Saturday, May 26, 2012

Why Gary Bettman Frets at Night

Maybe it's a function of my age. Maybe it's a function of having lived in the Bo-wash Corridor all of my life. Maybe it's both. Whatever the motive, I don't have good news for the NHL and NBC this beautiful May morning.

The second the Devils scored to eliminate the Rangers last night, my commitment to the Stanley Cup playoffs vanished. Not that I care for the Rangers, although there's something to be said for a fan base New York City cops dislike working with more than even wrestling fans. Their loss just set off a habit I picked up long, long ago.

As soon as all the Original Six teams and all the Canadian teams are out of the playoffs, so am I. Oh, I'll watch a game or two. Make that parts of a game or two. Stay up late for overtime? Don't be absurd. I lack the emotional commitment and intellectual interest for that. A Stanley Cup final between the Kings and Devils? How can I, an outsider, get pumped for a death match between a franchise that's a small cult in its home city and a franchise that's ranked dead last in overall public interest (Jay-Z gives the Nets some pub from Page Six) in ITS home? There are alternative rock bands in SEC college towns with bigger followings than these two fine hockey clubs.

Neutral fans, front-runners to be blunt, participate in a big game or series to the extent they can feed off the emotion brought to the event by existing fans. It's psychic physics. The greater the critical mass of emotion, the more attraction it extends to us free-floating uncharged fan particles. That principle is why I, the more-than-casual soccer fan, delights in watching a match on the order of Real Madrid-Barcelona, and can't click the remote fast enough past an MLS tilt. Not fair to MLS, perhaps, but so what? A fan from Philly is supposed to be fair?

The Devils and Kings, both of which have been around for many many years, represent the NHL's continuing failed efforts to not be the fourth of four U.S. professional sports leagues. I mean, if Wayne Gretzky couldn't make Los Angeles care about hockey, and he couldn't, a don't think one measley Stanley Cup will do the trick. The contempt two-thirds of Tri-State area has for business enterprises with Jersey in their name will never end. New Yorkers are funny that way.

The way this fan particle measures the emotional attraction of a neutral event is the loss test. How badly will fans care if and when their team loses the game/series? By that standard, last year's Bruins-Canucks Stanley Cup final was perfect. Ask any Vancouver cop. Hockey is an indigenous and important part of the culture of both Boston and Vancouver. In Newark and Los Angeles, hockey is an indigenous part of the fact that the two biggest metropolitan areas of the U.S. have a niche market for any product. That's hard to warm up to, unless you're a TV exec or in the sports marketing racket, and God forbid on both counts.

The 2011 Final had the strongest ties possible to the history and culture of its sport. The 2012 Final has next to none. It has no pull on me. Like many another Final, it will probably evoke the reaction, "it's really nice outside. Why should I look at ice?"

It's possible and perhaps even likely that the above analysis was merely the cranky rambling of a sports follower whom the 21st century is passing by faster than Danica Patrick gets passed in the Nationwide series. But I suspect I have plenty of cranky, or rather, uninterested company.

The ratings for the Bruins-Canucks series were excellent. Let's see what crowd the Kings and Devils draw.


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