Friday, December 31, 2010

Crosby Vs. Ovechkin: Great For TV; Good For The Sport?

There is no denying that Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are amongst the top couple players in the NHL with Crosby leading the way.  It is also a fact that the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals are among the upper echelon of teams in the league.  Combine that with the fact the NHL is on the verge of negotiating a new TV contract and it was a no brainer to put it's two most highly marketed stars on the ice against one another for their biggest regular season showcase game, the NHL Winter Classic.  The NHL is a business and the higher the ratings this year the bigger the leverage the league has in the next negotiations.  This game will undoubtedly be highly rated television after the endless promotion it has gotten and the added bounce HBO's 24/7 will give to the festivities, so for the business side it should be a clear win for the league. 

What can be asked though is if the non-stop promotion of just two players and their teams by the NHL is good for the sport.  Every night no matter what game you are watching you cannot escape a conversation or a commercial that contains at least one of the two of them.  As I said in certain aspects the promotion of these two has been good for the game and with the upcoming Winter Classic I have no doubt that HBO never signs on to do 24/7 without the match-up and storyline of Crosby vs Ovechkin.  It is that draw not a real rivalry between the Capitals and Penguins which made HBO go out on a limb with its critically acclaimed series, but the sport has to be about more than those two.  Luckily for the most part HBO has done a pretty good job, better than the NHL in showcasing the teams on which these stars play and not just having it be solely about them.

There will be many who will watch the Winter Classic purely because it is Crosby vs Ovechkin and that part of it is good for the NHL in terms of revenue.  On the flip side I believe it is a problem that Winter Classic has become in large part Crosby vs Ovechkin instead of Penguins vs Capitals.  Life in the NHL dictates that no matter what either individual player does on Saturday the game will be decided as much by all the other guys on the ice as those two.  If the NHL wants to change the rules and let them go one-on-one for the two points in the standings then that is a different story, but Ovechkin will not be marking Crosby and vice versa so each will rely on their teammates to slow the other down and give them a chance to work their own magic in getting a win.  I am not saying that these two tremendous athletes are not capable of dominating on any given night or for long stretches as we just saw with Crosby's 25 game point streak, but what got lost in that streak was the tremendous team record and spectacular play of teammates like Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang.   

The reality though is the way the NHL has promoted the game and the league as a whole the articles on Sunday, if the game even happens Saturday with the weather, will not be about the Penguins and the Capitals but a comparison of the two individuals.  Is that good for the sport?

Does the casual hockey fan even know that the MVP of the league last season was not Crosby or Ovechkin?  Does the NHL realize that neither one of these teams were even in the Stanley Cup Finals?  There are plenty of tremendous players in this league, including the reigning MVP Henrik Sedin or reigning  playoff MVP/Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Toews who can help to carry the league from a marketing standpoint, but what we see is non-stop Crosby and Ovechkin. 

I understand that from where the NHL was in looking to grow the game they latched onto the two best players in game, but once the Winter Classic is over it is time to let the rest of the league have its chance to help carry the league.  Between what HBO has done, the Olympics to some extent and the Winter Classic as an annual event you have a wider field to market the league to and that means promoting the rest of the great players and great teams around the league so there is exposure and excitement when they show up every 12th game the NHL puts on the air.  My fear is that with constant Crosby/Penguins and/or Ovechkin/Capitals that the NHL runs the risk of overexposure to their most consistent drawing tool leaving them no card to play if there is a dip.

What the NHL might find if they did promote the stars of the other teams is that the game can grow and the resentment that exists for two exceptionally talented hockey players Crosby and Ovechkin are might lessen while the appreciation that skill would grow.  Maybe I have it all wrong and if the NHL didn’t promote these two the league would fall apart and fans around the league would still hate them because of rampant jealousy of their skill and the fact they are not on their favorite team, but what worries me is we will never find out because things do not appear to be changing anytime soon.