Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The NHL Sends SportsBusinessNews a message

Its not every day an NHL vice-president sends SBN a letter. Tuesday, National Hockey League vice president Jamey Horan sent the following letter to SBN (which is being published verbatim)
I would like to bring to your attention several glaring inaccuracies in your recent article "Once again, the National Hockey League proves how to get it wrong," which ran on Friday, Nov. 03, 2006.

First, the NHL doesn't stream games on-line. The recent announcement between the NHL and Google, which you indirectly reference, is aimed at supplying Google with games on a delayed basis, currently at no cost to fans--precisely what you mentioned the NHL should be doing as a commitment to its fan-base. In the future, there may be an ad-supported or pay model for NHL content on Google, but that simply hasn't been determined. What you failed to mention is the fact that the NHL and Google deal will give hockey fans something extra special that doesn't exist for fans of other sports leagues--a user generated content section on Google. Your inaccurate reporting of the Google arrangement of somehow having anything to do with the live streaming of NHL games, even as alternative to such streaming is a fallacious disservice to your readers.

Second, the out-of-market television package, NHL Center Ice, which you state as "$229 for the season, the second most expensive complete sports seasonal package..." is actually priced at $169 for the full season—making it the second "least" expensive package among the major professional sports. There's also a discounted price for fans of $149 if purchased in the early part of the season. You also should be aware that the NHL is the only league to offer its fans free audiocasts of live games on its website. In fact, NHL fans have more ways to connect with the game through digital means than any other sports fan.

Also, your claim that the NHL has "little if any following..." in the major population centers, the southwest and northwest regions of the U.S. is just plain wrong. In fact, the greatest attendance increases in NHL arenas last season came from the major "sun belt" markets, and with Tampa Bay and Carolina winning the past two Stanley Cups, hockey's growth and popularity in the south has never been stronger.

To insult the NHL by claiming the League is trying to exploit its fans for profit is not only mean-spirited but also a horrendous attempt at reporting, especially for a purported sports business publication. I would encourage you in the future to get it right before you accuse others of getting it wrong, regardless of your agenda.

Jamey Horan
Vice President, NHL Public Relations

SBN sent the following response to Mr. Horan one hour after Mr. Horan sent SBN his initial email at 12:30 PM (EST)
Thank-you for taking the time to send your email. The matter at hand, according to a report in Buffalo Business First the charge would be $2.99 per game after a two-week free trial period. I would very much appreciate if Buffalo Business First indeed did make a mistake, we will set the record straight with our readers. I appreciate you correcting the pricing for the Center Ice package. We will make the change today in our archives.

I'd ask you to please clarify the published report that SBN sourced in reporting the cost of the Google related product. We can only assume after the two week free trial the cost indeed will revert to the $2.99 charge per game.

Finally your claim "regardless of your agenda" could you please clarify exactly what agenda you are referring to? And who at SBN has said agenda? And what exactly is that agenda? We would very much appreciate if you could respond to our questions by the end of business (5:00 PM today, Tuesday, November 7, 2006)

You can see we've made the change on the Center Ice package (after checking the pricing.) We apologize for that mistake, and again have made the change, and we're prepared to send a notice to our readers announcing the correction. Please confirm if Buffalo Business First is correct or incorrect and please explain what agenda you are talking about


Howard Bloom

As our 5:00 PM deadline approached, we sent Mr. Horan a second email at 4:40 PM, with the following: Mr. Horan we are trying to make every effort to ensure we fully understand your email from earlier today. Please note this is our second request for a reply by 5:00 PM today

Howard Bloom

Doing our very best to afford Mr. Horan and the National Hockey League every opportunity to respond to our questions, and attempt to do our best to correctly report the information. A final email was sent to Mr. Horan at 8:00 PM (EST)

One last attempt to reach you. Our requested deadline has passed; we plan on publishing your letter to SBN in Wednesday's DailyDose, our response to you and your subsequent response or lack thereof, and an editorial response. We will write the editorial in the next 30 minutes and publish it later tonight.

Howard Bloom


Finally at 9:16 PM (EST) Mr. Horan responded to our three requests for clarification with the following: You have our response.

And our last email to close this chapter in communications with the National Hockey League included the following: Thank-you for taking the time to clarify the questions we raised. As always we appreciate how professional the National Hockey League continues to be in dealing with the media

Howard Bloom

And how as promised despite every reasonable effort to reach a vice president of the National Hockey League, who expressed concerns relating to last Friday’s Insider Report, we stand by our source that indeed after the free trial period the NHL will charge for the games being offered, on delay on Google. Here is the link to the report we sourced in our report. If indeed as Mr. Horan suggests, the revenues from the delayed games on Google will not be subscriber revenue generated, and the NHL will offer the games at no charge to the consumer, we at SBN applaud the NHL for their effort to offer their fan base a service. However, given that our efforts to reach a public relations executive who first contacted SBN, and has yet to correct what we reported, SBN will stand by our report and source.

