Monday, July 4, 2011

Marketing

Put in Brad Richards name into the google, click on news, and a quote pops up.

Quoteth Brad Richards: "The hardest part - you know that going in - is there's only one place you're going."

So we can sit here today, and pretend that the Calgary Flames engaged in something more tangible than a marketing gambit, but we aren't. Because it wouldn't be the truth.

Let's start at the end of the beginning. The Calgary Flames enter this offseason, and Feaster gets it into his head that he needs cap space. Sure, on it's own, this is a laudable ideal to shoot for. But cap space on it's own is useless unless their is a player available to use it on. Going into this offseason, there wasn't a lot of free agents out there that were worth spending money on. But whatever. The organization decided it needed cap space, and cap space was to be acquired. For something.

There were several options available for the Calgary Flames to make cap space. The team could buy out players, a move not necessarily palatable to the GM or ownership because it would mean that the bought out contracts would stay on the books for several seasons. The team could trade picks with a bad contract to clear out cap space, but again, a move not popular because the new GM came into power talking about wanting to stockpile draft picks. The team could bury some of it's bad contracts either in Europe or in the AHL to clear cap space. While this move would have been the most popular with the fans, it would require the owners of the team to spend millions of dollars to correct mistakes. Or the team could try to clear cap space without spending anymore of the owners money by packaging a good contract with a bad one. This move would be attractive to the owners because it would allow them to save money, but it would not be attractive to the fans because it would make the team worse on the ice.

Contrary to all the Flames apologists and propagandists out there, trading Robyn Regehr to Buffalo so that they would take on Kotaliks salary as well was not the only avenue available for the team to go down in it's pursuit of cap space. If the teams owners were truly, 100% committed to winning, no matter the cost, like say, a Terry Pegula, the team would have buried Kotaliks (or Hagmans) contract in the minors or in Europe. But the owners of this team are not truly, 100% committed to winning, which is why the team engaged in a naked salary dump.

A fanbase that is paying what it is paying for tickets notices moves like that. This isn't the 90's anymore. This team should not be losing players because of money issues. The Saddledome is sold out every night. Everyone owns a jersey and swag. Coffers should be flush.

Trading Regehr to get Kotaliks contract off the books was rightly viewed by the majority of the fan base and by media members not collecting a cheque or dependent on access from the Flames as the owners cheaping out.

Going into free agency then, the optics were that the owners had just ordered Ken King to tell Jay Feaster to trade a top four defenceman for salary relief when other options were available to them to acquire that salary relief. The fanbase was rightly sour. If the team was not good enough last year, and this year the main moves amounted to retaining players who were not good enough to take the Flames to the playoffs to begin with, and then on top of that they traded away a solid player from the weakest area of the team (the blueline), how was the team improving? This course of action, trading away Regehr while retaining the support pieces of Glencross and Tanguay also raised questions. Is there a plan? What direction is the team going in? And, importantly, these questions are being asked by season ticket holders. Lots of them.

Free agency then opens with these questions and perceptions surrounding the Flames. Questions about the direction of the team, questions about ownerships commitment to winning, questions about the teams ability to compete next season.

And then comes word that the Flames have offered Brad Richards a contract, and suddenly, these questions fade into the background. Ownership is committed to winning, they stepped up to the plate on Richards. The team is going to compete now, as they are adding pieces for today.

Sorry, but all that was so much hogwash. The contract offer to Richards was a smoke screen, a marketing ploy, designed to take heat off the administration.

We started this piece with a quote from Brad Richards. He was not going anywhere besides New York. You can spare us all the clap trap about Calgary coming in second in the bidding. In auctions, second place is the same as last place. It seems probable to us that Richards agents didn't want to get involved in a situation where New York would feel it had no competition in the bidding process. In order to get New York to offer better terms, they would have to create the illusion that Richards would entertain going elsewhere. The result was that they fielded bids from anyone interested, and luckily for them, a desperate Calgary Flame team came calling with their massive, $64 million dollar bid.

Why would King/Feaster offer this type of contract, reportedly the biggest offered to Richards, if they didn't know he was leaning towards New York? They would not have. Did the Flames front office believe that the extra $4 million dollars they offered would be enough to convince Richards to change his (and his wifes) mind about where they were going to play the next decade? Impossible to tell what the Flames front office is thinking, but they could not be that naive/stupid to believe that an extra half million dollars a year was going to change Brad Richards mind.

If the Flames were serious! serious! about adding Brad Richards, they would have offered 70 million dollars or more. But they didn't. What they did was offer a contract that was comparable to the contract the team Brad Richards wanted to go to offered. Which means, to those of you who don't pay attention to M&A's, they were only half hearted in their pursuit of Brad Richards. They knew he wasn't going to say yes to their offer, so there was no harm in offering it.

