The corporate parent of the New York Rangers says the league is skating on thin ice.
Posted Oct 2, 2007
Madison Square Garden, the parent company of the National Hockey League's New York Rangers, filed a lawsuit against the NHL last Friday to protest the league's attempts to have the Rangers shut down the team's proprietary Web site. In the suit, MSG alleges that the league "violated antitrust laws and is acting like 'an illegal cartel' by monopolizing control of team promotions," according to The Associated Press. The suit followed shortly after the NHL announced it would be fining MSG $100,000 daily until the company gives up all rights to the Rangers Web site and other promotions, according to the AP.
Of the 30 NHL teams, the Rangers are unique in that they have both their own Web site (www.nyrangers.com) and one of the uniform sites produced by the NHL (rangers.nhl.com), both of which claim to be "The Official Site of the New York Rangers." In a letter to the owners of the other 29 NHL teams, James L. Dolan, chairman of Madison Square Garden, argues that, "We have repeatedly expressed our belief that individual clubs could achieve the same or better results by entering the new media business on their own terms, rather than being mandated to submit to a league-wide initiative." However, as the other teams have already submitted to being under the nhl.com umbrella, Globe and Mail reports that support for Dolan has been "lukewarm."
Dolan's argument may be legitimized by the fact that, of the top four professional sports leagues in the U.S. -- the others being the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and the National Basketball Association -- the NHL generates the largest share of its revenue (93 percent) at the local level, according to experts. The difference is due mainly to the fact that the NHL has a significantly smaller presence in "league-sponsored and -negotiated activities -- primarily national television contracts," reports Eric McErlain, of AOL Sports. Therefore, after spending a reported six years building and nurturing its own Web site, MSG deems it unfair that the NHL intends to reap the benefits of its "competitive tool," according to Reuters.
Although the full details of the suit are yet to unfold, Web experts speculate the possible rationale for why the NHL feels compelled to absorb the Rangers into their domain. "Disputes like these happen because within the Web's overall abundance, there are some scarce elements -- including Internet domain names," says David Weinberger, a fellow of the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society. "Often the case in disputes over scarce resources, there may well not be a good answer."
In the end, however, Weinberger states that marketers should ultimately set the interest of the viewers as their top priority. While the Web site does give the Rangers a competitive edge in terms of revenue, it is also a place for fans to collect and bond as the site provides exclusive videos of games and access to team merchandise. "Generally, the public is better off not being confused by domain names, and marketers are better off keeping their sites as local as possible," Weinberger says. "[Audiences are] looking for voice on the Web, not the old bland voice of mass media and mass marketing, and voice does better when it comes from closer to home."
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