NHL gets it wrong ... again

Updated: October 11, 2005, 1:11 PM ET
By Terry Frei | Special to ESPN.com

Martha Burk, the grandstanding chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, missed an opportunity to skewer the NHL's new marketing campaign on sound grounds.

Ridiculously, she emphasized the lame women-as-sex-objects lament.

Sure, there's titillation and implied sexuality in the spots, but if Martha wants to grouse about that, then she probably should start calling news conferences on the hour to lambaste, point-by-point, the similar approaches of roughly 78.2 percent of all television commercials and darned near every prime-time show on the Fox, WB and UPN networks.

Markus Naslund
AP PHOTO/CP, Richard LamWhy didn't the ads showcase more of the fast-paced NHL?

This is what she could have said:

The spots are stupid.

They're insulting to hockey fans with brains.

They're not even funny. Well, at least not intentionally so.

They play right into the mostly absurd stereotypes of both the sport and its fans -- stereotypes we can try to laugh off because of their inaccuracy, but which continue to play a significant role in the NHL's inability to gain a stronger foothold in mainstream American sports.

"My NHL,'' the ads proclaimed.

Hockey, it is implied, is a combination of James Caan's futuristic "Rollerball," real Roman Gladiators, "Ultimate Fighting Challenge," and the Battle of Okinawa. "Ready?'' asks the women in a robe and not much else. "It's time,'' she says.

At first, I wondered whether this wasn't a clip from a prequel to "Troy," but at least nobody in the commercial was as bad an actor as Orlando Bloom.

Burk's secondary point, that the spots also glorify violence, was closer to legitimate -- not because hockey should be played with anything but spirit, verve and combativeness, but because the use of a quote from an ancient Chinese military philosopher at least implies the tying together of war and sport.

(My favorite rejoinder to that thought is Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy responding to a talk-show caller saying his team needed to treat football as war. Levy told the caller that he doubted that when the troops went ashore at Normandy on D-Day, they were hollering: "This is football!'' And I sincerely doubt that troops in Iraq will believe what we saw on the NHL's Opening Night was similar to the dangers they face. That's not being politically correct; that's common sense.)

Of course, such ads tend to be about demographics and targeted audiences.

If that's the case with this one, then the NHL is going right after the dim-bulb constituency again.

And the league again didn't showcase any of its biggest assets -- its stars. No Forsberg, no Naslund, no Thornton, no Sakic, no Lecavalier, no Lemieux, no Iginla, neither Niedermayer, not even Crosby. Gosh, you'd hate to do that.

But the good news is that it could have been worse. According to highly unreliable sources, these are the rejected campaign slogans that just lost out to "My NHL":

-- "The New NHL: Better than New Coke!"
-- "We've got your cap right here!"
-- "Yoo, hoo! Remember us?"
-- "Welcome back, Horshack … and all other hockey fans!"
-- "Five for Fighting vs. Barenaked Ladies!"
-- "If you can find a better sport, buy it."
-- "Bob Goodenow turtled."
-- "Who else does interviews between periods?"
-- "Do you believe in miracles? … Oh, sorry."
-- "Cruise your daddy?" (Just had to throw that in, with apologies to the New York tabloids.)
-- "Obstruction is on the History Channel. We're on NBC."
-- "Left wingers and right wingers yapping and fighting ½ just like 'Crossfire'!"
-- "Gary Bettman and Martin St. Louis: Short people have reason to live."
-- "Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire don't play hockey."
-- "No more Ties, except Domi."
-- "O, Canada, glorious and $152 a seat."
-- "Our Cup runneth over … with what, you don't wanna know.''
-- "The sport that gave you, 'Rock and Roll, Part 2.'"
-- "I [heart] New York … on the nights Jagr shows up."
-- "Bert's back … what's a broken neck among friends?"
-- "Jesus saves and Iggy scores on the rebound!"
-- "Chicago is my kind of town, unless I'm looking for the Blackhawks home games on local TV."
-- "I'm Wild about Minnesota … at least to make the playoffs."
-- "Shut your trap, Jacques."
-- "CSI: NHL."
-- "See page 12D."
-- "Every town's hockeytown, as long as you use the lower case so the Red Wings don't sue you for copyright infringement."
-- "Admit it, you want to drive the Zamboni."
-- "Would you believe we were Don Adams' favorite sport?"
-- "Not even Rachel Hunter can get Sean Avery to shut up."

OK, enough criticism.

Here's a constructive suggestion.

My choice for the New NHL's motto would have been:

"They brought their #%#%#@ toys with 'em!"

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."

Terry Frei

ESPN.com contributor
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."