Tuesday, November 30, 2010

No More Bee Nets – Call For Change to Color of NHL Protective Netting

It’s as senseless as Entertainment Tonight without Mary Hart. It’s more out of place than Kirk Cameron at Michael J. Fox’s birthday party. And it’s more intrusive than Kanye West at the Grammys.

What am I referring to?

The black protective netting behind NHL nets. The protective black netting reaches high above both ends of the ice behind the goalies protecting fans from errand pucks.

Protecting fans is essential. The nets must stay.

The problem? The netting is black and the ice is white. And oh yes - the tiny puck is black. The black netting is completely intrusive for fans sitting behind the nets. The players and ice are checkered, making it tough for fans to focus on the game and get a clear unobstructed view. Fans at every level are adversely affected.

A number of NHL teams have the black protective netting, including the Senators and Canadiens. Given that catching a Habs game in Montreal means getting a second mortgage, the black netting is enough to make a fan stay home and flip between the game and A Very Bo Bice Christmas Special.

I don’t know about you, but when I watch a hockey game at home I don’t turn the TV on, grab a beer and put a protective bee net over my face.

Some teams, however, get it. The Flyers, Kings and Leafs, for example, all have white protective netting. The difference in the fan experience is dramatically improved. The view is clear and seamless.

So here's the proposal: the NHL should mandate that every team put up white or translucent protective netting behind the nets, and permanently dispose of the black netting.

Don’t think it makes a difference? Here’s the same article (with a white background) behind the black netting:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

NHL’s Failure to Disclose Injuries Bad For Business/Petition For Change

And so it continues. For the third straight season, NHL teams aren't disclosing the nature of injuries, and simply dividing the human body into two parts - upper and lower - when describing the nature of injuries.

Injuries are now shrouded in more mystery than an episode of Restaurant Makeover.

This is giving me an upper body injury (a headache).

This is a problem for the NHL. By maintaining a veil over player injuries, in part, undermines the NHL’s attempt to grab a larger market share as it prevents fans from engaging the league at a higher level. Fans don’t know what’s going on with their favourite players. As well fantasy players don’t have the necessary information they need to manage their teams effectively. And we all know how critical fantasy leagues are to generating interest in a league. Of course we can’t forget that gambling on games also generates interest in a league, and without good information, gamblers may shy away from hockey.

In an information age, this just doesn’t cut it. Accurate up-to-date information should be a given. It’s not and that’s a problem.

Mid-Body Injury? Really?

Some notables from this season so far:

Avs goalie Craig Anderson - lower body injury - out indefinitely
Drew Doughty - upper body injury - Injured Reserve
Marian Hossa - upper body injury - "out several weeks"
Freddy Meyer - mid-body injury - day to day

"Mid-body injury"? Does Meyer have a kidney stone? Is his gallbladder ok? Did he injure his hip while re-enacting some of his favourite moves from this week’s episode of Dancing With The Stars?

Rumour is that Anderson has torn his ACL but won’t need surgery. That may mean a partial tear. However, is it true? Maybe it’s a sprained MCL? ACL means he may be done (exception Johan Franzen); MCL means he may be back this season.

The NHL's failure to disclose the precise nature of injuries is driving fans crazy. This level secrecy makes about as much sense as casting Betty White as the next Jason Bourne (in all fairness, she would probably be good but I expect the intricate fight scenes would be taxing on her).

2008 - A New The Policy

In June 2008, NHL general managers voted unanimously in favor of limiting how much information was disclosed about player injuries. The amended policy stated that clubs could not falsify information or misrepresent a player's condition. Teams, however, were no longer required to disclose the specific nature of player injuries.

Here's the policy as passed:
"Clubs no longer are required to disclose the specific nature of player injuries. Clubs are, however, required to disclose that a player is expected to miss a game due to injury, or will not return to a game following an injury. Clubs are prohibited from providing untruthful information about the nature of a player injury or otherwise misrepresenting a player’s condition."
Reason for the Change: Protect the Players

NHL GMs said the change in policy was designed to help avoid having player injuries targeted by other players.

"The most important thing is, how can we protect the players' safety in all aspects," New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello told ESPN.com.

