Wednesday, August 27, 2014

NHL Expansion Rumour Mill - Slow News Day?

With an abundance of “confirmed” and “done deal” expansion rumours swirling about in the past 24 hours, it would appear that the NHL has a new “silly season” – the month before training camps opens. Let’s face it, it is a time of year when news outlets, broadcasters and advertisers are starving for news.

Things are pretty quiet on all fronts; no trades, no signings, no conflict… Which means, no revenue generating opportunities. A perfect time of year to float a few ideas out there that isn’t really news but can be re-shaped into a newsworthy item. You hope that these stories stick, become conversation starters and generate revenue. It is a pretty basic, tried and true formula that works every time.

Allow me to expand on my silly season theory:

The annual trade deadline is one of three silly seasons the league enjoys – this first one is the wonderful time of year when fans get to be silly. They can help decide who the buyers and sellers are and hockey insiders are quick to add fuel to the engine of the rumour mill machine. Who is a hero and who is a zero? Find out tonight at 6pm! Fans and news outlets alike can enjoy the first silly season of the year; it is a most magical time! Fans can dream about a better team and news outlets can see real revenue as fans make purchases to see the latest “insider” news.

The second silly season is the most expensive – the July 1st free agent frenzy. This is the exciting time of the year when there are no wins or losses to cloud judgement – every owner feels they have a realistic and legitimate chance at winning the Stanley Cup during the upcoming season. They spend their allowance with gusto. Don’t forget, today’s free agent signings are tomorrow’s deadline trades and buyouts – how exciting! The owners help to create silly season #1 with their actions during silly season #2. It’s perfectly silly!

Which brings us to late August / early September… For the most part, rosters are set, players are settling into their new communities (if they have a family) and the NHL goes into a calm before the storm period of time. In just a few weeks, there will be more news than fans can handle. So, in the meantime, why not get everyone talking about something we all know is coming. Something that won’t raise the ire of league officials, but will certainly entice fans to purchase your newspaper, watch your television show or listen to your radio station/podcast…

Everyone has been quick to play catch-up on the report out of Vancouver that a Las Vegas NHL team is a “done deal” according to “sources” - of course it is, said no one!!

Look, we all know expansion is coming and there is the very real possibility that relocation will occur as well. But, this story is just recycled news tossed out there for people to consume.

When it comes to expansion, it is always the usual suspects when discussing new NHL markets – Toronto, Seattle, Quebec City, Kansas City and now (apparently?) Las Vegas. Yes, the league needs to and will add at least two new teams at some point, but all indications are there is no rush in the New York office to start the bidding.

No doubt that Toronto and probably Seattle will be awarded expansion franchises in a few years. They are very favourable and attractive markets for the league and as they stay in the news, the market becomes more desirable. A second team in Toronto is a license to print money – there is no way the league allows one person to relocate a team there and make that kind of money all by themselves. Everyone will want (and expect) their cut of team #2 in Toronto. And, as interest grows in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle is quickly becoming a hotspot for expansion as well.

In Quebec City, you have an owner in waiting and a small but eager fan base ready to welcome back the Nordiques. Those fans will still be there in a few years, so the league can wait for an existing market to stumble. Vegas or Kansas? Well, they are option 4 and/or 5 in my opinion. Could happen… Might not… Other dominoes will fall before those markets come into play.

So, was the Vancouver writer making up the Las Vegas story? Not exactly. Sources are a mysterious thing. A close connection can provide what they think is confirmed information and if you are keeping the bottom line in mind as a news outlet, you have to decide if you will take the chance on “breaking” this news. The good thing is, attention spans are short. If it doesn’t happen, very few will remember. If it does, you can point to your breaking news story and say, “See, we were the first to tell you!”

Here’s a personal example about sources – it’s been a while, so I’ll tell you about my breaking news.

A few years ago, I was told by someone very, very close to one of the top people in the Senators organization that a house cleaning was about to happen. No, it was not a former player I was speaking with… I was meeting with someone in the community about a separate project that was very connected to the movers and shakers in Sens land…

The news: Bryan Murray and Corey Clouston would be gone. Pierre McGuire would be in as GM and Bob Hartley was the new coach. Done deal!! 100% this is going to happen. Take this news and take it to the bank I was told.

What did I do with the information? I discussed it with a few key people – do I break the news? Luckily, I received great advice – sit on it for 24 hours. On their advice, I wrote articles in preparation… When the news broke, I’d be the first one out there with a story – what a scoop for TVOS – thanks Mr. X!!

Funny thing happened though on the way to breaking news. Senators owner Eugene Melnyk cancelled his planned trip to Ottawa and it (obviously) never happened. My source was shocked – he thought it was a done deal.

So, as we all stumble over ourselves to discuss where the new NHL expansion teams will land, keep this in mind – it’s a slow news day/week/month. Until it actually happens, we can expect a silly season in late August / early September, filled with rumours and speculation about expansion possibilities. It's good for business.