By Colby Cosh - Saturday, February 2, 2013 - 0 Comments
Phil Birnbaum, who along with “Tom Tango” is probably one of Canada’s two great gifts to quantitative analysis in sports, has been studying the NHL over the past few weeks. It was only after a second or third reading of his series breaking down luck versus skill in the NHL standings that I was able to really grasp what he was saying. I’m a fluent speaker of basic stats-ese, but not a native. Phil is a pretty approachable explainer of things (including some of the things devised by Tango), so usually I don’t have to bash myself over the head too hard with his findings. But I didn’t see how interesting the message was until now.
Probably all hockey fans know instinctively that the introduction of the shootout has injected a fair amount of randomness into the year-end NHL standings. Birnbaum, looking at the shootout-era data, has now shown just how much. In the old NHL that still had ties, it took an average of 36 NHL games for a team’s actual talent to become as important to its standings position as sheer randomness. “Talent” is defined here as repeatable ability, ability relevant to prediction: after 36 games, your team’s distance in the standings from .500 would be about half luck and half “talent”, and that would be reflected in your guess as to how they would do in the next 36 games (assuming nothing else about the team had changed). Over a full season, we could be confident that there was little randomness left in the ordering of the teams in the league table.
But in the new post-ties NHL, Birnbaum notes, the standard deviation of standings points has shrunk from about .2 per game to .15. Continue…
By Nick Taylor-Vaisey - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
To woo fans back, some teams dug a lot deeper than others
Hover your cursor over each circle to read more about the giveaways:
In the days after the NHL lockout ended, teams rushed to offer special deals to fans to make amends. If the euphoria on display last week was any indication, much has been forgiven. But if teams truly want to satisfy fans after the protracted dispute, opening night giveaways won’t go far enough, says a sports marketer and former hockey executive. Cary Kaplan, the president of Cosmos Sports and a former executive with the Hamilton Bulldogs hockey team, says the flurry of discounts were an important gesture, but won’t provide the “sustained change” fans deserve after so many months of being deprived of the game.
Players should be front and centre in that effort, says Kaplan. They should call season-ticket holders to thank them for their loyalty, or do more for fans on game days. “Why doesn’t every player sign autographs after every game? Why isn’t that mandatory?” he asks. “Kids don’t want free popcorn. They want to meet Phil Kessel. That’s the power these players and leagues and teams have.”
Still, Kaplan admits the discounts didn’t hurt. Of the teams that reportedly offered freebies, Maclean’s looked at how much they were potentially willing to put on the line for their first home game, relative to their team salaries (see graphic, below). For instance, if every Carolina Hurricanes fan took advantage of the savings offered on opening night— half off tickets and merchandise, cheap food and drink—the team would have given up an estimated $2 million in revenue. That amounts to about three times what it paid its players for the night’s work. Five of the 10 most generous teams were in Canadian cities, while Winnipeg and Toronto were further down the list.
On the eve of the NHL’s shortened season, one in four Canadian hockey fans told a Harris-Decima poll they’d watch the pros less this year. It will take more than cheap hot dogs to win them all back.
Now that every team’s hosted a home game, we thought we’d take a look at how all the discounts paid off, assuming they played a role in filling seats in NHL cities. The first graph below looks at how full arenas were on each team’s opening night. The second graph looks at how opening night attendance compared to each team’s average attendance during the 2011-12 season.
By Colby Cosh - Monday, January 7, 2013 at 8:56 AM - 0 Comments
The conventional wisdom on the NHL lockout, usually delivered with a sneer, is that Canadian hockey fans will belly-crawl back to the league uncritically now that all the bickering and all the tantrums have ended. Like all conventional wisdom, it is conventional because it is quite a safe bet. I know I’ll crawl with everyone else: I’m capable of intellectually segregating my fondness for the game of hockey from my loathing of the existing institutions of hockey. (It’s not all that difficult! Nor is it shameful!) What’s different about this lockout is that in the meantime I took the bait of regular-season NBA basketball with enthusiasm for the first time ever. Continue…
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 2:37 PM - 0 Comments
Jonathon Gatehouse explains why the end of the lockout is hardly a cause for celebration
Even by the diminished standards of sequels, The Lockout 3 was lacking.
The plot was far too familiar. The jeopardy forced. The actors simply going through the motions.
