions Thursday night, Bettman and Daly seemed to be totally bamboozled on why Fehr would say the two sides were close.

"Actually, it's not the first time (Fehr) said we were close when we weren't. I don't know why (Fehr) did that, especially when he knew the parameters that had been laid out last night and what had evolved over the week," Bettman said. "I find it almost incomprehensible that he did that."

It appears the NHL is getting fed up with trying to deal with Fehr and the NHLPA. Bettman and Daly didn't have much of a filter on Thursday night and didn't hide their displeasure on the way negotiations have been going from the NHLPA's side.

"The Union basically, up until recently where there started to be some movement, made the same proposal dressed up a little differently over and over and over again," Bettman said.

It's unclear what exactly Fehr was trying to accomplish by saying the two sides were close on Thursday night. It's pretty apparent that they aren't really that close. Fehr had even asked for mediators to be brought back into the negotiating process earlier on Thursday. If the two sides were as close as he claimed, why would mediation be necessary?

The 2012 NHL Lockout has turned into a complete mess. A league that was on the rise and continually increasing their hockey related revenue is now being slowly destroyed by each passing day that is missed.

At what point do both sides look in the mirror and decide whether or not trying to win the battle for collective bargaining is worth missing an entire season?

There comes a point when both sides have to realize that neither of them is going to get exactly what they want out of these negotiations. That's the entire point of a negotiation. Both sides need to be able to realize when they have reached the absolute best possible deal they can get out of this situation. It's not going to be the ideal solution for the NHL or the NHLPA, but is it really worth destroying the product that has seen pretty rapid growth over the last seven years?

Regardless of what Fehr said on Thursday, the two sides are not speaking the same language and do not appear to be close to making a deal. Time is running out. If this issue hasn't been resolved by the middle of January, the cancellation of the entire 2012-13 NHL season will soon become a reality. A totally unnecessary reality.

Will the NHL be able to recover from that? In some ways, yes. There will be a lot of fans that, despite what they may post on Twitter or tell their friends, will come back when NHL hockey returns. There will also be some that will not return.

Perhaps an even bigger issue that the NHL will face is corporate sponsorships and business partners. Why in the world would a company want to go in business with a league that is making a habit of having a work stoppage every time a CBA expires?

Time is running out for the NHL and NHLPA. Make no mistake about it, both sides are to blame. Both sides have done stupid things throughout this process that have delayed a deal. At what point do they wake up and realize they are risking their own futures? Let's hope that realization comes soon or it will be too late.