Jun 142011

In the next few days we’ll gradually get caught up on the thoughts and all the notes we’ve missed in the past month I’ve been away.

McDonough title gets fatter

On the first of June, Blackhawks franchise President John McDonough had his title extended to include the title of Chief Executive Officer.

Rocky Wirtz explained the move in a press release:

“John has shown unprecedented leadership, boundless energy and a tireless ability to move the Blackhawks forward since he took over operations for the organization in 2007.  It is only appropriate that we add CEO to his title as the direction of this franchise continues to strive for excellence.”

The new title itself won’t change McDonough’s role much if at all.  It’s more of a cosmetic change than anything else.  Not unlike several moves made a year ago after the Stanley Cup win.

Last summer several front office types received new promotions in title.

Jay Blunk was promoted from Senior Vice President of Business Operations to a more plain, bolder and broader, Executive Vice President.  Stan Bowman had “Vice President” inserted before his General Manager tag.  Chris Werner was promoted from Senior Director to Vice President of Ticket Operations and Customer Relations.  Al MacIsaac got a Vice President tag to stitch over his previous Senior Director of Hockey Administration as well as Assistant to the President.  MacIssac’s official title since has been Vice President/Assistant to the President.   Kevin Cheveldayoff also had Senior Director of Hockey Operations tagged onto his plain Assistant General Manager distinction.

With all the elevations in status being handed out last summer, John McDonough’s stayed the same until this month.

In a Q&A with ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers the day after his promotion, McDonough gave his take on the CEO tag.

“Well, we know over the last few years the signature here has been profound change, and what we’re looking for is continuity,” McDonough said.  “For me I’m proud to play a small role in the development of this franchise, but this gives us more continuity.”

What a title has to do with continuity is your guess.   And McDonough’s role in remodeling and advancing the Blackhawks’ business and hockey operations has been anything but small.  But his use of the word continuity is still interesting.

McDonough, who turned 58 last month, will be entering the final year of his original five-year contract when he was signed on as team president on November 20, 2007.  In January of 2010, McDonough signed a multi-year extension that is believed to at least take him through the 2015-16 season.

Going by what little is known about McDonough’s contract, term, the president wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  Perhaps there is more to this story than we know?  For sure McDonough associating his own promotion with the term ‘continuity’ when he is under contract for another five seasons does raise some suspicion.

The only thing we can tell for sure is this move does put some space between McDonough and those underneath him who were founded new titles last summer.  Take that for what you will.

Catching up on what’s happening

— So… there was a serious Thrashers’ bidder interested in keeping the team in Atlanta

— According to Forbes, citing a team source, the Tampa Bay Lightning, despite increasing attendance by an average of 2,000 per game and three-round playoff run, will post a $25-30 million pre-tax loss this season.

— In other NHL biz news, ESPN’s Pierre Lebrun is reporting the NHL will not stage a Heritage Classic for the 2011-12 season.  This would either signal the league’s realization that a second regular season outdoor game diminishes the attraction of January’s Winter Classic or that this past season’s Calgary McMahon Stadium game wasn’t the financial windfall it was expected to be.  Whether it was or not, NBC’s game is far more important to the growth of the league and the NHL has a tough road ahead of it keeping the January 1 (2nd this coming season) fresh.  Having gone the storied baseball park (Wrigley and Fenway) route in two of its first four years, the 2012 game (in Philadelphia at the Phillies’ park) already has one strike against it in terms of seeming like a big deal.  It’s also possible NBC pushed for this in its recent 10-year contract extension with the NHL – to exclusively own the league’s outdoor broadcasts, and it’s being kept quiet as to not piss off Canadian fans.  If that is the case, CBC would know eventually and that would be made known to the press on their end.  So, I wouldn’t think that’s the case but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.

There’s a report out, to the surprise of no one, that the New York Rangers plan to “buy out” the final year of Chris Drury’s contract.

