Friday, June 20, 2008

Order in the Court; NHL v MSG

Could the Rangers have a shaky future?

My two favorite people, Gary Bettman and James Dolan, are at it again.

Without getting into the frivolous details, of which you can read about all over the Internet, the NHL is suing the owners of the Rangers, Madison Square Garden, over a lawsuit brought about by MSG last September. As you all know, every team website looks exactly the same. They have the same layout, and the same features. The NHL runs this with little input from the individual franchises.

This upset MSG. The Rangers owners felt as if they can better market the team with their own fully functioning website without the mass “cookie cutter” appeal the current situation brings. So MSG sued the NHL last year to get the rights to their website, claiming the NHL was acting like a trust/monopoly/etc. Courts ruled in favor of the NHL, and thus was born.

Angry at the organization for suing them last September, the NHL got as sue-happy as MSG and is suing back. Only, the implications are much greater than matching scrollbars on websites. Claiming that MSG breached the NHL’s Constitution, the NHL wants to show MSG who is boss. Unfortunately for the Rangers, there are many possible consequences for their bad behavior. “A vote of three-quarters of the members of the league can decide to issue fines, suspend or terminate membership in the league, order a sale of the club to a new owner or suspend or expel individuals involved in the team's management.”

Fines I can deal with. The rest of it brings infinite amounts of problems.

The odds that this gets worked out with fines only are the most probable scenario. I’m OK with this scenario. I agreed with MSG last September, because I do believe the Ranger organization can do a better job marketing itself then the NHL can. “Cookie cutter” websites take away from the differences between the teams… and the more alike we become the harder it is to see the blurred lines of 30 different franchises. However, MSG does like to flex its muscles, and it’s unfair to the other 29 teams in the league. If we’re going to have cookie cutter websites, the Rangers can’t be different. Suing the National Hockey League wasn’t the smoothest move in Ranger history.

But really, was there ever a smooth move? One Cup since 1941, just saying.

The way I see it, Bettman and Dolan have a lot in common. They like money. They like basketball and hockey because that brings them money. They like power. They could have talked this over lunch, and not only could they have resolved the website issue, they could have raised Ranger ticket prices AGAIN, which could have made them more money. But instead, Bettman got all bent out of shape and started fining the Rangers $100,000 a day that they didn’t change their website. So MSG got ticked and took them to court. Both parties were acting a bit outlandishly over close-to-nothing.

This will end in fines. However, I want to take a look a different scenario. A hypothetical possibility. Read the quote again. “A vote of three-quarters of the members of the league can decide to issue fines, suspend or terminate membership in the league, order a sale of the club to a new owner or suspend or expel individuals involved in the team's management.”

Our options are limited to fines, sale of the club, or termination of membership in the league. Awesome.

Termination of membership in the league.

An improbable option would be the sale of the New York Rangers from Cablevision/MSG/the Dolan Empire. This would be the option if this takes a turn for the worse. But who really cares? The franchise continues, the NHL is happy, and we’re good to go.

Wrong. The person/company/whomever buying the Rangers couldn’t pick them up and send them to Winnipeg or Kansas City. They need to stay in New York. Will the Rangers be able to play in Madison Square Garden if they are ripped from MSG’s hands? Doubtful. So where do the Rangers play? You can’t exactly just build an arena in the middle of New York. How soon could you build an arena, even if a black hole opened up right above Manhattan and made a clearing for your brand new arena? Where would the Rangers play in the meantime? Share home ice with their good friends Lou Lamoriello or Charles Wang?

The Rangers, the Devils and the Islanders are currently broadcasted locally on MSG and MSG plus television stations. Sure, the new Ranger owners could strike a deal with the Yankee network YES or the Mets network SNY. But since the owners of the Rangers and MSG own Cablevision, the only available cable provider for parts of New York, could life become more difficult for broadcasting not only Ranger games, but Islander and Devil games as well?

Worse news for Rangers fans yet is that some people actually think the NHL could do OK without their most profitable American market, as they could send an expansion team to New York and find an arena in Brooklyn, which could be split with the returning New Jersey York Nets, or worse, split the Prudential Center with the New Jersey Devils.

It won’t happen. Fines are most likely. This could even be settled out of court. But termination is a plausible threat. Termination of the franchise! New York would be angry. Hockey traditionalists would be angry. Fans would be angry. It makes me angry this was even mentioned.

Would New York accept a new hockey team? Could we learn to love them? Could I?

It won’t happen. Over a stupid website? It can’t happen.

Would 2/3’s of the Board of Governors ever agree to kicking out any franchise, never less an Original 6 team that makes more profits than very other team besides the Maple Leafs?

But since when was this about the fans, anyway? And with Gary Bettman and James Dolan, will it ever be?

1 comment:

Lucky13 said...

This is one of those things that gets you thinking "no way!" at first, then after some thought, it turns into "that could happen!"

It would be beyond stupid for NYR to be disenfranchised by the NHL for the sole reason that it is a cash cow. I think there would be a price put on his head if things went this route.

But then again, we are talking about Gary Bettman, and stupid is as stupid does.

Like Kerri said - all this over a flippin website???