So while it’s a relief that the NHL and its Players’ Association have finally come to their senses, resolving a labour dispute that never had to happen after 113 days, it’s hardly cause for celebration. The tentative deal, struck in the wee hours of Jan. 6, isn’t that much different than the one the league and Commissioner Gary Bettman haughtily walked away from a month ago. Nor, is it greatly changed from the solution the two sides might have drawn up over beers at the cottage last summer: A 50/50 split of revenues—just like the NBA and NFL have. A 10-year term, with both sides enjoying an opt-out provision after eight years. (The deal that expired on Sept. 15 ran for seven.) A salary cap of $64.3 million for the 2013-14 season, and a floor at $44.3 million (down from this year’s projected $70 million/$54 million ceiling and floor under the old agreement.) The players get $300 million of “make whole” money to help ease the transition to the lower revenue split. Bettman gets a 7-year limit on free-agent contracts—eight if the player resigns with his current team—and limits on how much compensation can vary from year-to-year as part of his efforts to stop his owners from signing stars to ridiculously lengthy contracts for stupid money. (Although none of that will stop GMs from making disasterously bad decisions. Just ask any Montreal fan about Scott Gomez.) Rich club to poor club revenue sharing increases to $200 million a season—or five Phoenix Coyotes if you rather—with the promise of more as the bottom line improves.
But none of this is earth-shattering, or even vaguely transformative. All of it, incremental gains and losses to the existing system. The kind of “tweaks” Bettman talked up over the last season or two before he shuttered the league yet again last Sept. 15.
So who’s to blame? You can argue it’s the Commissioner, but really he was just doing his job as the front man for the owners’ baser instincts. Is it Don Fehr, looking to tack on a career-ending victory over the NHL’s small fry to his real legacy—a two-decade beatdown of the infinitely richer and more powerful men who control Major League Baseball? Hardly. He was just doing what the players wanted.
Nope, it’s the fault of the media and the fans. Particularly those of us here in Canada, which provides the NHL with one-third of its revenue, half its players, and most of its passion. As the old saw goes, those who do not learn from history and doomed to repeat it. Again and again.
As I outlined in my book, the great lesson the NHL and its players learned from the 103-day lockout in 1994/95, and the debacle that was the lost 2004-05 season, was that the market wouldn’t punish them. Sure, there was the odd team that took a short-term drop at the gate, but on both occasions, fan anger dissipated like morning fog on a sunny day. The media transitioned effortlessly from outraged columns and phoney phooey-on-hockey sentiment to season previews and training camp news. And the business bounced back stronger than ever.
And so it will be this time. The NHL and the NHLPA will indulge in the hockey equivalent of morning-after flowers, maybe a “Thank-You Fans” message etched onto centre ice, and some new charitable endeavours. The antsy sponsors will finally get to air those feel-good commercials they’ve had sitting in the can since last summer. And by the start of the playoffs, all this unpleasantness will have been forgotten.
The thing is that without a real, sustained fan backlash—like the one baseball owners and players experienced after the cancellation of the 1994 World Series—there is nothing to stop it happening again when this CBA expires after the 2019-20 season, or should it run its full course, 2021-22.
Of course, even that’s not an original thought. Many others wrote the same thing in early 1995, and then again a decade later.
Pro-hockey’s fans have become the league’s enablers. Just like the filmgoers who flock to theatres to watch the latest iteration of a once mildly funny comedy, or clapped-out superhero franchise.
That’s unlikely to change. But it’s something to keep in mind when you find yourself complaining about The Lockout 4.
By Chris Johnston, The Canadian Press - Friday, November 23, 2012 at 2:38 PM - 0 Comments
The NHL lockout has claimed 96 more regular-season games and the 2013 all-star game…
The NHL lockout has claimed 96 more regular-season games and the 2013 all-star game in Columbus.
The latest round of cancellations from the league was widely expected after collective bargaining talks earlier in the week failed to produce a new agreement.
All games through Dec. 14 have now been taken off the schedule. Nationwide Arena in Columbus had been scheduled to host the all-star game for the first time on Jan. 27.
“The reality of losing more regular-season games as well as the 2013 NHL all-star weekend in Columbus is extremely disappointing,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement Friday. “We feel badly for NHL fans and particularly those in Columbus, and we intend to work closely with the Blue Jackets organization to return the NHL all-star events to Columbus and their fans as quickly as possible.”
The league has cancelled 422 regular-season games in total, plus the Winter Classic and all-star game, which amounts to over 34 per cent of the season.
The NHL and NHL Players’ Association remain apart in negotiations on the allocation of revenue and rules governing player contracts, and currently have no bargaining sessions scheduled.
Already the first North American sports league to lose an entire season to a labour dispute, the NHL is looking to avoid missing its second in nine years. Progress has been hard to find during negotiations, with commissioner Gary Bettman saying Wednesday that the sides remained “far apart” after a new proposal by the NHLPA.
The offer from the union built off a framework previously put forward by the league and proposed a 50-50 split of revenues along with US$393 million in deferred payments to help ease the transition to a lower share for players. The NHL’s last offer was for a 50-50 split and $211 million.
