Thursday’s sports headline probably created a buzz in the NHL head offices in New York City, a big name star joins a rival league creating the kind of buzz that the NHL could only dream of.
League executives should have been watching the details of David Beckham’s planned invasion of America with interest, if for no other reason than to try to determine how many times the publicity pie can be sliced before there are no shares left.
There is no secret that the NHL has been suffering a bit of an image problem in the USA these days, they have left the glow of the ESPN tube for the relative anonymity of Versus. The once crowded stadiums in Chicago and Long Island, Boston and St. Louis now on some nights sit half full, hockey is no longer hot, and in fact it’s not even lukewarm in many American centers.
So what will happen once the MLS marketing machine begins flogging the Beckham’s all over North America. While the two leagues schedules don’t quite run head to head, MLS does kick into gear just as the NHL is getting ready for its stretch drive and playoff games, runs through the summer and wraps things up in November. That’s a fair hunk of time to place your sport in the spotlight and soak up some valuable advertising dollars from the television networks.
With the Beckham signing today, there already is talk of other key franchises seeking out their own “star” player, surely New York and Chicago, Washington and New England, Dallas or Houston will want to add some name power to their franchises, building up the buzz on a sport that up until now was purely a home for family, friends and the truly devoted to the sport.
If MLS has its way, soccer is about to become the “cool” sport of the non big three (NFL, NBA, MLB), will this mean that there is a worry that hockey will get shoved further down the food chain. Losing what little cache it has with television now as the sexy new kid on the block starts to strut.
The Beckham signing in LA, will certainly affect that market, with his wife Victoria in tow, the Beckhams will hold the title of the IT couple, a must invite couple that perhaps once was the domain of Wayne and Janet Gretzky.
When the Gretzky’s were the toast of LA, the Kings benefited from the glow, soccer is banking (to the tune of some 250 million dollars) that the same kind of impact will take place once the Beckhams take up residence later this summer.
Will the Beckham's arrival spur on a chase for ticket holders anxious to join in the fun of the suddenly in demand LA Galaxy, will that departure of that trend following crowd cause trouble for the LA Kings and Anaheim Ducks?
Of even more concern for the NHL will be the perception of losing ground to a sport that while popular world wide, has really only been that of a cult passion in North America. If hockey drops below soccer on the popularity lists of the American sports fan, how fast will those franchise dominoes begin to tumble?
These are things that the NHL will have to consider as the North American sports scenery undergoes a bit of a transformation. A sea change of interest that comes thanks to a not so young anymore stud of a soccer player, here to conquer America.