The whimsical notion of amateur teams competing for the 2013 Stanley Cup in lieu of the NHL sounds far-fetched at first. Sure, that’s how the Stanley Cup began back in the 1890s when the governor-general Lord Stanley donated his prize. But these are modern times, and the idea of Rat Portage grabbing the Cup just isn’t practical, right?
Actually, no. While North American pro leagues have done their best to hold themselves far above the grassroots of their sports, soccer in Britain and other nations keeps the concept alive with the Football Association Cup, known to us plebes as the FA Cup.
The open format allows every team in the FA from Man City and Man U all the way down to the Milton Keynes Dons to compete for the FA Cup awarded in May. Every so often some upstart squad of blokes who practice maybe once a week upends a prestigious side in the Premiership.
It’s all unsung teams and Walter Mitty heroes that dominate the sporting press for a time during the long regular season. Inevitably the big boys end up playing for the Cup at Wembley before 100,000. But the point is made that everyone is part of the same game, puts his shorts on one leg at a time etc.
This extends to the notion of promotion and relegation in soccer as well. Instead of rewarding failed managements with the best prospect available, soccer drops its equivalents of Edmonton or Florida to the level below. An aspiring team can jump up in class (and revenue) if it performs well. Small markets can aspire to the big time if they run themselves economically and sensibly on the pitch.
So, yes, Canada can stand a little grassroots competition for Lord Stanley’s Cup, especially when the high-and-mightys are too important to play a season while they take turns burning $100 bills.
David vs. Goliath
North American sports leagues have long fed the public the line that salary caps are the only way to ensure parity. No wonder the idea of the FA Cup hockey style seems absurd to fans conditioned by the commissioners to their own devices. If you believe the Gary Bettmans, David Sterns and Roger Goodell’s, only salary caps can protect smaller markets.
If that’s the case, how did baseball (minus a salary cap) end up with small markets Oakland, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Baltimore in the postseason this year? Why are the NHL and the NBA screaming about their economic woes while MLB teams like the Dodgers sell for $2-billion? Why is the salary-cap free EPL the most popular sports league in the world?
For Canadian fans who want more native content in the sport, perhaps the real solution is the soccer model, where teams play at the level they can afford. Promotion and relegation. The ability to sell contracts freely up the food chain and buy expensively at the top of the chain. No artificial economies of restricted free agents and recallable waivers. The little guys taking on the Canucks or Canadiens in a playdown.
Lord Stanley would probably approve.
And another thing.“ bruce dowbiggin @dowbboy Players own the situation as much as owners after the way they wasted 7 years between CBAs stabbing each other and ignoring real issues.”
“ bruce dowbiggin @dowbboy If NHL season is wiped out they should award the Paul Kelly Cup to team that would’ve won Stanley Cup had Kelly been allowed to do his job.”
Raptors get it
Not that you can tell the NHL anything, because apparently it’s so unique and special to its fans, owners and media. But when the league finally gets back to work it might want to look at TV commercials such as the one Toronto Raptor Landry Fields is doing for Play Station Vita.
Fields pulls a surprised fan into the back seat of a hot car to play the latest PS video game against him. The ad establishes three things: Fields’ identity out of uniform, the fans’ recognition of him as a guy who’s cool and the brand itself. Perfect marketing.
When was the last time you saw the NHL promote anyone but Sidney Crosby in this method? In a sport where you worry about helmets disguising players, the NHL’s marketing does everything it can to hide its stars. That will have to change when play finally resumes in January (according to Bill Daly) or later.
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