There are also contracting issues to be addressed.
As a result, Bettman still sees a wide gap in negotiations and indicated that some owners have asked him to remove the league’s latest offer from the table.
“The union has had our best economic proposal and that was in the context of playing an 82-game season,” Bettman said Wednesday. “That proposal was summarily rejected and any expectation that the offer is going to get better as time goes on is not realistic.”
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr believes his constituents have shown a willingness to negotiate by narrowing the financial gap to $182 million over five years. Like Bettman, he indicated the best offer from his side had already been put forward.
“The players have done everything they could to get the game back on the ice,” Fehr said Wednesday. “This is a fight they didn’t want, it’s a fight they didn’t pick, it’s a lockout that they had no part in. And, they’re suffering right along with the fans.
“They made an enormous movement in the owner’s direction to try and end it and … that hasn’t been successful.”
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 3:47 PM - 0 Comments
While the league and its players sweat the small stuff, the NHL wastes its potential
For once, everything seemed to be going the NHL’s way. The league had clinched a hefty new TV contract with a big U.S. network. A major-market American team captured the Stanley Cup, creating lots of buzz. Blue-chip companies were lining up to sign sponsorship deals. And revenues were at an all-time high. Then the owners and Gary Bettman got together and locked out the players.
Of course, that was back in 1994. A fleeting moment when hockey seemed poised to break through into the American sporting mainstream, which ended up being washed away by months of bad press and cancelled games. That damage was only exacerbated when the owners again locked out their employees a decade later in an even more rancorous dispute, becoming the first—and so far only—pro sport to scuttle an entire season. In fact, in many ways, it’s taken 18 years for the NHL to get back to where it once was. And now, on the heels of last year’s landmark TV deal with NBC, in the wake of the L.A. Kings’ cup victory in June and after seven straight years of record revenues, the league again seems intent on skating backwards. Unable—or unwilling—to come to terms with the players on a new contract as “Lockout III” enters its sixth stultifying week. It is, as the saying goes, déjà vu all over again.
The fans are angry. But maybe the more appropriate response is sorrow. Sadness that those who run the game, and those who play it, can’t break a cycle that continually wastes its potential.
By Andrew Coyne - Friday, June 17, 2011 at 11:00 AM - 134 Comments
Andrew Coyne on why Canada’s postal service should open up to competition
The current strike at Canada Post (perhaps you hadn’t noticed: it started last week) presents a curious spectacle: an all-out struggle for control of a company whose main line of business—carrying bits of paper from one point to another—is rapidly disappearing.
It isn’t just email, which has reduced the letter to more or less the same function that telegrams once performed, something you send on formal occasions but otherwise wouldn’t think of using. Nearly everything that Canada Post once charged to carry is being vaporized. Cheques are giving way to electronic funds transfer; catalogues to online shopping; CDs, DVDs and books to iTunes, Netflix and Kindle.
And yet, notwithstanding a 17 per cent plunge in volume per address in the last five years, it still carries 11 billion pieces of mail a year. Some customers in particular—small businesses, charities, rural and elderly correspondents—remain dependent on “snail mail.” For them a strike is an inconvenience, and even if some take the opportunity to make the switch to electronic transmission—never to return—for many others the post office is their only choice.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 12:07 PM - 4 Comments
What the Canada Post lockout means for magazine delivery
While we continue to make our best effort to ensure timely delivery, the Canada Post lockout has caught everyone by surprise.
We are doing everything we can to ensure our readers receive their magazines by alternate delivery methods. Unfortunately we will not be able to reach all of our subscribers as quickly as we normally would. We will ensure, however, that your magazine will eventually reach you.
By Erica Alini - Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 9:50 AM - 0 Comments
Cash-strapped NFL players appear to be attracting a swarm of vulture lenders
A month into the lockout that has frozen the NFL, cash-strapped football players appear to be attracting a swarm of vulture lenders. The online sports magazine ThePostGame.com reports that with no paycheques rolling in, players are now turning to short-term loans with “obscene terms” to pay bills and existing debts.
Interest rates on these loans range from 18 to 24 per cent, and rise as high as 36 per cent upon default, one source alleged. The lockout, which started on March 11, is the product of disputes between NFL owners and players over a range of issues, including how to divide over $9 billion in annual revenues. Predicting that the disagreements could lead to a months-long standoff, the NFL Players Association advised players to set aside three game cheques from the 2010 season as a lifeline. (The median salary for NFL football players is $770,000.)
That piece of financial good sense, though, was apparently lost on many. Ten per cent of players have already secured predatory loans, and close to half could be signing themselves into the hands of loan shark lenders before Labour Day, around the time the regular season normally begins, the anonymous source said, adding: “They’re going to lose their homes. Their credit is going to be shot.”
