- Ray Ratto
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"Baseball Fever Catch It."
"I Love This Game."
"This Time, It's For Real."
"We Got Game."
And now, "Kiss My A**."
Courtesy of marketing wizard Jeremy Roenick, this is the battle cry of the new, management-friendly National Hockey League. Not, "Sorry For All This," or "If We Knew Then What We Know Now," or even, "And When We're Done Playing, We'll Come To Your House And Clean Your Gutters."
"Kiss My A**."
And if you're a little squeamish about the human derriere, there is the long version "We're Trying To Make It Better For Everybody, And If You Don't Realize That, Then Don't Come."
Now we'll forgo the visual on the cover of the next NHL Official Guide & Record Book. We'll even shave a few points off Roenick's culpability figure by pointing out that he said all this while at the Mario Lemieux celebrity golf outing, and the strain of playing celebrity golf with a guy who just crushed you at the negotiating table can cause anyone to snap.
Still, "Kiss My A**" is probably not the banner you want to hang outside your building on Opening Night.
And "Then Don't Come" is right out.
Unless this is reverse psychology. Unless this is a surreptitious ad campaign that dares people to overcome a seeming insult to prove they can take whatever you can dish out. Unless this is downright brilliant countermarketing taking a bad situation and making it better by sneaking up on it from behind.
Who knows, after all, what lurks in the febrile mind of Jeremy Roenick?
Now it should be noted here that Roenick reacted honestly, if hastily, to the bizarre notion that the players should be beaten up for getting beaten up. The NHLPA already looks like Lou Fontinato after the Gordie Howe fight (think overly tenderized meat with the nose on the side), so taking an extra face rub from fans who don't want to realize the owners' role in this farce is likely to torque anyone a bit.
But we live in a sound-bite world, a keep-it-short-and-snappy society where nuance and detail get lost because everyone has somewhere else to go and iPods in each ear to drown out the rest of the planet while getting there.
In other words, it's a three-word culture, and when the three words are "Then Don't Come," the only way it could be worse is if the three words are "Kiss My A**."
Again, unless ...
Unless Roenick is cleverly daring fans to come out even if the only purpose is to boo him for shooting off his overactive bazoo. Unless he is trying to take the bullet for all the players who are too sensitive for beer-enriched fan critiques.
Unless he's falling on the grenade to save the platoon.
You see, there is a certain bedrock fan base for hockey even now, and they're coming back happy and eager even if the teams take the ice with their middle fingers upraised, like The Chief in "Slap Shot."
But there is also the casual fan, who might come three or four times a year (or in the case of Atlanta and Phoenix, pretty much never) who needs motivation to go see the fellas. They need a giveaway, or a half-off ticket, or Quarter Beer Night, or someone to hate.
And mirabile dictu, there is Jeremy Roenick.
I mean, there aren't 100 people who could identify union head Bob Goodenow if you dressed him as Bozo The Clown and made him wear a sign around his neck saying, "I Am Richie Phillips." So he won't get booed by anyone who isn't still paying attention, and both of them are still in the negotiating room.
And commissioner Gary Bettman tends to limit his own public exposure by either staying in New York or just turning up in the owner's boxes at the various venues, so you can't really get your shots in at him.
But Roenick is on tour, the front-and-center of the Philadelphia Flyers, wearing No. 97 and ready to catch whatever you have to throw. I mean, you can't make him mad, because he sees the deal the players had to eat and he is already seeing purple.
So maybe he is taking the point for the good of the game, because people have to vent and he sees himself as the ideal target for their ventage.
Hell, for all we know, maybe he signed a side deal with the league to be the heat catcher for an industry that disrespected it customers nearly to ground zero.
That, though, would require a sense of the audience the NHL does not have. It knows how to go to cities that don't want it, and it knows how to not play for months at a time, but beyond that ... well, let's just say it needs a little tutorial from Marketing For Dummies.
I mean, who doesn't have an in-law who would want a "Kiss My A**" T-shirt, sweater, cap, key chain, watch fob, notepad, screen saver, snow globe, Christmas cards or diamond necklace? This could be genius, I tell you, utter genius.
Hey, there's a first time for everything.
Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
14dScott Burnside and Craig Custance