Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Marketing Sidney Crosby

I was contacted by Marilee Lorusso who has an issues in sports blog which is a senior project at the University of La Verne in California (how come I couldn't get university credit for a blog?) and she asked me some questions about Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Specifically she is looking at prodigies in sports. Here is the important part of the conversation:

What kind of impact has Sidney Crosby had on the game of hockey?

When the NHL came out of the lockout, they desperately needed somebody to market the game around. It had taken a huge blow from a year off. Sidney Crosby was a young star in the making. He was a good polite Canadian kid. The NHL put a lot of its marketing behind him (and Alexander Ovechkin - though Ovechkin being Russian made him the number two choice). They were fortunate that he turned out to be as good as advertised. Crosby is a face to put on the game. He has brought life back to Pittsburgh games (though if he didn't Evgeni Malkin would have).

As a player he has been very good. He is the reigning MVP from last season. I think one could have a good debate about if he is the best player in the game right now (I would argue he is but not without reservations - Nicklas Lidstrom and Alexander Ovechkin would be logical arguments for being better players). Crosby is only 20 so likely he will get better. If he does that it should be fun to watch.

Why is easy to market a player like him?

He is young. He is talented. He doesn't seem to have any skeletons in his closet.

I would argue that he was marketed before it was clear that his talent would shine in the NHL and the NHL marketing machine is lucky that he did work out.

Do you think the NHL should embrace him more as a sort of face of the league or are there other players that deserve more recognition?

Frankly, I don't care how the NHL is marketed. Marketing is usually setting a false picture that attempts to hook the fan in. Crosby is a really good young player who could be an all time great. He may have taken a step backward this season. He missed about 6 weeks to injury, but was not the likely MVP when he went down. As far as I am concerned a poorly marketed league is good for me. Tickets are more plentiful and cheaper.

There are always lots of players worthy of recognition. I would point out Nicklas Lidstrom and Alexander Ovechkin as the top guys on that list. From a marketing standpoint they both have one clear flaw. Both are Europeans. But they are both roughly as good as Crosby is right now.

I think you have to sell hockey and hockey is a team game. Selling one player as a face of the league is disingenuous. The team aspects of the game are far too important to understand anything. Of course marketing is often about being disingenuous - which probably explains why I don't like marketing.

How would you compare him to someone like Wayne Gretzky?

Wayne Gretzky was the best player in hockey. At this point, it looks unlikely that Crosby can match what Gretzky did in his career. In Gretzky's third NHL season he scored a then record 212 points and won the MVP for the third year in a row. Gretzky scored 92 goals that season alone, which is likely greater than Crosby's point total in this season (his third). For full disclosure, Gretzky was about 7 months older than Crosby in his 3rd season and scoring was higher in Gretzky's time, but it doesn't close the gap.

Crosby could very well be one of the ten best players in NHL history if he continues to mature, but it is by no means a given that will occur. I doubt he will go down as a Gretzky, Orr, Howe, Lemieux level superstar. That would make another large leap forward (which is possible, but not something I would want to bet on).

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