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Bruce Dowbiggin

NHL Stardom: It’s A Money Thing

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One of the striking observations from the otherwise uneventful  #nhldraft2022 was how homogenous the kids were from a social POV. These weren’t humble farm boys and blue-collar sloggers. This wasn’t J.C. Tremblay, one of 13 kids from Bagotville, Quebec, or Gordie Howe from tiny Floral, Saskatchewan.  These prospects were middle-, upper-middle class products of a multi-million dollar development process. It’s not a sport for paupers.

It also helps to have a parent or supporter who’s been in the hockey industry, too. Brad Lambert, drafted by Winnipeg in the first round, is the nephew  of NY Islanders coach Lane Lambert. St. Louis pick Jimmy Snuggerrud is a third-generation player who father Dave played four NHL seasons. Etc.

As we asked in August of 2021 , “Are today’s superstars a product of more than talent? Are they also the products of an expensive, exclusive grooming process that leaves the Bobby Hull farm-boy archetype in the dust? 

One hint of the benefit of having access to resources and people within the hockey industry is the annual spate of sons of former NHLers now being drafted each summer. In the recent draft, there was a plethora of progeny selected, many at the very top of the draft. No other league has such a high percentage of sons being selected. 

There have always been a few NHL father/ son duos. Gordie Howe’s boys and Bobby and Brett Hull spring to mind. But they were not as pervasive in the league as they are today. Witness the 2021 Draft that saw a host of familiar family names getting new surnames. 

Cole Sillinger (Mike), Tyler Boucher (Brian), Josh Doan (Shane), Redmond Savage (Brian), Ryan St. Louis (Martin); Shane Lachance (Scott); Nick Malik, Marek), Justin Robidas, (Stephane), Jackson Blake (Jason) and Chase Stillman (Cory) were among the sons of famous fathers drafted. Others were signed as free agents. 

It was no fluke. A glance around the NHL shows many sons of former stars getting steady work. Matthew and Brady Tkachuk (Keith), Kasperi Kapanen (Sami), Brandon Sutter (Brent), William and Alex Nylander (Michael), Sam Reinhart (Paul), Max Domi (Tie), Samuel Poulin (Patrick), Tag Bertuzzi (Todd), Ryan Johnson (Craig), Tyson Barrie (Len), Landon Ferraro (Ray), Marcus and Nick Foligno (Mike), Nolan Foote (Cal), Ryan MacInnis (Al)  Brendan Lemieux (Claude),  Ryan Donato (Ted),  Daniel Audette (Donald) and Dominic Turgeon, (Pierre) are just a sampling of the direct relationship between father and sons.

The hockey pipeline is full of young men whose fathers could give them a hockey education but who also knew many of right people to tap into. The sophisticated training and arduous diet regimes are getting more like Tom Brady and less like Gump Worsley. And they’re expensive— even in Howe’s home nation of Canada which honours its roots.

This discipline and access is reflected in the United States where the boom in hockey participation is resulting not in farm boys and rink rats but in privileged sons and daughters of highly paid NHL stars getting an inside track on make the league or the Olympics. 

NHL veterans in both the U.S., Europe and Canada know the inner workings of agents, independent training academies and skill trainers to help their sons past some of the highest hurdles in development. If they handled their millions properly they also have the funds to open doors for young stars. 

As we wrote in this obit for Walter Gretzky, the elite training he gave Wayne has spawned many costly and hard-to-access training methods for people like him, a former telephone technician. 

“With the success of Gretzky’s training model— plus the importation of European skill training— families realized that if their sons and daughters wanted to be world-class athletes they were going to have to reject the Don Cherry ”Try Harder” school and imitate the techniques Gretzky had used on his son. Within a decade, getting the proper coaching and fitness to become a star became a growth industry.

Power skating, off-ice training, ice rentals, new equipment, travel and coaching all became necessary to get a leg up on the competition. It was also very expensive. Having the resources to send your child to the top fitness gurus like Gary Roberts or to place them in a school like Shattuck St. Marys (as Sidney Crosby was) becomes a process costing tens— or hundreds— of thousands of dollars.

Author Malcolm Gladwell popularized the notion of taking 10,000 hours to translate talent into the finished product of a genius. It takes money to allow a young person that time, money that only a select number of families can provide.  If you are a child in a single-income home or in a remote part of the country away from facilities, equipping and training a young prospect quickly gets out of the reach of parents of modest means. 