Since Drury has one year remaining on the 5-year $35.25M deal his signed with New York in 2007, a buy-out would cost the Rangers $3.333M.  That cost would be spread out over New York’s cap for the next two seasons.  Since Drury’s cap hit is $7.05M, the move would save them $3.33M on their 2011-12 cap.

There’s also a very good possibility the Rangers will opt to negotiate a buy out with 25-year old winger Wojtek Wolski.  In the event of this buy out, the Rangers would stand to save another $3.333M, according to buyout numbers provided by CapGeek.com, for a total of $6.666M with Drury’s buyout combined.   The expectation is the Rangers will attempt to lure the star of this UFA class, Stars’ center Brad Richards, with that newly created cap space.

Should they be bought out, Drury and/or Wolski would become free agents and free to sign with any other team.  The buy outs have no ramifications to the new signing team.  Given how the Hawks are presently constituted, I’m not sure how he’d fit, but having a good player of Polish decent would be a huge marketing tool in an untapped piece of the Chicago market.  Referring back to the John McDonough Q&A referenced earlier, given the fact that McDonough prides his “unique formula” in the business and hockey operations sides working in tandem, its not crazy to think the business side would be pushing for this idea.  If the hockey side were to be against it, then you can imagine who would have the deciding vote.  Wolski, 25, had a career high 23 goals (in 80 games) in 2009-10, which resulted in a big two-year contract in Phoenix.  He never got off this past season though, wound up in Dave Tippett’s dog house and eventually was dealt to the Rangers where he had similar struggles.   The issue with signing Wolski is he doesn’t bring much more to the table than Michael Frolik already is.  Wolski is just about the same size as Troy Brouwer, but isn’t nearly as physical.  Wolski does have an impressive skill set for a guy his size but has been pinned with the “soft” tag.  He is a former OHL MVP (05-06) and in the last two postseasons has posted five goals and eight points in twelve playoff games.

Drury has had too much trouble staying healthy to trust, even as a fourth line center.  He would come cheap, which still makes it enticing.  If Drury would take a one-year deal, since he’s getting $3.333M of his previously expected $5.0M from the Rangers per terms of the anticipated buy out.  Anything above a million is far too much when you figure that in so if his agent is looking for that missing 1/3 (1.667M), he’s dreaming.

— If you’re a young female 21 and over (but not too much over) and interested in taking part in the open tryouts for the 2011-12 Ice Crew, you’ll first need to fill out and submit this form.  Then, you’ll need to quit eating solid foods immediately, contact a plastic surgeon and practice your smile and waiving techniques, as well as bending over on skates.  Good luck.  Seriously, if you’re not what most people would consider to be pretty, and don’t have the body of a fit 16-18 year old girl, you are not what they are looking for.

They used to post audition requirements online.  There’s a reason they don’t anymore so now you’ll receive those only if you fill out an application.  Since we save everything, we’ll share with you requirements from past seasons.

You must be a high school graduate or equivalent.  You’ll be required to work at least 25 home games and be available for numerous public appearances throughout the Chicago area.  Hence, you also must have your own means of transportation.  You must be able to skate well.

Now getting back to what we were mentioning about physical appearance expectations.  This is the exact quote from previous tryout requirement sheets:

“You should look well-proportioned in skin tight clothing – your midsection is not covered in the uniform.  There are no number requirements.”

They have to say that last bit; however it’s well obvious what they are looking for.  They also request that you wear two-piece attire that “compliments and shows off your figure” during the audition.  There are no secrets here.  The fat guys sitting in the stands next to their heavyset female companions will heckle you into tears if your stomach and ass are jiggling there way loose from your Ice Crew uniform.  I’ve seen it in Rockford.

— Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals was originally scheduled for last Saturday night, but had to be moved one day sooner to Friday because of a UFC pay-per-view event in Rogers Arena on Saturday.  This move is a stark contrast to what happened in May 2009 when Game 4 of the Los Angeles Lakers – Denver Nuggets NBA Western Finals were scheduled at Pepsi Center on the same night the arena had booked a live WWE Monday Night Raw show on the USA Network.  The WWE booking was done nine months in advance of the date but the NBA wouldn’t budge.  The Lakers-Nuggets game was shown on ESPN.  It should be noted that the Lakers-Nuggets series was conducted on a strict game every other day schedule, alternating with the Cleveland-Orlando Eastern Finals.  So the NBA felt like they couldn’t move the game to another date.

Vince McMahon, chairman of the WWE, threw a colossal hissy fit and staged a public war of words with Nuggets and Pepsi Center owner Stan Groenke.  It also should be noted that McMahon didn’t publicly thrash David Stern, instead focusing all of his anger at Nuggets and Pepsi Center owner Stan Groenke.  WWE moved their live Raw to Staples Center in L.A. on five days notice and postponed the Denver show until that August.  Their other option, which McMahon chose not to take, was to tape Raw on Sunday night in Pepsi Center.  Instead, McMahon chose to make a media spectacle of the issue.  As bad as McMahon came out looking after all that, he had a valid argument.  If the arena was booked for a sold out touring rock act that night, its unlikely David Stern and Kroenke Sports would have double-booked the date.  WWE in those days and even now is one of the highest rated programs on cable every week.  The only thing that beats them with any consistency are major sports games on ESPN or TBS/TNT.  This was a case of David Stern flexing his muscle because he can.

Kroenke Sports Enterprises and World Wresting Entertainment had actually nearly reached a compromise (or so KSE thought) six days before the May 25 date in question.  Kroenke had suggested the WWE move their live Raw event across town to the Denver Coliseum (10,000 seat capacity).  In turn, KSE offered to cover any additional expenses/losses to the WWE in moving their event to the Coliseum.  The problem from the WWE’s side was that they had sold more tickets than the Coliseum had seats and that was without losing the usual 20% of the seating due to their significant television staging and production set up.  McMahon backed out of Kroenke’s compromise, instead making a public spectacle of it, accusing Kroenke of, among other things, being a poor owner who had no confidence in his team, evidenced, by McMahon’s determination, in allowing the late May date to be booked by the WWE when his team could have needed it for a playoff game.  Kroenke cited a stipulation in every one of their arena leasing contracts that allows their prime tenants (Avalanche and Nuggets) to supersede previously planned events in the event of playoffs or league scheduling changes.  McMahon still scoffed at the notion that KSE was acting in good faith and focused on what he felt was the WWE being unjustly inconvenienced by the NBA, which booked the date with no regard for McMahon’s group, television or the USA Network which the show aired live on.  McMahon turned the ordeal into a publicity stunt for his organization, doing interviews on ESPN (which covered this situation pretty thoroughly not realizing what McMahon was up to) and other places as well as staging press conferences in New York and LA accusing KSE of misrepresentation, unfair business practices and disrespecting WWE fans.

Of course McMahon exhibited immense hypocrisy in moving the Denver Raw to Los Angeles.  In doing so, not only did he take the Raw show away from the 10,000 plus Denver residents who had bought tickets to see it, McMahon also had to cancel other shows in that weekend loop.  Because the company rerouted the planned Denver show to Los Angeles, that also meant a sold-out Smackdown television taping the following night in Colorado Springs also had to be postponed until August.  Of course when these shows were eventually put on, neither were television tapings.  A Sunday night show in Loveland, Colorado was also shelved.  On five and six days notice, the Raw and Smackdown tapings at Staples Center drew just 5,500 and 3,000 paid fans a piece.  Several thousand tickets were given away both nights to make the lower bowl and arena floor look full for television.  And when the WWE returned to Denver in August of ’09, they did so in the Denver Coliseum as McMahon boycotted Pepsi Center for a time.  The irony in that was when they did the show at the Coliseum, enough fans had either refunded their tickets or chose not to attend and the 10,000 arena was at far less than capacity.

