October 09, 2008
It's another fascinating interview with Avery, and it's rather refreshing to note that Rachel Nichols is a better hockey talker for ESPN than she was a hockey writer with the Washington Post. So has another professional athlete had to field more questions about his sexuality in the last few months than Sean Avery? You'd figure after they saw how he reacts to such accusations, they'd think twice. At least the female reporters should.
But back to hockey, this quote struck me:
"It would certainly be good for the game if we marketed the game. The NHL does a terrible job of marketing. They just ... they haven't figured it out that heroes and villains are what sells."
He mentions Jarome Iginla as a player "no one cares about," which isn't fair because the NHL doesn't know how to market its most famous black player, either. But the basis for Avery's argument is absolutely true: The NHL is afraid to label, and thus market, its teams and players as heroes and villains. From Avery to the Flyers to Chris Pronger ... it's Wrestling Promotion 101: Heroes need heels as their foils.
That's a basic misunderstanding of not only our audience, but of human nature. As I said on NPR during the finals:
4. Blood: Hockey speaks to basic, primary human instincts. It is a sport about warriors, winners and losers, in which players leave their blood on the playing surface.
It's obviously in Avery's interests if the NHL makes stars out of villains. But it's also in hockey's best interests to do just that. Still, don't hold your breath: This is a league that thinks the good guys shouldn't wear white at home.
Does the NHL need to market its villains more?