Wings GM Ken Holland, who spearheaded the move for the new policy, shared his thoughts.

"My feeling was, come playoff time, I don't think that it's necessary for the fans to know every injury," said Holland. "We're trying to protect our players. There's competitive issues. I put on the table that we don't have to divulge every injury and it's really up to the club to handle injury disclosures as they see fit. Obviously, I got enough support from the GMs, and basically we were instructed by the league that we were now free to disclose injuries the way we wanted to disclose injuries."

Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said that fans don’t really seem to care to understand the extent of a player injury.

"I don't see why it's something that needs to be public information," Carolina Hurricanes GM Rutherford said. "From the fans' point of view, the player is either going to play or he's not going to play. If he's playing hurt, I don't think the team should have to tell the other team what his injury is. It's a delicate one."

The NHL Players' Association was also on board.

"Anything that helps with the safety of our players we fully endorse," Glenn Healy, the NHLPA's director of player affairs, wrote in an e-mail. "We have been presented with a safety issue and we agree with the steps to better protect our players."

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said fans did not complain.

“While our revised policy has generated attention, and in some cases criticism, from our media, we have not received negative feedback directly from our fans.”

The media complained about the change in policy when first implemented. Those complaints did not come directly from the fans. True. However, it’s unclear how, if at all, the NHL canvassed fan reaction to the change in policy.

Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press interviewed 10 players on the new policy and focused on whether players felt injuries were targeted by their peers. He reported that none of the 10 players interviewed were ever coached to attack a wounded player with the intent to further injure him. And none could recall being targeted because of a disclosed injury.

“I don’t get it,” veteran Andrew Brunette of the Wild told Murphy. “I’ve never seen, never heard anybody say, ‘Let’s get him’ because he’s injured.”

“I don’t buy into this thing about being targeted,” said coach Lindy Ruff, “If you’ve got a pulled groin, are you going to target a pulled muscle? There’s always been this mystery in our league. But most of the time, it’s a meaningless type of injury you don’t need to hide.”

It’s also reasonable to assume that players talk amongst themselves, and that word gets around on the nature of player injuries.
And if players wanted to target injuries, they could go after the upper or lower body of a player.

So while not a unanimous view, there is serious doubt that targeting existing injuries is a real threat.

Policy Inconsistent With NHL’s Marketing Push

The NHL is focusing on trying to create fans of the NHL and not just fans of one team.

The NFL has achieved this with great success. How? Gambling, of course, is one way. There is also the far more recent development of fantasy leagues, which taps into a large segment of the population that doesn’t engage in traditional gambling. Television and radio shows have NFL fantasy segments, and commentators can be heard often talking about their fantasy teams. What was previously an unwatchable Bengals/Browns matchup for fans who don’t gamble in the traditional sense is suddenly a game of interest for fantasy players who want to see how Peyton Hillis will fair or how well Carson Palmer will play.

Comparatively, the NFL provides full injury disclosure and issues a weekly injury report for all of us to conveniently keep track. It would seem a lot easier for players to target player injuries in football than hockey. That aside, the NFL presumably understands that knowledge promotes interest in its league.

If the NHL wants to grow interest in the league, promoting fantasy leagues is key. And do so effectively, full disclosure of the precise nature of injuries is required. Fans need to know how long a guy will be out, what type of injury he has and what his long term prospects are.

Apart from the fantasy angle, the NHL should want fans to be as engaged as possible by their teams and players. Part of that is letting fans know the extent of injuries to their favourite players.

Holland noted that the policy was inspired by finding a way to try and protect players during the playoffs. Somehow, though, the policy morphed into a full season restriction on injury disclosure.

How About A Compromise

As a compromise, the NHL should consider a policy whereby teams must disclose the precise nature of player injuries during the regular season, but come playoff time, it is open to teams not to disclose injuries with any kind of specificity. This seems in keeping with the original thrust behind the policy.

Sports is ultimately entertainment and is fan driven. The NFL gets it and the NHL should too. Yes - player welfare is important, but we have not been presented with reliable evidence supporting the position that player injuries are indeed targeted.

Enough is enough. Time for full disclosure.

And someone get me an aspirin for my splitting upper body injury.

If you have a moment, and agree, please sign the petition. Let’s be heard.