Perhaps the most telling development story was that of Montreal goalie Carey Price, whose father bought a $13,000 four-seat Piper Cherokee plane to fly young Carey back and forth 320 kilometres to hockey practices all winter in northern B.C.

Where the NHL was predominantly players from blue-collar backgrounds till the Euros arrived in the 1970s, today it is often constituted of young  men from families of means and education. The idea of the farming father of the six Sutter brothers affording his sons’ training today is highly improbable. Today’s NHL has a number of college-educated players and products of dedicated European training. 

In that way, through no fault of Walter Gretzky, hockey has become a sport for families of means or friends with means. He taught parents that the proper training and equipment was imperative. And that doesn’t mean simply the rink in your backyard. When a new pair of skates cost $500, a stick costs $125  or a set of goalie equipment runs into thousands of  dollars you are losing a segment of the population to financial costs. And so Walter’s legacy of training development is forever tied to a big price tag.”

To say nothing of the progeny of NHL stars helping give their kids a hand-up in making it to the league and its vast piggy bank.  

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). The best-selling author was nominated for the BBN Business Book award of 2020 for Personal Account with Tony Comper. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. His new book with his son Evan Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History is now available on http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

 

BRUCE DOWBIGGIN Award-winning Author and Broadcaster Bruce Dowbiggin's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience . He is currently the editor and publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster website and is also a contributor to SiriusXM Canada Talks. His new book Cap In Hand was released in the fall of 2018. Bruce's career has included successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster for his work with CBC-TV, Mr. Dowbiggin is also the best-selling author of "Money Players" (finalist for the 2004 National Business Book Award) and two new books-- Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever for Greystone Press and Grant Fuhr: Portrait of a Champion for Random House. His ground-breaking investigations into the life and times of Alan Eagleson led to his selection as the winner of the Gemini for Canada's top sportscaster in 1993 and again in 1996. This work earned him the reputation as one of Canada's top investigative journalists in any field. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013) where his incisive style and wit on sports media and business won him many readers.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Will Cable Cord Cutting Shock Pro Sports Back To Its Senses?

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If there’s one constant in modern sports it’s bewilderment at how high salaries have risen for elite athletes. Where a million dollars a year was once the “unheard-of” threshold for salaries, today’s stars are easily taking home 20, 40, even 50 million a year under the new economy in sports. Even college athletes, once forbidden to accept remuneration, are cashing in millions for their name, image or likeness.

When people complain about overpaid athletes to IDLM we simply say the money is in the business, who else do you think should get the cash? Ditto for franchise values, where the Denver Broncos recently sold for a staggering $4.65 B. and the Washington Commanders might fetch $6B.

Largely the infusion of riches in pro sports has come from TV and digital-rights contracts between leagues and regional sports networks (RSN). Those RSNs are the carriers of the local and regional teams. Packaged through cable or satellite carriers they deliver valuable programming dollars to leagues. And for smaller media markets they are a vital source of revenue to keep up with the big boys whose ancillary revenues are pumped by many more customers.

As just one example, the MLB St. Louis Cardinals are currently earning about $66 million a year from their 15-year, $1B deal they signed with Fox Sports in 2015. There are 18 other teams on Sinclair/Diamond local TV deals, all of whom rely on RSNs to play New York salaries in Pittsburgh or Kansas City.

In Canada, as opposed to the American model, regional sports contracts are held directly by either TSN or Sportsnet, national carriers. The monopoly status has suppressed revenues to Canadian NHL, MLB or NBA teams relative to the deals cut in large markets such as New York’s tri-state area, southern California or Chicago.

Recently TV rights packages values were boosted by the arrival of Amazon, YouTube and Google which began to compete with traditional networks for U.S. broadcast rights. But now RSNs are threatened by the cord-cutting trend that sees American and Canadian consumers dumping their traditional bundlers of services to go à la carte digital directly with the producers of programming. ( In Canada the DAZN network has gone head-to-head with TSN for NFL games on a digital deal with the league.)

This past week the American cable giant Comcast reported a year-over-year 11 percent loss in its customer base. That’s about two million Americans saying “I can do without the middle men and the useless channels. I want to subscribe directly to the producers of the material I want to see.” From a peak of 110.5 million customers in 2013 the Comcast market is estimated to drop as low as 65 million customers by 2025.

In part this is consumers shedding programming bundles they never watch and bloated subscription fees as they tighten their belts. It’s also a reflection on the Netflix streaming revolution sparked by Covid-19 lockdowns that saw locked-down consumers get used to the convenience of directly streaming programming from Netflix or Amazon Prime or Disney without paying for a raft of useless channels.

