They're sold on selling themselves

ON THE NHL

March 01, 1995|By SANDRA McKEE

Marketing is the name of the NHL game.

"There is no question that with the surge in popularity of hockey, and with no one knowing how long it will last, the league is paying attention to marketing," said New York Islanders vice president Pat Calabria. "They've made teams focus on it more. It doesn't matter if you're one of the oldest teams like Buffalo; a team long in tradition with Stanley Cups like us; or a practically brand new one like Ottawa. This is a way to update and freshen the image."

And increase the sales of team merchandise.

A report in The Hockey News ranks Islanders merchandise sales 20th in the 26-team league.

The top-selling team is the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, the worst the Washington Capitals.

At least seven teams have petitioned the NHL for the right to change uniforms, logos, colors and/or mascots -- that's nearly a quarter of the league -- and all of them are in various stages of pursuing their options.

Of the seven known to be considering changes, six -- Ottawa, Edmonton, the Islanders, Quebec, Buffalo and Washington -- rank in the bottom third of the league in merchandise sales. The other team that wants to change, Boston, ranks ninth.

"When you look at that Hockey News chart, it does prompt one to examine what he's doing," said Washington vice president Ed Quinlan. "We've formally asked the league to consider a change. We've been given permission to pursue it, and that's what we're doing."

It took the Islanders more than seven months and a five-figure expenditure between $30,000 and $70,000 to come up with a new mascot, a "beach bum" in ragged, clam-digger shorts and an Islanders jersey. The fans have named him "Nyiles" -- as in New York Islanders.

It's a far cry from the image Calabria joked about when the process started last spring.

"What does represent Long Island?" he said. "I always joked that it's somebody stepping into a Lexus with a Bloomingdale's bag. And someone else made a serious suggestion to us that a guy in a suit with a briefcase, a commuter, would be the perfect emblem kids could relate to."

What the teams want to relate to is sales -- ticket sales and merchandise sales. If cuddly mascots can draw kids and families to the ticket windows, and if new logos and uniforms can pull them into the merchandising outlets, then, make no mistake, the NHL will give itself a face lift.

Shark bite

Monday morning Bob Errey was the captain of the San Jose Sharks. Late that night, he had been traded to Detroit for a 1995 fifth-round draft choice. The slumping Sharks have decided their future lies with youth.

Errey, a 12-year NHL veteran who spent the first 10 years of his career in Pittsburgh, became expendable when he declined to be a third- or fourth-line player on a checking line for the Sharks. Yesterday, he was happily on his way to Detroit and looking forward to playing on the Red Wings second line with his old juniors teammate Steve Yzerman.

He'll also be playing for his former coach, Scotty Bowman.

The Codger Line

That's what Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld calls his veteran line of Dave Poulin, Dale Hunter and Kelly Miller. But Hunter has another name for them. "We're the Century Line," he said. "Our ages add up." In fact, their ages -- Poulin is 36, Miller 31 and Hunter 34 -- add up to 101, until Friday, anyway, when Miller turns 32.

Limbo in Dallas

When the Stars arrived in Dallas two years ago, they came clutching a "letter of agreement that the city said was a mere formality from being turned into a lease agreement," said team spokesman Larry Kelly.

But a contract is still not signed and Stars president Jim Lites says one won't be signed until municipal leaders live up to the original agreement worked out before the NHL team moved to Texas -- which he says should give the Stars the same terms the Dallas Mavericks get in the basketball team's lease for Reunion Arena.

Lites said the team paid $5 million to move and another $5 million to renovate Reunion.

Yesterday afternoon, Mike Marcotte, the executive director of the downtown sports development project, said he has been directed by the city council "to get a court order to get the Stars to sign the lease" that the city has offered.

"We promised a lease that would be substantially similar to the letter of agreement," said Marcotte. "It is. And the only difference between this lease and the ones held by the Mavericks is that the Mavericks have first rights to the use of the building."

Obviously, he said, both teams can't have that.

RULES RANKINGS

Team Licensing Business magazine compiled a team ranking based on 1993-94 sales in Canada and the United States:

1. Anaheim; 2. Florida; 3. Chicago; 4. Pittsburgh; 5. San Jose; 6. Toronto; 7. Montreal; 8. Detroit; 9. Boston; 10. Los Angeles; 11. N.Y. Rangers; 12. Tampa Bay; 13. Vancouver; 14. Philadelphia; nTC 15. St. Louis; 16. New Jersey; 17. Dallas; 18. Ottawa; 19. Edmonton; 20. N.Y. Islanders; 21. Quebec; 22. Calgary; 23. Buffalo; 24. Winnipeg; 25. Hartford; 26. Washington.

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