NHL marketing: An exercise in futility


NHL marketing: An exercise in futility

By Jon Fucile

The NHL, unfortunately for hockey fans, is often the distant fourth among the four major sports and if the job done by the crack team of NHL marketers for the All-Star Game is any indication, no one should really be surprised. They are a league that is so out of touch with their audience and a calendar that were surprised they can function at all.

When the commercials for the All-Star Game debuted and featured Meant to Live by Switchfoot, we immediately became worried. That song debuted in 2003 and wasnt even that good then. But hey, obviously the NHL did their homework and found out fans loved that song. Right? RIGHT?!

It only got worse. Leading up to the game, the NHL announced that Clay Aiken would sing the National Anthem. Sure hes from Raleigh, but what were the NHL marketing people smoking when they thought hockey fans would tune in to see Clay Aiken?

Aiken finished second in American Idol in 2003 and hasnt done much since. Really. Name the last song he had on the radio that isnt at least five years old. We dare you. Well wait . . .

. . . see? NHL marketing 0-2.

At least Aiken is from Raleigh, so in some weird way it almost, sort of, kind of, maybe a little bit, makes sense. Did they NHL think they would draw in new fans if they brought in Aiken? Pretty sure they over estimated his drawing power. Fans could not possibly have been less interested.

Then the NHL announced their first intermission entertainment.

Surely the NHL would pick someone relevant. Maybe a recent star. Maybe theyd look at the current Top 40 songs and pick someone, anyone, fans would recognize. The NHL then announced theyd be bringing in . . . Three Doors Down!

Wait . . . who? Didnt they have a song about 20 years ago?

When Three Doors Down started playing during the first intermission, all three of their fans in the crowd went bananas. If you listened closely, with one of those old time ear horns up to your ear, you could even hear a few Woos!

Luckily it was dark in the arena because whenever there was a speck of light during their set you could see an empty arena, fans predictably much more interested in grabbing a pretzel and a beer than seeing a band whose hit song is almost 10 years old. They couldve just played a Now Thats What I Call Music 5 CD and got the same reaction without actually have to pay Three Doors Down to appear. What did that marketing meeting look like?

When Three Doors Down eventually played their one hit, Kryptonite, there were still roughly just five people cheering. Why the NHL thought a band that hasnt been relevant since the Kennedy administration would be a big hit amongst fans beats us.

We havent seen a team of people screw up this much and be this wrong since the crew that built the Titanic said it could stand up to icebergs.

Generally when people are this bad at their jobs, they get fired. Unless you work for the NHL. No wonder theyre considered the fourth-class citizens of the sports world.

Its like that episode of South Park, Prehistoric Ice Man, where the kids found a man who has been frozen for 32 months and cant cope with the fact that he has awaken in 1999. But instead of 32 months, the NHL marketing department apparently was frozen for over eight years and still thinks Three Doors Down, Switchfoot and Clay Aiken are relevant, cool and exciting.

Maybe while theyre at it the NHL can bring back that glowing puck. NHL fans loved that. And by loved with mean loathed.

We can only imagine what their To Do list for All-star weekend looked like.

Maybe someday the NHL will hire competent people that understand its audience and understand how to attract new fans. Sure, Clay Aiken probably brought the American Idol crowd over to watch hockey. Of course. Seriously.

But hey, us NHL fans are used to failure like this. Cant wait for the 2012 All-Star where Hinder will perform their hit song Lips of an Angel. Were sure that will bring in huge ratings.

'Healthy' Rask ready to go with a lot to prove

'Healthy' Rask ready to go with a lot to prove

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Tuukka Rask went through morning skate Tuesday at Warrior Ice Arena and proclaimed himself “healthy” to start against the Nashville Predators at TD Garden after sitting out Saturday with a lower body injury.

So, Rask will play his 60th game of the season tonight and the Bruins will hope that a dominating performance will douse some of the brush fire that’s cropped up around the Black and Gold’s goaltending situation. 

After Boston’s No. 1 goaltender coughed up five goals in a rough loss to Tampa and then sat out the must-win against the Islanders on Saturday night, questions about Rask’s big-game reliability are absolutely there after he also sat out last season’s pivotal finale against the Ottawa Senators.

Still, Rask said he hasn’t paid attention to the media scrutiny and is instead looking forward to locking up against fellow Finn Pekka Rinne of the Preds.