Advertisers have noticed, too. They are headed to streaming services, where their messages can be more targeted to desired audiences than cable TVs scattershot approach.

The impact is being seen in the U.S. where Diamond Sports Group, which controls a huge portion of the pro sports RSNs, is said to be headed to bankruptcy court to restructure its $8.6B in debt. “There are a lot of business and financial terms and policies to work through,” says Deadspin, “but the long and short of it is that DSG is likely going to skip an interest payment it owes, which should be enough for them to get to the bankruptcy claim they’ve been rumored to be after for a while now.”

Bloomberg reported that if they file for bankruptcy it could “potentially put at risk crucial broadcasting rights revenues” for major North American sports networks. Greg Boris, a sports management professor at Adelphi University summed up the looming disaster for pro sports. He told The Score that RSNs have “been a golden goose. You remove cable TV from the scenario, and franchises are worth a fraction of what they are today, players make a fraction of their salaries today… the boom has been going on for almost 30 years. But the vast majority of the people that pay never watch (services they purchase). That’s been the model.”

Leagues are now investigating what to do if the RSN model collapses. Currently the leagues operate direct streaming services for customers wishing to watch out-of-town games not involving their local team. They could simply add the RSN rights too these streams.But direct-to-consumer can be very costly. The Disney+ operation was thought to be a slam dunk, but now management at Disney admits it will be a few years before the operation gets out of the red. American carrier Comcast launched the Peacock network as an outlet for NBC content. It lost $2.5B in 2022 and projects to lose another $2B in 2023. Similar startups such as CBC Gem have been flops.

Direct-to-consumer is also not the easy money machine that RSNs were. If a league or a team operates a direct customer service it takes on the responsibility of signing up and maintaining its customer base. That means dealing with the fickle fans who might drop his/ her package to an NHL, NFL, MLB or NBA team for a few years till the club improves.

That could be a disaster for underperforming teams like MLB’s Pirates or NHL Vancouver Canucks who had the assurance that, while their programming sucked, the other offerings on the cable package were worth customers retaining the service. Direct-to-consumer could, however, be a ray of hope for fans of bad teams that force clubs to finally get serious about producing a winning product.

This potential financial shortfall is probably one of the reason pro sports has so fervently embraced sports betting— to the annoyance of many fans. If the TV money goes, they’ll need every dollar they can find to pay out the contracts they’ve been issuing with impunity the past decade.

Sign up today for Not The Public Broadcaster newsletters. Hot takes/ cool slants on sports and current affairs. Have the latest columns delivered to your mail box. Tell your friends to join, too. Always provocative, always independent.  https://share.hsforms.com/16edbhhC3TTKg6jAaRyP7rActsj5

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

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Bruce Dowbiggin

East Germany’s Triumphant Comeback Over Woke West

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“Mr. Gorbachev… tear down this wall.”— Ronald Reagan

News Item: California lawmakers pushing legislation that would impose a new tax on the state’s wealthiest residents — even if they’ve already moved to another part of the country.

It’s nostalgic to remember the euphoria in 1991 when the Berlin Wall crumbled. After decades in the shadow of nuclear war, everyone believed Western values had triumphed when the Wall came down. Freedom of movement reigned. Authoritarian rule had been delegitimized. Individual dignity was restored. Never before would the grey spectre of East Germany cast its shadow on the world.

Now it’s clear that, in fact, East Germany has won. The #WEF charter now tells people in the West that they actually lost WWII and the Cold War due to their privileged racism. Totalitarian European zealots backed by social-media Stasi are again running the show. Sadly, it seems to be working.

WEF “Mr. Big” Klaus Schwab can hardly wait: “Just think of the amazing 4th Industrial Revolution, aka singularity and transhumanism, whose technology includes AI, IoT, and genetic engineering!

With the WEF (confabbing in Davos) and United Nations calling the tune, free speech and freedom of movement are being subordinated to elite cadres of the unelected State in public and private spheres. Digital ID that would have made Erik Honeker jealous are being pushed by Canada’s PM. People who wish to express opinions or dissent with the ruling class must pass through a Checkpoint Charlie gauntlet of apprehended disloyalty and suspected subversion.

