Interesting throw-away note in the New York Times today. Tom Jolly, Times sports editor, gave the following answer to a question by a reader about why the Times gives short shrift to hockey coverage (http://www.nytimes.com/ref/business/media/asktheeditors.html?8dpc):
“Our approach is to cover the teams that have the biggest following, and that generally includes the Rangers, especially when they are playing well. But while the lockout may have helped solve the NHL's financial problems, it had the unintended result of showing that hockey's following is significantly behind that of football, baseball and basketball.”
I recently linked to a long article by ESPN.com’s Gary Gillette (http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/insider/columns/story?columnist=gillette_gary&id=2537972), in which he dismantled Commissioner Bud’s claims about baseball’s unprecedented recent success by showing how significantly it lags football in popularity. Gillette’s right about Bud’s nominal claim – whether it’s TV ratings or public opinion surveys, it’s clear that baseball’s losing market share, not only to football, but to basketball as well. And, baseball can’t hold a candle to football in terms of overall revenue, especially with respect to the two sports’ national TV deals. But, Gillette missed a more fundamental truth – Bud doesn’t care. As Gillette pointed out, baseball’s revenues increased by over a billion dollars in just the past three years, to over $5 billion. No sports commissioner could ever say: “I don’t care whether we lose fan interest, especially among the less well-heeled would-be customers. All I care about is that we make more money.” But, the truth is that they don’t care about overall fan interest – they care about revenue. In this sense, though Bud can't say it, he's right - the game's never been better off.
Mike and the Mad Dog have been arguing with David Stern for years now about the new NBA TV arrangements, which have moved more and more games off the networks, and onto cable and the less-widely available NBA TV and Mike and Chris can’t understand why the NBA would engage in such fan-unfriendly behavior. But, it’s really quite simple: for Stern, the goal is more revenue. If the model for doing that is less access, but more money, that’s a more-than-acceptable trade-off.
My guess is that Bettman was fully cognizant of the possibility that hockey’s fundamentally weak support would be exposed by a long lockout. So, I am not sure that such a revelation could be regarded as an “unintended result.” The deal Bettman got ensured owner profitability. If the price of doing so was losing fans and some coverage, there’s no doubt that, for Bettman and the owners, that was a price worth paying.