Mr. Horan is correct in saying the NHL is the only league offering free audio streaming on their product. The NHL is also the only major North American sports league who can’t sell their audio product. In a business so desperately in need of new sources of revenue, does anyone honestly believe the only reason the NHL doesn’t charge for their audio streaming is because they know there isn’t enough of a market to make it a viable business opportunity.

Mr. Horan is correct in saying the NHL’s new partnership with Google includes an opportunity for fans to “a user generated content section on Google” We congratulate the NHL for buying into Google’s vision in regard to “YouTube”. Given that Google recently purchased “YouTube” for $1.5 billion, the opportunity Mr. Horan refers to may, as he suggests, be a first for a sports league but at the end of the day is nothing more than an extension of a current Google agreement. We’ll let our readers decide who’s driving the bus on this component of the NHL/Google agreement. It makes a great deal of sense but would it have been included if Google and “YouTube” hadn’t had their agreement in place?

We find it very interesting that Mr. Horan states his case on the strength of the NHL in the American Southeast based on Raleigh, North Carolina and Tampa, Florida. Mr. Horan is correct in saying those two teams won the last two Stanley Cups. Let’s see where those two markets are five years from now. In case Mr. Horan has forgotten, in 2000-01 the Carolina Hurricanes finished 29th in attendance (71 percent capacity) and the Tampa Bay Lightening 25th (75 percent capacity). In 2001-02 Carolina finished 24th (82 percent), Tampa 20th (79 percent), in 2002-03 Carolina 19th (83 percent), and Tampa 16th (83 percent). In 2003-04 Carolina 29th (65 percent), Tampa 12th (90 percent). In 2005-06 Carolina 21st (83 percent) and Tampa 2nd (103 percent).

In the last full five National Hockey League seasons (it’s called a trend Mr. Horan) teams geographically located in the American Southeast (Florida, Tampa, Atlanta, Carolina, Nashville, Atlanta and Washington) have dominated the bottom third of the NHL’s attendance, accounting for more than 40 percent of the NHL’s attendance bottom feeders. If the NHL believes bottom feeders are supporters, God Bless the NHL – it’s your league and your opportunity to spin it anyway you want but the numbers speak the truth. The National Hockey League support in the Sunbelt is suspect at best.

Now as to Mr. Horan’s assertion that Sports Business News has an ‘agenda’ in regard to the National Hockey League. That claim is without merit; in fact it appears the National Hockey League has an agenda in dealing with Sports Business News. The following for you to consider:

Within an hour of Mr. Horan’s letter we made the verifiable changes to our report, sent the changes to Mr. Horan, and offered to make any further changes once Mr. Horan answered our question. We can only assume given Mr. Horan’s refusal to answer our questions, our interest in getting the story right, which we indeed have the story right and the NHL is going to ‘stick it to its fans’

We stand by our assertion regarding the NHL in the American Southwest. The NHL remains vibrant in Canada, in the American Northeast and the American Midwest key markets but the NHL is and never will be a national sport in the United States. Gary Bettman can huff and puff, jump up and down, but sorry Gary the NHL is never going to be a national league in America.

Mr. Horan we applaud you for not taking SBN to task on the issues we’ve consistently raised since the NHL agreed to their two-year cable broadcast agreement with Versus. It remains the single greatest mistake Gary Bettman has made during his tenure as NHL commissioner and this from a so-called leader whose legacy included a litany of terrible decisions.

SBN took a strong editorial stance throughout the year-long NHL lockout supporting management’s position. Furthermore in numerous national TV and radio appearances made by yours truly throughout the lockout, SBN not only supported Gary Bettman’s position but debated several current and former NHL’ers into submission. Commissioner Bettman saved the NHL with a sound, well thought out strategy that has brought financial sanity to the NHL. For that Commissioner Bettman should be applauded, but if he steps on the other end of the line what credibility does SBN have if we don’t ‘call it as it is’ if Bettman makes bad decisions.

Given that Mr. Horan refused to addressed his assertion that “regardless of your agenda”, and Mr. Horan suggested “I would encourage you in the future to get it right” and we pleaded with Mr. Horan to ensure we could get it right, and Mr. Horan refused to clarify our report – who exactly attempted to ensure SBN had done our homework, the NHL and one of its vice-presidents or Sports Business News. We did our job, we invited the NHL to do there’s, the readers of SBN now have a little more insight about the National Hockey League.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom.

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