Saturday, January 17, 2009

The "G" Word

It would appear the Wayne Gretzky phenomena is over. We're just not that into him anymore. At least that's what it appears when Calgary's Pengrowth Saddledome security staff are saying the extra crew they brought in for today's hockey game with the Phoenix Coyotes was all for not. There was barely anyone (fans) lined up to see him.

On the other hand, that might be from seven straight years out of the playoffs. Just ask the Flames about that. (It was pretty easy to get tickets pre-2004, when the Stanley Cup run was in Calgary.)

But lack of popularity is the least of The Great One's worries. He may not have a team to coach next year.

The Coyotes are in dire straights, such that Gretzky is spending much of his time focusing his players towards the ice instead of whether or not they will continue to get paychecks. The team is in fast need of a financial bailout. Although so far, it has no appointments with Congress but rather is seeking an investor. The National Hockey League is expected to step in should not meeting payroll becomes a reality. The Yotes are forecast to lose around $45 million by the end of the season and that could force it into bankruptcy.

Not making the playoffs for ever doesn't help attract donors. And obviously, the Gretzky factor matters not -- only if some rich guy is excited about the prospect of being in partnership with him. However, when it comes to that many millions, it's doubtful hanging out with the former #99 will make up for those winged dollar bills flying out of the window into Neverland.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

New season, new look, new commissioner

January 10, 2009

First, the big news of the day. Many were surprised to hear that Commissioner Jim Jennings resigned today. His reasoning: "I feel that I have accomplished all the goals I set out to do at the NLL. I want to spend some time with my family before pursuing other opportunities and taking on the next challenge."

Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer George Daniel will take over effective immediately. He was president of the New York Titans in 2007.

Jennings has been at the helm since 2000. While the league has grown and expanded, and franchise values have gone from $250,000 to $5.6 million, there have been some serious questions about Jennings leadership. While the NLL All-Star and Championship games are televised on network TV, it could be much better.

There is a strong online following for the NLL, but let's face it, the league is marketing-challenged. Probably the biggest faux pas was the league playing "chicken" with the Players' Association last year, when the league announced it was canceled -- then changed its mind a week later. All the goodwill that was collected up until then had been erased. The diehard lacrosse fans still showed up, the people on the fence, the ones the league needs to get to one game to get them hooked -- they assumed the league was dead. Even some media did. That's on Jennings' watch. It's like as good things happen on one side, the league shoots itself in the foot on the other to balance things out.

But we have a new season underway and a new commissioner. The Calgary Roughnecks also have a new look -- in the front office and the office itself. The team moved to new swankier quarters, with a workout facility and room for the new staff to move around.

I'm writing this in the first quarter of the Roughnecks home opener versus the Edmonton Rush and am staring down at an awful lot of empty seats. What happened to the 11,000 to 12,000 that have attended these games for the past number of seasons? Let's hope this isn't a trend.

This is a fantastic league to follow. It has a good online presence, which is where most fans learn about the game. It has so much potential. Let's hope the new commissioner will provide some stability and sustain its growth.