Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sidney Crosby – the return of the NHL’s Prodigal Son

Thanksgiving Day came three days early for the National Hockey League and the Lords of the Rink must be thrilled.

Sidney Crosby, the NHL’s marquee and most bankable player, returned after a near year- long absence, following a series of concussions, to score two goals and collect two assists in the Penguins 5-0 trashing of the New York Islanders.

Crosby last played an NHL game January 5, 2011, 320 days ago.

Crosby’s return comes at the perfect time for the NHL. The National Basketball Association is in the midst of a protracted labor dispute – the likelihood of there being a NBA season being more and more remote each passing day. The NBA lockout represents a tremendous opportunity for the NHL.

Crosby’s story is a tale that illustrates why hockey means so much to those who love the frozen sport. Small town Canadian kid becoming the best player in the game, a fact niot lost on Tim Hortons – one of Canada’s iconic brands, Dempsters and the companies who choose to work with the NHL’s best player.

The Hockey Writers (a website) offered this on who Sid the Kid is: “Love him or hate him, Sidney Crosby has been anointed the new face of the NHL since he was by the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted in 2005.”

It was an unusual draft year to say the least. Due to a labor stoppage, the 2004-05 season never happened making the order of the draft a topic of debate.

In order to determine the order of the draft, a weighted lottery was used. The lottery was based primarily on each team’s playoff appearances and lottery victories the previous four seasons. This system led to the draft known as the “Sidney Crosby Lottery.” Pittsburgh Penguins won that lottery and picked Crosby first overall. However, his rise to fame occurred well before he was drafted.

Sidney was born in 1987 in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. His father, Troy, was a goalie drafted by the Montreal Canadiens 240th overall in 1984, however, he would never make it to the NHL.

Sid began playing hockey in his basement shortly after he could walk. In fact, hishe badly damaged washer and dryer as a result of his repeatedly shooting pucks at it is stuff of legend.

By the time he was two and a half years old, he and his father were skating once a week in a parent/child program. The seed had been planted.

From day one it was as if Sidney’s destiny fate had been predetermined. After appearing in the Air Canada Cup, one of hockey’s premier showcase events as a 14-year old, Crosby was being called “The Next One,” an homage to Wayne Gretzky the NHL’s best player throughout the 1980’s and much of the 1990’s.

When he turned 15, Crosby left Nova Scotia for Shattuck-St. Marys, a hockey driven prep school located in Minnesota, with future NHLers Jonathan Toews and Zack Parise.

The Crosbys thought it would be a great experience for Sidney, not only to play hockey outside of the media spotlight of Canada, but also to grow and mature as a person. He would play the 2002-2003 season with Shattuck-St. Marys, leading them to the U.S. National Championship scoring 72 goals and 162 points in 57 games.

The following year, Crosby was selected first overall in the midget draft by the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (“QMJHL”) and would make his debut in the 2003-04 season as a 16-year old.

He wasted no time making his mark scoring eight points in his first exhibition game. Throughout his first season in the QMJHL, Crosby would be named QMJHL Player of the Week six times, Player of the Month three times, and Canadian Hockey League (“CHL”) Player of the Week three times.

At the conclusion of the season, with 54 goals and 139 point in 59 games, Crosby was named Player of the Year, Top Rookie and Top Scorer, the first QMJHL player to earn all three awards. Most youngsters begin playing junior hockey (the NHL’s premier development league) at 17; Crosby was the best junior hockey player in the world – at 16.

The 2004-05 season would see even more success for the young star. This was the year of the NHL labor stoppage. The World Hockey Association (“WHA”) was attempting to become a rival league to the NHL and was offering large contracts to current and future NHLers.

The league offered Crosby $7.5 million over three years, however, Crosby declined saying he wasn’t yet ready to leave juniors. The WHA never played a game.

