Classic Cancellation Cancels Hope

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announces the Winter Classic a year ago. AP photo

In glacial terms I’m not that old. Yes, the hair is gray and the belly has enough pot in it to get a courtesy call from Woody Harrelson asking if he can bury a few extra inches at his next NORML rally. But other than that, I figure to have a few years left to check things off the bucket list – like hand-building the engine of my new 427 Corvette at GM’s Performance Build Center. It may be the best $5,800 option in automotive history!

So if that is the case, why do I feel like Grandpa Elmer on the porch telling tales of days past when gas cost a dime, snow shovels were made of steel and a sports league existed where men of considerable skill and great speed skated on ice between shifts of rest and pugilism?

The NHL has canceled its most successful publicity stunt. This news, by itself, may not appear to be a big deal except that the Winter Classic was scheduled for New Year’ Day – and in front of the largest crowd in NHL history at University of Michigan Stadium. It also was to be part of the two-week Hockeytown Festival centered at Comerica Park in Detroit and involving all levels of the sport – including an alumni game between original six members Toronto and Detroit and their assortment of current and future Hall of Fame members. If you’re not a hockey fan, you probably don’t know how big of a list that is. If you are, you understand just how large the event was to be and how hopeless things are looking for any return to normalcy.

From a planning standpoint, the cancellation made sense. The Winter Classic is a huge event, and a last-minute cancellation would be economically devastating for all involved. So it’s not the announcement that is problematic, it is the message being sent – that the NHL is gone and not likely to come back in the foreseeable future. As Red Wings forward Danny Cleary said to reporters in the aftermath of the announcement, “It sucks.”

The 2013 Winter Classic was to be the biggest New Year’s Day event in league history and its greatest ever marketing showcase. Instead of 110,000 fans in Ann Arbor and perhaps twice as many visitors from the U.S. and Canada to a city desperate for an economic influx, the unwillingness of the league to come to an agreement after record-setting profits has destroyed the event, disappointed fans and reduced its chance to create value.

The NHL’s bad cop role is an attempt to bend player will in an effort to increase value by reducing supplier opportunity costs (SOP). Unfortunately, as the lockout continues it becomes harder for the league to increase its customers’ willingness to pay (WTP). What this means is that even if owners cut expenses, fan indifference in the aftermath of the lockout could destroy any financial advantages the owners eventually gain. After all, value comes from increasing the distance between WTP and SOP.

Well, there’s the old man rant. It used to be such a fun league – fast, physical, unpredictable. Now it can’t even be found in the main category section of the Fox Sports website. It’s now an “other” category sport, behind soccer, NASCAR and UFC.

BTW: If you have any suggestions about how to raise the $77,750 base price for the bucket list adventure, please let me know. Dang if I wouldn’t look good in that car!