The business of sport is all about image.
Whether it’s marketing team apparel, star players or the game itself, presentation is everything in professional sports. Marketing equals profits, and profits equal success.
That’s why we should look at the NHL’s decision to fine Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn and Ducks coach Randy Carlyle as an image protection strategy and nothing more. This isn’t an infringement on free speech and it’s not a manifestation of a tyrannical structure within these leagues.
Any league has to be able to protect its own image, and what better way than fines? Money talks, and Bobby Clarke’s rhetoric walks.
Carlyle’s comments were nothing new—he trashed the officials. Who doesn’t? “I’m blind, I’m deaf, I want to be a ref!”—I know I’ve yelled it. But protecting officials from public criticism is easy to rationalize. There will always be controversial calls, and yes, some games will be decided by officiating. Having a coach sound off every time he feels slighted, however, chips away at the league’s vital and carefully constructed image.
Quinn’s fine represents something new. He criticized the game itself, the new rules, and most importantly, the new image of the NHL. And for a league that just survived the greatest image crisis in its history and pulled off what many think is a very successful makeover, Pat Quinn flapping his statuesque jaw is not what they need.
“Where it is right now, in spite of everybody saying ‘Oh, I love the new game,’ I don’t love the new game,” Quinn said. “I don’t think it’s hockey. It’s special teams situations and we’ve got gimmicks to decide games.”
Gimmicks—that one stings if you’re the NHL’s marketing staff. Quinn’s comments are actually very astute. The NHL proudly tells us it’s bringing us “a whole new game.” Quinn agrees, and folks, it ain’t hockey. Frankly, I think Quinn’s right, but others won’t.
Right or wrong, here’s where the problem lies in statements like these: the league has to present a united front. Sports fans everywhere got so sick of watching a divided NHL bicker and whine, they were ready to forget the sport altogether.
What the league needs—and really, what every league needs—is to be able to say they’re proud of the product they offer, and that’s why you and I should shell out our hard-earned pesos to go see it.
You can’t stop a coach from sounding off, but you can make him pat his wallet before he decides to chip away at the league’s hard-earned—and crucial—image.
Hey NHL: sit down, we need to talk.
We’ve been through a lot together—cold winter nights, early morning highlights, emotional playoff runs. Summers have been hard, but we kept in touch. We battled through—together.
Then you packed your bags and left me for a while—I thought we were finished. You broke my heart. It hurt, but I moved on. And then you come waltzing back into my life, as though nothing ever happened. You attempt to seduce me with your slick moves and high scoring antics.
You tell me you’ve “re-invented” yourself. But I have news for you, NHL. You may be prettier on the surface now, but your heart has turned black. This week you fined two head coaches for speaking out against your new rules—for challenging your gimmicks and denouncing your new personality. This week you became a soulless dictatorship.
Toronto’s Pat Quinn and Anaheim’s Randy Carlyle have become victims of your thought police. They disagreed with the farce you’ve created, and you rubbed them out. OK, so you fined them, but still, who do you think you are—Tony Soprano?
I understand how it’s going to be. You want to look big and tough like your buddies—the NBA, NFL, and MLBA. The new NHL is going to be “united.” You’ll slap fines on anyone who has the audacity to have an opinion. You’ll cut down dissenters and troublemakers.
Pat Quinn and Randy Carlyle are the first victims of the new NHL’s chilling guillotine of financial loss. Deputy commissioner Bill “Robespierre” Daly has begun his Reign of Terror, and he’s ready to silence any critics.
Pro-athletes have also been trained in Orwellian “newspeak.” They’ve been rewarded with lots of money, and punished by its removal. Slowly, certain words and phrases have disappeared from their vocabulary, and they have been left with the numbing rhetoric of athletic clichés and entertaining self-assertions of greatness. Those brave enough to speak out with opinions are quickly dealt with.
It’s all a ploy to control the perception of unity, and thus to make fans believe that the sport they pour their money into has somehow reached a perfect form.
Well, NHL, I’m not buying it. Quinn and Carlyle challenged your identity and exposed your insecurity, so you gagged them. Something corrupt is lurking beneath your new image. You seem sort of sleazy now.
Maybe one day we will meet again, and everything will be as simple as it was when we first met. Until then my friend—adieu—and please don’t fine me.
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