Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Leafs, The Monopoly

It occurred to me while reading an article in Wired that the Toronto Maple Leafs, as a pro sports team, is robbing Torontonians of their money by exploiting their joy of hockey. The owners of the Leafs don't give two shits about whether they win, and never have. As far as they're concerned, there is absolutely no value in winning, proven by the statistical independence of ticket sales and winning (until very recently).

The Wired article (link) neatly clarified why a monopolistic sports league like the NHL does not work in fans' favor. Since league profit is partly shared, no matter how bad a team performs the NHL owners pocket money. Therefore, there's no motivation to win. Want to watch pro hockey in Toronto? There's no competition, really. You can drive an hour and a half to Buffalo (another country!!), drive 4 to Ottawa, or drive 6 to Montreal, but all those options are not realistic for more than one special game per year. So the owners of the Leafs, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, have been making loads of money without any care of winning, because the Leafs are the Leafs. Who cares if they win? Tickets still sell (sold) for $200 a pop, far more during the playoffs. The one funny consolation of all this is that the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan has a 66% stake in MLSE, so I shouldn't be too unhappy that the profits are going to retired teachers. (On a complete side note, Teachers' has a MASSIVE portfolio - what about the rest of the pension plans in Canada?)

To further show that it's really money and not winning NHL owners care about, I'll simply mention the Balsillie/Pheonix thing. Teachers' must have had some pretty intimidating goons to unleash on Bettman.

As a cynical, sarcastic Leafs fan of 26 years, watching this year's jaw-dropping, flawless, 8-game losing streak is truly maddening. There are two players on the Leafs with a positive plus-minus. What. A. Joke. The last time the Leafs won was when there were 6 teams. Statistically speaking, it is not much of a feat to win a 6-team round-robin. People who state this as the last time the Leafs won the Stanley Cup are technically correct, but in my view this is like saying the Leafs won a NASCAR race when today they play F1. The game in 1967 was very different from today - the last goaltender to play without a mask was Andy Brown, who played his last NHL game in 1974.

I really want to see the Leafs win a Stanley Cup in my lifetime. I'm not very passionate about it, since I don't see the point in getting very serious about sports in general. But having played hockey as a kid, and having watched them come so close in '94 (screw you, Gretzky!), I get just a little sad for every joke the Leafs are a butt of. When I realized that there really is no true impetus to make the Leafs winners, I just had to .. write this silly blog post. Only recently have there been actual financial consequences for losing (link), but that's not going to stop the monopolistic behavior of muscling out competition and jacking prices.

As the Wired article suggest, do like they do in England - if the team sucks, demote them to the AHL or something.

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