“I haven’t listened to the [media scrutiny], but I’m sure they’ve been very nice to me,” said Rask. “I don’t listen. I don’t read it. Doesn’t affect me. You know where you stand, and how good you play and when you don’t play good. That’s all you need. You don’t need to listen to the outside voices because it’s just going to distract you. People have opinions and they can say whatever they want.

“This is what we play for, right? It’s fun. It’s going to come down to the wire again and it’s going to be another battle tonight. I don’t even know how many games I’ve played. I feel good. I think I’ve said all throughout the year there’s going to be ups and downs, and you just try to stay even-keeled. It’s something that you learn not getting too high or too low, and just win as many games as you can.”

The bottom line with Rask is that there are major question marks about his standing as a No. 1 goaltender that he needs to address in these final seven games, media scrutiny or no media scrutiny. A No. 1 goalie worth $7 million per season can hold up with a 60-plus game workload and not fade down the stretch while in need of mental and physical breaks. 

The slender Rask has shown signs of slippage in his performance when the workload is heavy, and coach Bruce Cassidy admitted as much on Tuesday while not guaranteeing that his No. 1 will be able to play in six of the final seven games down the stretch.

“We’re trying to write our own story this year. I know how the last few years have ended, and we’d like a different ending,” said Cassidy. “I think this group should be afforded that right to write their own stories, and we’ll see how it plays out. Obviously last week did not play out well for us and we heard about it, and that’s part of the business.

“Saturday, hopefully we turned a corner, but we won’t know that until we get going forward here. I’m asking [Tuukka] to play well tonight, and I’m asking the players in front of him to play well tonight. The workload for Tuukka has to be monitored, and whether the whole world agrees with it or not, that’s the situation. I think the data backs up that he’s better with ‘X’ amount of rest and that’s just the way it is. It’s an inexact science and we’re trying to do a better job with that. The second half we’ve really tried to monitor it and last week was a bit of an exception. At crunch time things change a little bit, and that’s what we’re trying to balance.”

In an ideal world, a hockey team scratching and clawing for the Stanley Cup playoffs wouldn’t have to so closely monitor whether a goaltender is about to break down because he’s pushing 60 games in a season, especially when he’d enjoyed a five-day bye just a month earlier.

There are also questions about Rask’s reliability after sitting out last weekend, whether it was by his choice, the team’s choice or a mutually agreed upon decision after his lower body discomfort cropped up. A No. 1 goalie is no longer worthy of that lofty mantle when a team can’t rely on big-game performances from him, or even if he'll be available, once the pressure is on in the final weeks of the season.

So, there are plenty of questions to answer for Rask down the stretch here and they may go a long way toward determining his long-range future with an organization that invested heavily in him a few years ago. Those answers begin on Tuesday night against the Predators and it certainly feels like it will be game-to-game with him for final seven contests of the regular season. 

Report: Trump won't throw out first pitch

Report: Trump won't throw out first pitch

One White House tradition will have to wait, if it’s in fact maintained.

President Donald Trump is not going to throw out a ceremonial first pitch for the Washington Nationals this season, according to the Washington Post.

Post reporter Barry Svrugula wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that the White House declined an invitation from the Nats.

POLITICO reported early Tuesday morning that Trump was in talks to throw out the first pitch and that it was also possible he could spend an inning in the MASN booth.

President William Howard Taft began the custom of U.S. presidents throwing out a first pitch on April 14, 1910, at National Stadium in D.C.

According to The Week:

“Since Taft, every president not named Jimmy Carter has thrown out at least one Opening Day first pitch. The executive guests of honor followed in Taft's hefty footsteps, throwing the first ball from the stands, until the late 1980s when Ronald Reagan sauntered onto the mound and improved upon the tradition."

The most famous presidential pitch in recent memory is George W. Bush’s toss during the 2001 World Series at Yankee Stadium.

The Nats open their season on Monday at home in Washington D.C., in a 1:05 p.m. game against the Miami Marlins. A Nationals Magic 8 Ball is to be given away to the first 20,000 fans.

The Red Sox happen to play the Nats in a pair of exhibitions right before the season, on Friday and Saturday. Friday’s game is at the Nats’ home park in D.C. Saturday’s game is to be played in Annapolis, Md., at the U.S. Naval Academy.