January 9, 2013; New York, NY, USA; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman addresses the National Hockey League lockout during a press conference at the Westin New York in Times Square. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

NHL Disrespects Dallas Stars, 23 Other Franchises

By now, I’m sure most of you have seen the “ugly” holiday sweaters released by the NHL. As a consumer who loves hockey, they are glorious. Although the nearly $65 dollar price tag is a little excessive, I have to admit that I would totally shell out the cash, even if I would only get to wear one a few times a year. The problem is, as a Dallas Stars fan, I can’t.

The thing is that the NHL, in its infinite wisdom, decided to only release these for six of the 30 NHL franchises. Six! If that alone isn’t insulting enough for fans of the other 24 teams, the league decided to not only offer one, but two versions of the sweater (except for poor Philadelphia who only got one version). Note to Gary Bettman and the rest of the people in the league office – there are other teams in your league besides Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

How this doesn’t at the very least include all the original six teams is beyond me. You can’t tell me fans of Montreal, Toronto or any other team wouldn’t buy this. Granted the six franchises included in the ugly sweater club are some of the biggest markets in the league, and the league absolutely needs to take advantage of those markets and grow the brand. However, it becomes harder to grow the brand when you only market to the same six areas on a continual basis. Every business owner knows that at some point you need to expand your marketing radius to sustain growth.

To a certain extent, I understand (but don’t agree with) the disrespect heaved toward some of the “non-traditional” hockey markets. Yes some of those “non-traditional” markets might be struggling, but if there is one thing hockey fans have proven, it has more to do about the on ice product than the physical location of the team. Near the end of the century when Dallas was one of the elite teams of the league, there were sellouts all the time. When the Florida Panthers made their run to the Stanley Cup Final only to lose to Colorado, rats flew to the ice, thrown from a packed arena. You can make the case for almost any franchise that when the team is winning, the arena is full.

On that point, it wasn’t all that long ago that Chicago wasn’t selling out every game. In fact, right before the 2006 draft (where they picked Jonathan Toews) the Hawks ranked near the bottom of the league in attendance for a long time. The same can be said for Pittsburgh prior to Sidney Crosby joining the team, or pretty much any other team in the league that wasn’t putting a winning product on the ice.

One could argue that this all boils down to is a lack of respect from the league office to the franchises that aren’t in the ugly sweater club. Those remaining 24 teams are essentially the black sheep of the NHL family. Bettman is oh so proud of Chicago’s two recent Cup wins, and look how well Philadelphia is doing with all that Comcast money. Los Angles also has two recent Cup championships and the San Jose Sharks have been one of the best teams in the league for what feels like a decade, but the league doesn’t need to capitalize on those markets when it has more Crosby merchandise to manufacture.

It seems like a missed opportunity for a league that is generating record high revenues and is gaining in popularity, but still isn’t nearly as big as it could be. After all, a little respect goes a long way.

As always, I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading and go Stars!

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