By macleans.ca - Friday, March 18, 2011 at 11:27 AM - 0 Comments
The military council provisionally ruling Egypt has scheduled a referendum on constitutional reforms, while forces controlled by Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi gained ground in the country’s civil war
End of history department
The military council provisionally ruling Egypt has scheduled a referendum on constitutional reforms that would restore judicial oversight of elections, term-limit the presidency, and take away a presidential veto over the formation of new parties. The Muslim Brotherhood and the ousted National Democratic Party favour a “yes” vote; other, newer movements are urging a “no,” saying the reforms don’t go far enough. But the referendum itself will be a milestone for the country’s transition to democracy.
Nine out of 10 ain’t bad
Ministers of health from nine provinces announced that they will create a national storage bank for blood from umbilical cords. Canadian Blood Services will manage the bank; Quebec has its own version, managed by Héma-Québec. Umbilical cord blood contains stem cells useful in treating leukemia and other blood disorders, particularly in children. Until now, the lack of a nationally registered bank for cord blood has made ﬁnding stem-cell donors difficult, especially for minorities.
You know what’s cool?
Groupon, the Web phenomenon that lets businesses offer conditional “group coupons” that kick in when a particular number of customers sign up, is facing its long-foreseen ultimate test: competition from Facebook. The social-networking giant, which is the means by which many Groupon users track new offers, will test-drive its own service for time-sensitive discounts from bricks-and-mortar businesses. Groupon rejected a US$6-billion buyout offer from Google in December.
Her royal hipness
Details of a record collection held by the late Queen Mother at a holiday retreat have revealed her penchant for the yodel stylings of Nova Scotia-born cowboy Wilf “Montana Slim” Carter (1904-1996). Carter, called the father of Canadian country music, was not the only surprising element in the consort’s collection. A tiny treasury of LPs, kept for the Queen Mum’s use at the Scottish Castle of Mey, included large helpings of ska and Paul Simon’s 1986 classic Graceland. One hopes Montana Slim’s estate is ready for a revival.
Forces controlled by Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi gained ground in the country’s civil war as Western powers squabbled over creating a “no-ﬂy zone” over the North African republic. France and Britain have pushed hard for flight restrictions, but Germany expressed reservations, and the U.S. is demanding UN Security Council support for the potential move—a sure deal-breaker, given Russian and Chinese reluctance.
A recession-proof trade
India has passed China as the world’s largest arms importer, according to a report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Figures from the think tank suggest that, for the period from 2006 to 2010, worldwide arms transfers rose 24 per cent over the previous four years. During that time, India is said to have made almost one-tenth of all global weapons purchases. The figures reflect ongoing efforts to modernize India’s military and increasing self-reliance on the part of China’s army.
Tell me on a Sunday
NFL labour negotiations ground to a halt as the players’ union decided to break off talks and voluntarily decertify for the second time in history. The previous instance, in 1989, allowed individual antitrust lawsuits against the league and led to the adoption of free agency. NFL owners responded this time by declaring a lockout, putting the 2011 season in question and leaving congressional figures scrambling for means of encouraging a settlement.
Money never sleeps
Are Canadian coins a spy’s dream? Maybe, hints a report from the U.S. Defense Security Service, a federal agency that teaches the ins and outs of spying to military personnel and contractors. A newly released summary of “technology collection trends” says that, “On at least three occasions between October 2005 and January 2006 . . . Defense contractors’ employees travelling through Canada discovered radio frequency transmitters embedded in Canadian coins placed on their persons.” The report does not say which coins were used, but the bimetallic toonie, with its removable centrepiece, seems to cry out for espionage use.
By Philippe Gohier - Friday, July 24, 2009 at 6:17 PM - 11 Comments
Exasperated, the 253 locked-out employees of the Journal de Montréal briefly waded into the…
Exasperated, the 253 locked-out employees of the Journal de Montréal briefly waded into the newsroom on Wednesday afternoon during a protest to mark the six-month anniversary of their labour conflict. They protested noisily but peacefully for a few minutes.
The union members stayed in the building for a few minutes before leaving of their accord. There were no reports of untoward behaviour by the union. However, some protesters were roughed up by security guards: a young female journalist was tossed to the ground and a reporter from the sports section was grabbed by the throat.
By Philippe Gohier - Monday, January 26, 2009 at 3:21 PM - 1 Comment
Staff at the Journal de Montréal, the biggest newspaper in Quebec, have been locked…
Staff at the Journal de Montréal, the biggest newspaper in Quebec, have been locked out. Unable to come to terms on a deal to replace the contract that expired Dec. 31, both sides had walked away from the table last week. The workers were formally told not to show up to work until a deal is in place on Saturday morning.