February 13, 2005


by CHRIS LYNCH , American Digest Sports Editor

WITH THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE FINALLY READY to finally pull the plug on the season, I thought this would be a good time to discuss one of my long held beliefs. I believe that Vince McMahon and the WWF made a big mistake trying to take on the National Football League with their Xtreme Football League four years ago, but I think McMahon would have been very successful if instead of the NFL he went after the NHL.

The NHL has three main problems:

1. All the clutching grabbing, trap defenses and elimination of fighting have made the sport boring to watch for the average fan.

2. Owners spend way too much on player contracts. Some owners give out contracts similar to baseball or basketball even though the hockey revenues are not close to those other sports. This makes it tough to compete for owners who are trying to be fiscally responsible.

3. The NHL has done a terrible job of marketing their product. Gary Bettman was brought in specifically to market the sport (he admittedly knew nothing about hockey when he took the job). The fact that last year's All-Star game got the same TV ratings as the first game of the season for the Arena Football League is exhibit A in the failure of Bettman to do the job he was hired to do.

An Xtreme Hockey League (The XHL) could have both addressed these problems and fixed them.

When your biggest stars, in this case Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemeiux, both publicly state that all the clutching and grabbing is killing the sport and you do nothing about it you are bound to fail. Even the best players don't care for the current NHL product. The XHL could solve this with just a few rule changes such as:

- Enforce holding and hooking penalties to give players more freedom to skate

- Eliminate the rule prohibiting two line passes. Imagine if the NFL tried to outlaw passes over 20-yards? That's basically what the two-line pass rule in hockey does.

- Eliminate ties and have each game tied in regulation settled by a shoot-out.

- Eliminate the third man in rule on fights. If Vince McMahon is going to run the league the players better be ready to rumble.

In terms of keeping salaries in line while at the same time keeping the players happy, I would suggest the following guidelines for the XHL:

- Have only three "star" roster slots for players who could be paid up to $5 million. The rest of the roster would be comprised of players who make a certain scale (see below). The composition of the star slots would generate interest and controversy. Do you get a center and two forwards to fill your "star" slots and thus create and "all-star" line? Do you spread the stars out evenly by getting a center, a defenseman and a goalie? To you get two defensemen and a goalie? These types of questions would serve to generate fan interest and debate.

- The rest of the players would make salaries based upon the number of years they've been in the league (tenure in the NHL would transfer for salary purposes). For each year of service a player would get $100,000. If you've played 5 years - your salary would be $500,000. If you're a rookie then you get $100,000 unless the team is willing to slide you into one of the three "star" slots. Can you see how this could also generate fan interest and controversy?

- 10% of each game's paid ticket gate gets put into a kitty and the winner of that night's game would get the kitty which would then be evenly split between the players, coaches and trainers. The players and coaches would have something on the line each and every game.

- Players would get 25% of the revenue off sales of their jerseys. This gives the players incentive to become fan favorites whether they be high scorers, goons or lunch bucket players who win the fans' love with their hard work.

The above should provide a basic framework for financial stability for the league.

In terms of marketing - who does better marketing than Vince McMahon (XFL being the exception that proves the rule)? Put it this way - there's no way the XHL could be marketed worse than the current NHL.

If the XHL started four years ago instead of the XFL then it would be hitting its stride right about now and all those NHL players who went over to Europe this winter may have crossed over to the new league.

This idea could really work. Quick - someone get Vince McMahon on the phone

AMERICAN DIGEST SPORTS EDITOR Chris Lynch serves his own brew daily at A Large Regular, and contributes to SportsPages.com. Lynch can be reached at chris.lynch@gmail.com

Posted by Vanderleun at February 13, 2005 12:11 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

When building a salary system, keep in mind the league has to compete against other leagues around the world to lure the best players. You don't want to create a limit that means that all young decent rookies get better packages in Finland, Slovakia, or Russia.

Posted by: Brian J. at February 13, 2005 6:07 AM

Chris, great minds think alike. Bill Simmons is thinking the same thing:

Still, my vote goes to letting Vince McMahon retool his XFL idea for hockey: low costs, cool cameras, snazzy uniforms, identifiable gimmicks, fights galore. I'm telling you, the XHL can't miss.
And if he ever canceled a season, you can bet there'd be more than one person saying, "You know what's killing me? This XHL lockout!"
It couldn't miss, but, after the XFL fiasco, I don't think any major network is going to give Vince McMahon a shot to make this happen.

Posted by: LRFD at February 13, 2005 6:40 AM

Brian - I'm sure the salary structure would need a lot of work. I was just throwing out some general guidelines.

LRFD - just for the record - I first floated this idea over a year ago in a column for Sportspages.com. As far as giving McMahon another shot - hey if Demi Moore still can still get leading roles - anything is possible.

Posted by: chris at February 13, 2005 7:47 AM

Hey LRDF - I just read the Sports Guy's piece and I guess "great" minds do think alike. One observation - if you see "this column appears in the XXX issue of ESPN the Magazine" at the top of one of Simmons Page 2 offerings - you can pretty much guaranty that the column will smack of a lack of effort and generally suck ass in comparison to his regular Page 2 offerings.

Posted by: chris at February 13, 2005 7:55 AM

Well duh. Just about anything less than, say, three thousand words, Simmons writes is sub-par. The man simply cannot argue one central point without a dozen references to the White Shadow, Larry Bird, or whatever else randomly pops into his head. In fifty years they'll be introducing stream of consciousness writing to freshmen in high school with his live updates of Shaq's comedy roast. Also ESPN's probably had him on traquilizers for the past week. If not for strong doses of Valium injected directly into the heart, he surelywould have been sent into a state of euphoria from which he would never recover. While this isn't his best work, I'll give him a bit of a break because there's a good chance he's been sitting in his office silently mouthing, "Brady, Brady, Schilling, Brady..." since his return from Jacksonville.

Lucky bastard.

Posted by: LRFD at February 13, 2005 12:17 PM

At least he seems to be over his 90210 fixation. That has to count for something.

Posted by: chris at February 13, 2005 2:56 PM

My name is John Wells and I am the Founder/CEO of the all new XHL International! I am going into start up shortly and all fans will be amazed at the stunning transformation, visual effects, 1st ever neon colored glow in the dark ice in various colors and so many new and exciting advances in this 'new' game! There is nothing else like The XHL International and there never will be again. We will be based in Las Vegas to operate our global league of franchisee's. Franchises will be available soon starting at $5MM with option agreements for $500k down and 3 year paid in full contract. Please feel free to respond to my email address and check out the website: thexhl.com.
Enjoy and I hope to hear from everyone!
Thank you...

Posted by: John A. Wells at July 30, 2012 6:10 PM