Saturday, May 9, 2009

Fight the Power!

The time has come, my friends. It's time for the revolution. The Montreal Canadiens have power and it's time for them to rise up and use it.

Look at what's happening to this once-proud franchise: It finishes in the middle of the pack every year, with either an early playoff exit or no playoffs at all, because it doesn't have enough talent to do any better. It doesn't have enough talent because it can't tank badly enough to score the high draft picks that allowed teams like Pittsburgh, Washington and Chicago to build strong teams. It can't tank badly because rabid fans won't stand for it. It can't stock up with free agent talent because the environment around the team has become toxic with constant attention and rabid media. So, here it is, struggling along mired in mediocrity with virtually no hope of acquiring a real young superstar.

Through it all, though, the team's marketing people have stoked a bonfire of fanaticism around the "brand" of the Habs that ensures the Bell Centre is always full and merchandise moves briskly. The Canadiens aren't just a cash cow for George Gillett. They're a necessity for the league because they generate more than their share of the total league revenue that supports the salary cap. They help support Bettman's sunbelt franchises that can't support themselves. And they stand as a cultural icon in the province of Quebec. All of this gives the Habs power.

Yet, the team sits quietly by and meekly follows league rules, asking nothing in exchange for the benefits it brings the NHL and the province. If the Canadiens are to survive, never mind return to some semblance of success on the ice, they must exercise their power. Take the media, for example. An unintended side effect of the marketing department's fantastic success in promoting the team is an almost unbearable scrutiny by hoardes of reporters...both honest and not so honest. The constant exposure of the team to the spotlight stokes the hype around it and draws more ill-informed, bandwagon fans...the kind that boo a 21-year-old goalie on the last night of the season. Other players hear about that kind of treatment and the never-dimmed spotlight and decline to play in Montreal. Considering the cost the negative attention has to the team's success, why does management stand for it? Why do they mildly submit to the league rules that say the dressing room door must open to the media five minutes after the game ends? Why do they allow the barracudas who stir up trouble to continue to have access to the team?

The Canadiens should use their power to tell the league they must operate with special exemptions when it comes to media access. No other team pays the kind of price the Habs pay because of overexposure in the press, and the Habs shouldn't stand for it. They should have the right to limit the number of reporters in the room to only those representing legitimate media...and then only to a single representative per organization. Why should RDS or La Presse have three or four people looking for a story from a handful of players after a game? All it does is feed the frenzy. If all those people are being paid to come up with a story, you can be sure they will, whether there's one there or not. Too much of the airtime and column space media bosses are trying to sell by filling them with Canadiens ends up being speculation or rumour because there's not enough real news to go around. Sending in one person from each organization would mean the media throng...and its production...would be cut in half. The team should also have the right to ban broadcasters and writers who carelessly hurt the franchise or the players by what they publish. I don't care if Jacques Demers *is* a kindly old former coach...he hurt Alex Tanguay's and Matheiu Schnieder's reputations and impugned their professionalism when he claimed they refused to play game three against Boston because they were without contracts for next year. He should be refused access for that kind of stupidity, which angers and embarrasses players who are pending free agents and who may choose to leave because of stuff like that. I'm not saying if there's a real story that it shouldn't be published, even if it reflects badly on a player or the team. But if there's no proof for what someone publishes, he or she should lose the privileges that come with dressing room access.

If I was George Gillett, I'd have media-free days whenever the frenzy got unbearable. When the league fined me, I'd refuse to pay it. I'd tell them to deduct it from the subsidy I'm sending to Phoenix. What are they going to do about it?

The tax issue is another thing I can't believe the team puts up with. The Habs are one of the highest-taxed teams in the league, both because of Quebec provincial tax, and the ridiculous ten-million dollar annual property tax on the Bell Centre. The government claims the Canadiens are a cultural and historical treasure, yet piles a tax burden on the team that means it has to overpay significantly to keep player salaries competitive with those elsewhere in the league. At the same time, it's subsidizing big business like Bombardier. The Canadiens aren't asking for the government to give them anything. But a threat to move the team because of tax issues might result in a break on "protection of cultural asset" grounds.

These are just a couple of examples, but the point is the Canadiens can't just sit and put up with all the inequities that make Montreal an undesireable place for players to come play. If the team can't afford to tank for draft picks and it can't attract free agent stars at a reasonable cost, it's doomed to continue to wallow in mediocrity while it pays to protect the sunbelt teams where all the good players end up. They need to flex their financial and historical muscle and defend themselves.

