Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Test To Bettman's Fans Like High Scoring Theory

One unproven axiom that has been behind many of the moves that Gary Bettman has made to try to sell hockey to a wider audience in the United States is that fans like high scoring games. I do not believe that the attendance at a hockey game is related to the number of goals scored in the game, but nevertheless, the NHL has acted upon this principle. Sometimes this has led to some crazy rule changes such as the "trapezoid rule" where a goalie can only play the puck behind his net if it within a trapezoid region that defined behind the goal. The most successful method of raising scoring has been an obstruction crackdown whereby referees call penalties more tightly. Often this has led to phantom penalties where the puck is in a crowd and a player falls down so a penalty is assessed. This has allowed for smaller players to succeed in the NHL more frequently than in the past (Cory Murphy of Florida, Patrick Kane of Chicago and Tobias Enstrom of Atlanta are some examples of successful new smaller players). The main reason scoring has increased is not the increased space created from the obstruction crackdown it is from increased power play time.

On test to this theory should come this year in the form of the New York Rangers. With 1.88 goals per game, the Rangers are the lowest scoring team in the NHL. They are not a bad team. Their defence allows even less goals than they score with a league leading 1.69 goals against per game. This Rangers team is good enough to make the playoffs (their 8-8 record with one loss counted as a regulation tie would currently have them in fifth seed in the east conference). The Rangers fans see a good team, but they also see fewer goals per game than any other set of fans in the NHL. If there truly was something to the premise that fans like high scoring, this would be a problem for the NHL. The New York market is the biggest market in the US and their team is a low scoring one (a successful low scoring team thus reducing their desire to change that situation). If fans truly like high scoring games, this would present a problem to the New York Rangers. Their low scoring style would cause a drop (or at least reduction in the rate of increase) of revenues. Do we see this? There is no sign of it yet. However, in the second highest scoring market (Detroit) we are starting to see some softness in ticket sales. A Red Wings game is not a guaranteed sell out each night. This is despite the fact that the Red Wings are a dominant team. It seems that changing hockey to make it higher scoring is not as important to revenue as Gary Bettman would have us believe. If scoring is a factor in the amount of money the NHL can make, it is far less important than other factors. If the Rangers can be the lowest scoring team an maintain high attendance while Detroit can be an even better team that is second highest scoring in the NHL as see attendance soften, worrying about scoring rates and how to increase scoring seems like a waste of time. Let's hope Gary Bettman gets the message before they try something drastic like larger nets.

Hockey is a game of intensity and passion, hard work, speed and hard hits. Goals are nice too but those other things will win fans over a powerplay goal any day of the week. Oh, and watch the highlights on sports shows and half of them are spectacular saves. Fans like good saves too.
Hi, is there any way to reach you?
Yes. A link to my email is in my profile.
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