A typical sample: the Scottish government’s new Green manifesto “A holistic behaviour change approach – The ask”. Addled by climate-fever dreams, the Scottish Government is planning on reducing the use of private cars in the country by 20 percent. “By rethinking how we use our cars and reducing the number of daily journeys we take, we can help make Scotland a healthier, fairer, greener place to live and significantly contribute towards Scotland reaching net zero”.

This is not a suggestion. This will be the government using coercion to reduce citizens’ access to the roads. (That’s the “fairer” part.) Employing the intimidation template used for Covid-19 and its vaccines, they will let public snitches and scolds police the dissent. As happened with Covid, the quaking Greta Thunberg media will fall in line.

The Scots are not alone among First World nations employing the heavy hand. (Ironically, Scotland is ancestral home of Adam Smith, the father of free-market capitaltiism, and David Hume, a prophet of personal freedom.) Far from it. Remember Australia’s Tribute To Xi re-education camps, scooping up Covid-19 dissenters for sequestration in isolated barracks? This, in the sun-splashed, fun-loving Land Down Under?

Here in Justin Trudeau’s Canada, punishment hotels were employed on returning citizens to keep the population suitably frightened. If a few truckers decided that health passports, ArriveCan and non-vaccinated pariahs were an affront to 150 years of Canadian tradition? Employ media stooges and the banks to get them back in line. Get the RCMP to show weapons caches that had nothing to do with the border crossings. Dissemble.

For a nation as large as Canada Trudeau knows that restricting car mileage is impractical. So he cleverly does the next best thing. Jack the rate of tax as a climate devotional. Restrict fossil fuel consumption with the felicitously named Carbon Tax. Drive up the price of gas till citizens are forced onto crappy subways and buses to be preyed upon by junkies and mental patients.

The Liberal plastics-elimination program announced by former Greenpeace stuntman Stephane Guilbault is typical. When finally cornered on specious evidence that the road to hell in paved with plastic straws, the minister had to concede no such evidence actually exists beyond a few NGO websites. No matter. It seemed right and re-directed the sheeple to more snitching and signifying on CBC. It’s all done in the sacred name of climate, but the real goal is control of the government/ corporate nexus. Facts no longer matter.

It was all so easy-peasy. And if a few eggs were broken in making this omelette? The memory hole will seal up behind it. Novak Djokovic will be invited back to play tennis and pretend-normal will resume. Having established this new standard for abuse, we must nows pretend that all those police busting churches and barbecue joints was a hallucination.

As Matt Taibbi writes, the past six or seven years, “has been like being trapped in a fugue state, where reality is kaleidoscopic, memory is elusive, and moments of clarity sometimes more jarring than reassuring. To be reminded of what we were told day after day for years, after being trained to forget, is like waking from an unpleasant dream, prompting thoughts like, “Did that really happen?”

A perfect example of this disorientation is Leana Wen, the New York Times health reporter who’d led the charge on every form of Covid panic. Confirming data that would have gotten others banned 18 months ago she now tells CNN we’ve been vastly overcounting COVID deaths, outlining the crucial distinction between deaths “with COVID” and deaths “from COVID.” Duh.

As Taibbi describes: “… the pandemic was reported not as a collective problem to be solved, but a horror movie to be passively experienced. This is a media approach we see deployed in a variety of issues from fake news to ‘sonic weapons’, one that trains frightened audiences to endorse extreme solutions and outsource thinking to authorities.”

In case the frightened relent, there will be poisoned comebacks for what passed as normal since the Schwabians declared The Reset. Currently the U.S. Department of Justice is attempting to restore the CDC airline mask mandates that roiled the Excited States for two-plus years. This despite president Joe Biden, the document king, declaring Covid over last summer.

Still, the midwits like Chrystia Freeland and camp followers like Tony Blair and John Kerry keep flocking to the Davos CEO carnival. And what does WEF achieve worldwide— other than attract the fashionable and fatuous? Dilbert creator Scott Adams charts a WEF success story:

“They watched Norway create a fund, took credit for the work of members, mobilized coalitions, bragged about the work of signatories, teamed with others, signed a compact to develop a framework which will allow the measurement of a long-term approach, agreed to six principles, and endorsed a plan. How would the planet survive without all of that?”

How indeed in the tourist haven of East Germany? Ein prosit!

Sign up today for Not The Public Broadcaster newsletters. Hot takes/ cool slants on sports and current affairs. Have the latest columns delivered to your mail box. Tell your friends to join, too. Always provocative, always independent.  https://share.hsforms.com/16edbhhC3TTKg6jAaRyP7rActsj5

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

 

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