After all, if you don't stand up for yourself, who will?

7 comments:

Denis said...

Hmmm...you really think that allowing only one person from a few carefully handpicked media would prevent other people from other media to write a story about the Habs ? And what about those that don't write. How could they be prevented to speak ?

Have you been traveling to Lhasa or Rangoon lately ?

Perhaps the New York Yankees, the Chicago Bulls, the Dallas Cowboys, the Manchester United and a few dozens soccer teams from Europe and South America could apply the same policy.

The Canadiens could also cancel the YumYum practice for the kids. After all they make a lot of noise and a few of them could be enticed to become future writers. Hell, one or two could even become a Canadiens blogger, one day.

J.T. said...

Denis, that's ridiculous. I'm not saying anything about a "carefully handpicked media." In no way am I advocating censorship of the news surrounding the Habs. But why does The Gazette or La Presse or RDS need to have three or four people in the room? That's how we end up with all the made-up garbage that makes players want to run a mile rather than come to Montreal. I'm talking about cutting down on the sheer number of people looking for a story about the Habs, who are in the players' faces constantly. Of course, keeping the throngs out of the room won't stop them for talking or writing, but it WILL take away their credibility. People will know they're talking out of their asses because they don't have access to the team.

The team has to take steps to protect itself or there will be no team to cover. That's where it's heading. It's ridiculous. Do you think any other company would put up with the kind of garbage the Habs do?

As for "handpicking," well, the team already accredits the media anyway. Otherwise Crazy Joe from the Lemon-Aid Guide for Used Cars could walk into the room claiming he's a journalist. What's the difference between picking which media come into the room and limiting how many people they can send?

Denis said...

Depriving the media from a dressing-room pass won't change anything.

There must be at least 50 (maybe more than 100) different people that regularly, write or talk (on radio or TV) about the Canadiens, even if they never enter the dressing-room, go to the mini Bell Center in Brossard and for God's sake, possibly never watch a game on TV.

As far as I know, RDS have Renaud Lapointe and Luc Gélinas covering the Canadiens from head to toes. However, I doubt both of them are in the same dressing-room after the games. Same thing with François Gagnon et Marc Antoine Godin from La Presse. Same story for Pierre Durocher and Marc DeFoy from le Journal de Montréal when those bastards don't throw their people on the sidewalk.

As much as I believe there is way too much emphasis made on a hockey team I'm not so sure Uncle George is unhappy with all the hoopla. Without all this, perhaps the Bell Center wouldn't have 21,273 fans in the building, for every game.

There wasn't much written or said about the lates 80's Concordes. Not so much either about the Manic. Montréal can't even support a junior hockey team. Is it because of the Canadiens or could it be because nobody write or talk about it ?

DD said...

I all for keeping thongs out of the dressing room too.

Ed said...

J.T., all of your suggestions are free-market ideas that are contrary to the controls that the NHL have put into place in the name of equity and fairness.

You can see the effects of this philosophy in the reply that you got from Denis, where he mentions two cities where the government controls free speech. He implies that if the Canadiens organization violates League rules by controlling media access to the team, that the team is no different than the oligarchical governments that suppress their own citizens. You were correct to call this implication ridiculous.

To compare media access of a privately-held business to the population of a country is absurd and possibly offensive to the suffering people of those countries.

In contrast to his remarks, I don't think your suggestions go far enough. I would like to see the NHL's grip on these companies dissolve to on-ice regulations. For example, I propose that the NHL get rid of the entry draft for players. Let teams attract young players to their organizations just like any other business does.

Would this demolish teams like Tampa Bay or Phoenix? Maybe, but maybe it would not. Would this guarantee that young Quebecois players would exclusively flock to the Canadiens? I imagine that it would not happen.

And to those of you who are still reading, don't complain that my suggestion is hopeless, because I already know that it will not happen. Our sports leagues will continue to be a reflection of our nations.

darren said...

excellent points, J.T.

punkster said...

First, I agree that the Habs should do something. Take the initiative. Not so sure about your media stance. While I deplore the ridiculous headline manufacturing by some of the media (what's the Disraeli quote about lies, damn lies and statistics?...so true of some Montreal media outlets) I am not about to agree to setting limits to the power of the press. And I'm afraid any attempts to operate under "special exemptions" could result in discriminatory policies being implemented by the Habs. Not saying they would, mind you, but they could and that should make anyone uncomfortable.

Now the tax issues. Maybe something to that.