Bar Rescue host, Jon Taffer, a Vegas Golden Knights season-ticket holder, recently talked to ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski about what the NHL should do to grow the game:
“Sports like golf and some others I won’t mention, they’re not attracting millennials like they could or should. But when you look at hockey, I think we have a chance with millennials that I think some other sports might not. When we look forward, that’s the positioning. We position this game to that segment and get them excited about it. That’s where our growth is.”
Putting aside the fact that Jon Taffer probably has a genius marketing plan to capture the younger demographic, simply put, yes.
Anyone who has drifted in and out of slumber during a Sunday morning Bar Rescue marathon knows without a shadow of a doubt that Taffer is the only hope for the dumpster fire (I know you want the best gif on the internet) that is the NHL’s strategic marketing team. Not only would this give hockey fans a rare moment of comfort knowing our game was trending in the right direction, it would also be unbelievable content.
Picture this: Jon pulls up outside of NHL headquarters with a few of his marketing gurus. He briefs his hungover audience on the crew’s prestigious resumes (all longer reads than the bible), leaving us with a deep feeling of disappointment in our own life accomplishments.
We do know one thing, however: Jon’s crew could turn badminton into America’s game if they wished.
Action cuts back to HQ where the NHL’s trained marketing monkeys are pictured creating a strategy rivaled in ineptitude by only the Bay of Pigs. I honestly imagine that NHL HQ is responsible for roughly 25% of hockey Twitter and they regurgitate the same theme in three ways from burner accounts (shoutout Bryan Colangelo) across the internet: “people love playoff hockey,” “look how hard everyone plays” and one shouts over the rest, “THE HANDSHAKE LINES THOUGH.”
I’m not saying “Drunk Chicago Fan” is a marketer for the NHL…but I’m not saying it isn’t.
Jon shakes his head in disgust knowing the game he loves is barely shown on TV because, despite the entertaining product, the NHL consistently trips over itself trying to find a position to succeed in the modern sports world.
Wait…suddenly a disheveled, broken-looking man appears from the corner of the room. Each word that falls from his mouth seems more painful than the last, almost as if he knows how this story will end. “Why don’t we invest some of our resources into engaging the younger demographic,” he says. “We can use tools like social media and viral marketing, or…uhh…develop a strategy for how we schedule our nationally televised playoff games to get more viewers.”
The rest of his colleagues look bewildered and irritated. They begin lashing out in confusion. Taffer has seen enough…he storms in and demands to see who is running this operation.
A silhouette appears from out of the corner office as the camera pans away from Jon’s increasingly reddened stare. After another keenly timed commercial break, the shady character is revealed as none other than Gary Bettman.
The viewer’s blood is boiling. Bettman is an even more reprehensible power figure than the infamous Matt and Karen of the early Bar Rescue cult favorite, the “O-face” episode. Jon becomes incensed at the sight of Bettman’s smug grin. He begins to berate and belittle him in a manner that truly warms the viewer’s heart.
However, the moment of serenity quickly subsides because, as we learned in dealing with Matt and Karen, there is only so much that Jon can do for a cripplingly ineffective client. Even the dazed viewer can see through their hungover gaze that any and all changes Taffer institutes will be unraveled by the self-serving decision maker. Surely, Jon will try his darnedest.
To be completely honest, it is highly unlikely they even make it through the initial “stress test.” I can picture it clear as day: Bettman stumbles in, drunk. He’s fresh off a rendezvous with the league owners, having discussed innovative ways to isolate new fans, anger existing ones and further strain their relationship with players — all while lining their own pockets. Finally, Jon sees what we have realized all along: there is no rewriting this story. A ship captained by Bettman isn’t salvageable. Of course, being the standup guy he is, Taffer helps the few capable employees find new jobs and bids Bettman and his fourth-string league adieu.
Listen, I know running a sports league is significantly more challenging than I picture it to be, but its got to be easier than Bettman makes it look. Watching him run the NHL is soul-sucking and leaves me with little hope for the growth of the sport, which truly is a shame.
Circling back to Taffer’s original comments on engaging the younger demographic; that really is the only way to grow the league.
Fortunately for the NHL, some of their peers make questionable decisions as well. The MLB and their Twitter GIF police force are hellbent on making sure no one under the age of 60 watches a highlight online and we certainly don’t need a microscope to see the NFL’s mess.
Honestly, the only league truly positioning themselves for the future is the NBA. Whether it be eSports partnerships, a huge social media presence or having the youngest following of any traditional sport, Adam Silver and his team have shown a tremendous ability to be proactive with the changing times.
But who knows, maybe one day in this race to the bottom the NHL will trip and fall into a mainstream following despite its leadership, but I won’t hold my breath. My only hope is a two-headed monster of Jon Taffer and Adam Silver overthrowing Bettman and implementing a plan actually structured around growing the game, rather than exploiting players and fans while owners line their pockets.
Until then, the mainstream media will continue only talking about hockey once the playoffs come around and it truly is a shame.