Earlier that month, Mellon Arena had to reschedule a Penguins-Capitals  game because of a Yanni concert.

There’s another aspect to this month’s game 5 move which involves the relationship between NBC/Versus and the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Versus currently has the rights to broadcast four UFC live events per year.   UFC’s deal with Spike TV, its primary broadcast partner since 2005, allowed for a limited separate cable partner.  That UFC/Spike deal comes due at the end of this year.  NBC Sports (Versus) will also put in a strong bid on the exclusive cable broadcasting rights to UFC and is considered the frontrunner.  The UFC is expected to leave the floundering network that gave UFC their big break when Dana White and parent company ZUFFA were ready to throw in the towel and sell the company after losing millions of dollars trying to market and operate it on their own.  Then came The Ultimate Fighter program (which UFC fronted all the money for) in 2005, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, and one last Ken Shamrock-Tito Ortiz fight – UFC boomed – and the rest was history.  There’s more irony in this as it involves McMahon.  In 2005, WWE’s cable partner was Spike TV.  In order for UFC to get on Spike, McMahon had to okay it as per his contract with the network.  At the time he dismissed UFC as a potential competitor and told Spike executives he didn’t care if they aired UFC programming.  Spike responded by airing the first season of The Ultimate Fighter immediately following Raw.  WWE left the network shortly thereafter to return to USA and Spike turned to UFC as their primary programming.  UFC took off from there and is now destroying the WWE on pay-per-view, while WWE still doubles ratings UFC draws on television.  Had Vince said no to Spike on airing the UFC in 2005, its very likely UFC would have folded or been sold.  UFC regularly draws greater ratings than the NHL.  UFC gets roughly $35M per year from Spike now and is looking for a larger commitment both in terms of cash, and first-run programming.  UFC owns the TUF show and would bring it to whichever network they wind up on, but they’re also looking at doing 26 or more live fights per year, in the vein of ESPN’s old Tuesday Night Fights broadcasts.  That’s in addition to the 13 pay-per-views they run annually.  Versus is in less homes now than Spike, but with NBC/Comcast’s push, that should correct itself by the spring of 2012.

While the precedent existed for Gary Bettman to strongarm UFC out of the Rogers Arena, its stands to reason why NBC Sports didn’t want that fight.  The UFC could have easily moved their show to the Pacific Coliseum and not had it affect their pay per view event at all.  But that didn’t happen.  In Canada, CBC lost the traditional Saturday night broadcast to Friday.  While that probably didn’t mean one less view in British Columbia, it may have impacted overall viewership in Ontario and Quebec, where the Canucks are less beloved.  CBC couldn’t have been happy with the rescheduling.

The UFC event on Saturday at Rogers Arena drew 14,685 people (12,000 paid) for a gate of $2.8 million.

— The 10-year, $2 billion contract that NBC/Versus signed to keep the NHL starts with the 2011-12 season.  Because the salary cap is based off of the prior season’s revenues, that deal won’t impact how the upper limit comes in until the 2012-13 season, which needs a new CBA anyhow.  So, its also possible how that salary cap is determined could change by then.   FOX, ESPN and TBS/TNT were the other bidders for the NHL broadcasting license.  Versus is in the process of being rebranded right now.  The old Versus web site is already gone and directs straight to NBCSports.com.  A new name is expected to be unveiled shortly.  The idea for the network is for it to be modeled somewhat after ESPN and become more direct competition to the industry stronghold.  Versus, as it was the Outdoor Life Network previously, never got around to gearing its programming to lure viewers away from ESPN, focusing more on lower rung live and recorded sporting events, bull riding, infomercials and outdoor life programming.


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  One Response to “McDonough’s new title, backstory on Finals game 5 and much more”

  1. WHEW!

    I was starting to think this great blog went the way of blackhawks-confidential..
    never-never land.
    welcome back!


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