Even if you are not a hockey fan, you should be paying attention to the Stanley Cup playoffs this year, because there are some priceless storylines this year.
Let's have a look at Sunrise, Fla., a place you'd never take a look at if I weren't asking you to. The Florida Panthers hold a 3-2 series lead on the New Jersey Devils in what has been a great series from an off-the-ice perspective. (By way of full disclosure, I have been a Devils fan for more than 20 years.) Both teams are in extremely dire financial states — the Devils because they cannot, after 30 years, pry people away from the Rangers' fan base, the Panthers because, before each home game, they must drive to Miami-area undergraduate house parties to collect usable ice from around the kegs. Additionally, both teams' marketing slogans proudly advertise how lustily each is flirting with bankruptcy: Panthers accountants dreamed up "We See Red," while the Devils coined "Red Alert" following the alarming procession of New York Post stories citing the team's ownership nightmare.
Tonight's game at Prudential Center potentially is the last for the Devils this season, which is really bad financial news. The regular season is for paying salaries; playoff games are when owners make their money, and there's a huge spike in sales from more food and merchandise, as well as better attendance. This team needs the run to get at least into the second round, where it might get a further revenue bump from having a local opponent, like Philadelphia.
And the Devils can't take a page from the cagey Panthers owners, who wrote the book on revenue-generating gimmicks — they once changed their uniform colors in hopes of luring a sponsor, and have sold sponsorship of the rink, in addition to the arena itself. This postseason, the team started selling rubber rats — long story, Google it — to fans for $5 apiece, inviting them to throw them on the ice after a Panthers win. Fans paid up and threw them en masse — after games, after goals, after the team managed to find the offensive zone while protecting a lead — at which point they were collected, then sold back to the fans prior to the next game! Genius! But the NHL appears to have pressured ownership to stop the practice, so it seems the Devils can't do something like that. Hopefully, the Devils find a way to survive this series, or Newark is soon going to be home to state-of-the-art museum of ex-New Jersey sports teams, featuring Bruce Springsteen.
I'm even more irreverent on Twitter @joe_arney.
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