Crosby returned to Rimouski and dominated the QMJHL, establishing a Canadian Junior Hockey record for the longest undefeated streak of 28 games, and losing only 2 games in the entire playoffs. Unfortunately, the team fell to the London Knights in the Memorial Cup Finals. He would finish the season scoring 66 goals and 168 points in 62 games.

Over this time, Crosby also participated in two World Junior Championship Tournaments. In 2004, Crosby would score two goals and five points in six games helping Canada to the silver medal. The following year, Crosby returned to the Tournament and scored six goals and three assists helping Canada win the gold medal.

The NHL came back in 2005-06, and Crosby was selected first overall in the NHL Entry Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Crosby started off the year playing alongside Mario Lemieux. Crosby, now 18 and with a three year $8.7 million contract, chose to live with Mario Lemieux and his family. You can’t make this stuff up..

Crosby is the youngest player to win the NHL’s Lester B. Pearson Award, and the 2nd youngest to Wayne Gretzky to win the Hart Trophy. He is the youngest scoring champion in North American professional sport history, winning the NHL’s Art Ross Trophy at 19 years old.

Crosby signed a three-year deal with Pepsi and Frito Lay of Canada after his rookie season.

But it was Tim Hortons, who signed Crosby to a major endorsement contract on December 13, 2006, who really understood the brand power of Sidney Crosby.

Tim Hortons, Canada’s biggest quick service restaurant business, first connected to Sidney Crosby in 1993 when the then five year old Crosby played for the Cole Harbour Timbits in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. Standing at 3' 11" Sidney wore jersey # 8 and played centre, clearly a sign of things to come.

"I am proud to represent Timbits Hockey," said Sidney Crosby at the time. "In my early days of playing hockey, my parents and coaches always reinforced the importance of having fun. That is something I take to the ice with me everyday."

"Sidney is an ideal ambassador for Timbits Hockey," said Rob Forbes, Director of Regional Marketing and Hockey Development, Tim Hortons. "As a role model Sidney inspires with his positive attitude and fun approach while still being grounded in family and community. Sidney Crosby embodies the philosophy of Timbits Hockey."

The commercial spot, which continues to promote Tim Hortons commitment to minor league hockey in Canada, showcases Crosby as a child dreaming the dream of making it to the NHL.

The commercial moves from Sidney Crosby infectious smile as a nine-year old to the Sidney Crosby of today, hockey’s best player playing hockey with five and six year olds, current Timbit hockey players.

The legend of Michael Jordan is in part based on Michael Jordan not making his high school basketball team, and returning a year later to begin his journey to becoming basketball’s greatest. Imagine if Nike could recreate Michael Jordan to when he had missed making his high school basketball team.

Sid the Kid and Timbits – the marketing dream team worth millions.

In October, Dempters, a Canadian bread company, showcased Sidney in a commercial for the second time. The spot, according to Marketing Magazine, showcases Crosby’s game-day preparation with the work of Canadian farmers growing wheat and grains used in Dempster’s line of breads. The spot is narrated by both the farmer character and Crosby.

“Our first promotion ran last fall and was extremely successful in the marketplace… We received strong feedback from our consumers and our franchisee partners,” said Bryan McCourt, a marketing director at Canada Bread Company, which is owned by Maple Leaf Foods in a Marketing Magazine report.

Earlier this year the National Hockey League signed a ten-year television contract with NBC and Versus. On January 2, 2012 Versus changes their name to NBC Sports. NBC will be showcasing the NHL Friday in the first Thanksgiving Showdown.

Too bad the game features the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins at home to the Detroit Red Wings. The Penguins, with Crosby will be home Friday night to the Ottawa Senators.

Showcasing Sidney Crosby on Friday would have been a dream come true for the NHL. It wasn’t until Sunday Crosby and the Penguins decided Crosby would play Monday night.

The good news is Sidney Crosby is back. Count on NBC having plenty of opportunities to showcase Sid the Kid when their weekly NHL game begins early in 2012. The NHL needs Sidney Crosby and Sidney Crosby needs the NHL – welcome back Sid the Kid.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,