Sunday, October 18, 2009

Supplying Demand

Recently, while trying to make sense of the utterly astounding start to the season by the Avalanche it occurred to me that the Avs, in becoming upstart world beaters may in fact be doing the right thing, despite my desire to see them stink for at least one more year in order to secure another top draft pick.

In professional sports over the last decade much effort has been put into making leagues, especially football and hockey, into something along the lines of shared resource systems, i.e. markets driven by parity.

In the world of professional sports money is king, and if you have a league which supports teams which are always terrible versus always good, then that means your league will always have fans who either buy nothing, or all of only a few products. While this doesn't matter for top franchises (believe me, I'd love nothing more than to see less Dallas Cowboys jerseys on the streets of America), it does matter for say, the New York Islanders of the world (again, the Cowboys), and consequently the league as a whole.

For example, if the Detroit Red Wings were to stink up the joint (as they did to my delight in the pre-Steve Yzerman era) then fans who are already struggling to pay their heating bills would not be inclined to funnel some of junior's college tuition towards loud, obnoxious garb in order to support their team, much less fork out good money to actually go see games.

Conversely, if the Red Wings were always good, as they have been over the last decade, fans will be inspired to purchase said loud, obnoxious garb in bulk.

If you spread that theory out over the entire NHL, what you have is a few teams who make all the money, and a majority of people who simply don't care, and that isn't good for business.

Here's where the Avalanche come in.

During the halcyon days of yore when the Avalanche were steaming their way through opponent after opponent in an effort to not only win Stanley Cups but "build a fan base", revenue was flowing into Kroenke Sports and Entertainment by the boatload. Tickets were highly priced, and fans would be damned if they didn't own something "Avalanche". (The downside of the "Cold War" with Detroit was that two teams iced expensive legendary rosters on a nightly basis while the rest of the league not named The New Jersey Devils was killing itself to stay afloat).

Then, as things do on this silly planet, the good ship Avalanche ran into the mighty iceberg known as "post-lockout salary cap driven decline and rebuilding during a recession". Ticket prices dropped, apparel sales plummeted, and all of a sudden what is otherwise a good fanbase looked to be drifting on the Sea of Lost.

If Gary Bettman has done anything that can be perceived as good during his years of meddling it has been that in over-expanding the NHL into controversial markets (Phoenix, Tampa, that other city in Florida, and Raleigh) he has managed, however inadvertently (or vertently), to stretch the top notch talent thin enough to create a league where, with luck, hard work, and short term sacrifice, any team can go from bad to marketable in a very short period of time, thus buoying a league where revenue during even good times is difficult to come by.

The best example of late has been the Pittsburgh Penguins, which went from "Canada's next team" to Stanley Cup winners in less than five years.

How this theory works for the Avalanche is somewhat of a mystery at this point, and I keep falling into two camps, because at least on paper the boys in burgundy should be the doormat of the NHL at this point:

1. The Avalanche are taking advantage of early season slow starts by late season juggernauts.

2. The Avalanche are employing the only ethos that can work in a system ruled by parity, teamwork. And have managed to leap way ahead of the curve, especially on defense with some savvy drafting and good coaching.

(Strangely enough I'm waffling between the same two camps in regards to the Broncos)

If the NHL is going to be a league wherein a vast majority of the teams are on the exact same level then perhaps "rebuilding" isn't what it used to be as well. Perhaps all it takes is a bit of luck, and good scouting. What I can't decide is if what we are seeing is the product of an incredible rise in talent, or above average talent taking advantage of an average system which can be abused.