The NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy the other day. What happens next could change the business of sports.
According to today’s Wall Street Journal the NHL is fighting to take control of the team while in Bankruptcy. Team owner Jerry Moyes has cash flow issues due to his primary business, Swift Transportation. He does have someone who wants to buy the team. This would be Research In Motion (Blackberry) founder James Balsillie. If he is able to buy the team he wants to move it to Hamilton Ontario. Hamilton happens to fall in both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabers markets. Of course the NHL is against this move. They want the team to stay in Arizona. They don’t want three teams that are less then 50 miles from each other.
The big battle is this bankruptcy thing. The NHL may not have any power over a team that files for bankruptcy. The courts take over and usually look for offers that bring the most money to the table. They don’t care what the league thinks. With many sports teams doing very poorly right now, this could really shake things up in major league sports.
Ironically, the four major league sports commissioners took part yesterday in the WSJ sports panel on the future of sports. After reading the highlights, the one area that did not get a lot of press was ticket sales. I believe this may be one of the most important discussions. Instead, questions ranged from fighting in sports to the future of newspapers. Isn’t the Wall Street Journal a business newspaper? Yes, they discussed how the economy was affecting current sales but they didn’t delve into how they plan to market tickets in the future. David Stern (NBA) thinks they are handling the economic downturn fine. He discussed how his teams are working hard on sponsorships, suite sales, club seats, and season tickets. He didn’t discuss how they market the thousands of “other” seats that Joe Six-Pack buys.
I’m sorry but this is the big problem with sports marketing. The sports marketing methods of the 1980′s and 1990′s do not work today. I understand how much money is involved in sponsorships, club seats, premium seats, and suites. But are they not noticing what is happening around them? Have the watched a Yankees game on TV recently?
Major league sports teams have forgotten about the average fan. I am talking about the average fan that can afford average tickets. These teams play in venues with thousands of seats. In many cases they are not going to be filled by corporate premium seat holders and sponsorships. Why can’t major league teams put marketing effort back into the basics of the business, putting butts in seats?