Which, in effect, proves the point. The team offered Brad Richards a contract that they knew he would not seriously consider (and again, spare me the noise about second place. Go read the quote at the top of the page). They did so to look like heroes back home in the local market. For marketing.

Now, don't get us wrong. The team did offer Brad Richards a big money deal. If he had said yes, they wouldn't have pulled the deal off the table. But they did not offer enough money to close the gap with New York. We think that shows they were not serious! serious!, but it can also show they were just being prudent! prudent! (as prudent as one can be when one is offering 31 year olds 9 years and 64 million). How can we tell what the case is?

Was there any other market activity that could show us? We think there was. New York won the Richards bidding. The other teams involved in the bidding, Toronto and LA, once rebuffed, then moved quickly to secure some hockey talent. The Leafs signed often injured Tim Connoly, and the Kings signed Simon Gagne (often injured would be redundant). The Flames were not in negotiations for either player. Why not?  If their pursuit of Richards is an indication that the team is looking to add more skill to its forward ranks, either of these players, who ended up signing short term deals, would have fit the bill. Yet the Flames didn't negotiate with either. Similarly, they did not get involved in the Heatley/Havlat sweepstakes. Again, if the goal is to add elite level skill to the forwards, wouldn't they at least have put in a telephone call?

But the team didn't. It's hard to get around those facts. Which is why we believe that the Richards effort was little more than marketing. Sure, the team gets credit for putting in an offer, and the teams owners get credit for at least implying they would be willing to commit major dollars for a player, but at the same time, the team knew, going into the negotiations, that Brad Richards was wanting to sign with the Rangers. Offering a half million dollars per year more than the Rangers doesn't look to us to be a serious attempt to lure Richards away from his preferred destination. Which makes it look like to us like marketing.

(Also, the lack of any apparent 'Plan B's' kinda give away the game to those paying attention)

Now, what is marketing? It's simple. Marketing is the act of telling the market something. Not complicated. What was the message the Flames were sending, and to who?

We think the Flames were sending an important signal to the market, and to the fans, not about this year, but about next year. By getting their names in the Brad Richards negotiations, and by offering the term and the dollar they did, the Flames are telling the agents of the free agents of 2012 that Calgary is a place that might be interested in them. Calgary will have, very roughly, about $25 million dollars coming off the books at the end of this season. Calgary will also have at least 65 million dollars in monies that they have shown they are willing to commit. This does not go unnoticed by agents.

Free agent targets are semi obvious. Semin and Suter come to mind. But who knows, maybe Weber is on the market as well. It doesn't really matter. Whoever the shiny bauble is, the Flames have told the market that they will be interested in bidding on them. We think Flames fan should view this largely as a good thing.

The other signal this sends to the market is that the Flames are still looking to win now. The team would not have offered Richards a contract if it intended to rebuild (we hope). Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing can be debated. But the moves of the Flames this offseason, retaining Glencross and Tanguay (and now Badsuck, apparently), coupled with the offer to Richards, imply to us that this team is still very much in the 'win now' mode.

Yes, that same 'win now' mode that got Darryl fired. But really, why should we be shocked that type of outlook is still in the Flames front office. Ken King is still in the Flames front office. Ergo...

Meanwhile, while the administration has been out whale hunting, the team still needs a 3 and a 4 on the defence. It still needs a LW of better quality (or consistency) than Hagman. It could probably use what Richards isn't, a two way centreman. But forget all of that, Flames fan, your team bid on Brad Richards. Problems solved.

Furthermore, I think Peter Loubardias should be fired.

4 comments:

  1. My philosophy is simple: you buy a sports team to win. You do not buy it to make shitloads of cash. It is a team in a competitive league first and a business second.

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  2. And if your goal is to make shitloads of cash, then you do that by selling the team-and a good team will always have a better base value then a shitty one.

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  3. Maybe they wouldn't offer Brad Richards a NTC? No. That's silly. They give everyone a NTC of some sort.

    Nice to see you're finally coming around about the need for D-men DB. of course, you needed D-men BEFORE they traded Reggie.

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  4. Its nuts what they have done with the team. Is Domebeers running the show? Brad Richards? Where the fuck is the 3 and 4 on the blue line?

    But Feaster is nice to the media, so Butler is a legit NHLer, Badsuck can play 20 minutes a night, who cares about second round draft picks (eh Sutter?), NMC's were only given out to solid players who want to be here so no problems, and going after Richards was something of substance and not a marketing kick. Oh, and the polite fiction that Feaster is his own man and not Ken Kings puppet.

    I feel bad for the season ticket holders. I know I am pairing back the amount of tickets I am getting this year, from like the 15 I bought last year to maybe one or two this year.

    This. Season. Will. Suck.

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