Thursday, February 03, 2005

UNHAPPY DAYS

Irony of ironies, today the entire Canadian sports media press corps is standing outside a hotel in New York, where Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow are said to be meeting, and out walks, surprise surprise, HENRY WINKLER- the Fonz. Tonight, ABC is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the iconic series Happy Days and Winkler was probably in town to do something in connection to that. Anyway, he's walking out and staring at all these clowns from Canada in the media and going the heck's going on? "Are you a hockey fan?"

"What's hockey?" Winkler was said to respond and he left.

In more news apparently some unidentified owner blabbed to ESPN that the season was going to be cancelled within 48 hours. Either tonight or tomorrow.

Well, this is it.

The other thing that is raising eyebrows is that these talks are happening in New York City in relative anonymity. The entire sports media press corps is in Jacksonville, Florida covering the Super Bowl week. Today Emmitt Smith held a press conference down there to announce his retirement, and that's leading all the sports news on the stations down in the USA. Meanwhile, the only guys stuck outside this hotel in New York, covering these boring meetings, are these pathetic Canadians from Toronto. And they're all complaining about how there's nobody from New York camped out there covering the story, and reaming out Americans for their lack of interest and reaming the NHL for this sad state of affairs.

Reminds me of when I covered the NPSL in Mississauga (the league that eventually was renamed the Major Indoor Soccer League). The Toronto Thunderhawks were playing their inaugural game at Hershey Centre and I had credentials to cover the game for Rogers Television (I also covered some of the playoffs). Man, there was nobody there from the mainstream Toronto media! There was one of the guys from the International Sports Report (I forget who it was) covering it for the FAN, and there were people there from CFMT and Telelatino, a few local print reporters, and a ton of guys from Cleveland (the Cleveland Crunch were in town.) But there was hardly anyone there from the mainstream sports media. Keep in mind that I had covered the CHL Prospects Game for Rogers during All-Star week in Toronto, and everyone showed up for that. But no one showed up for this, and this was their first game in the history of the franchise! ( Later that season, they went out of business. I still have fond memories of the Thunderhawks organization- they were a class act. But they had too much competition going against them- the OHL, the Arena Football League, the Toronto Rock- you name it, and besides, nobody cared. )

I imagine the same thing is taking place in New York today: all the foreigners from cold Canada care about this NHL story, but the local sports media there don't care. That tells you all you need to know about how marginal the NHL has become in the United States. But you know, leaving the decision to cancel the season to Super Bowl Week is great strategy. It's a great way for the biggest black eye for the National Hockey League to get buried in the back pages. It really would be something if they chose Super Bowl Week to cancel the NHL season. I don't think American sports fans would really care. Really.

But you know what, I don't see why the Americans need to send any reporters to these stupid NHL meetings, because nobody's gonna talk to the media anyway and if there is any news, they can get it off of the Internet anyway, at NHL.com and NHLPA.com. In fact, they're probably the smart ones, because while these Canadians are camped out in front of that hotel doing nothing and wasting their news organizations' money, the Americans are out there working the phones trying to get information on what's going down. Some of them, anyway. The rest are covering more important news, like actual sports, like the Super Bowl. Does anyone in the northeastern US care about hockey today? I'm sure the Boston Bruins fans care, same with Philadelphia Flyer fans- all of whom are mortgaging their houses so they could go to Jacksonville to cheer on a couple of football teams.

The other thing is that you get a sense that the American media do not think the season will be cancelled, that they think it defies common sense and is an absolutely goofy idea. So they may not think there's that sense of urgency because they're used to common sense prevailing and people making money for themselves. They probably think these talks are a nonstory to begin with, since no new proposals are on the table. So you might as well run with Emmitt Smith's retirement!

But you can bet the situation will change if Bettman has a drop-dead press conference tomorrow. OK, maybe the situation MIGHT change, because lots of Americans have turned off the NHL. Anyway, we wait for the bad news. This is like coverage of summit meetings- summit meetings involving two banana republics about to blow both of themselves up.

What a waste of time for these sports reporters at that hotel in New York.

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