The Russians are coming-and the capitalists can hardly wait

The Russians are coming-and the capitalists can hardly wait

Michael Posner December 15 1975
The Russians are coming-and the capitalists can hardly wait

The Russians are coming-and the capitalists can hardly wait

Michael Posner December 15 1975

The Russians are coming-and the capitalists can hardly wait

Michael Posner

I think it should be said unequivocally that the New York Rangers are not the worst team in hockey; they’re just pretending. They play the game with all the enthusiasm of migraine patients. Their defense impersonates aggression the way Manhattan masquerades solvency. Some of their forwards think the power play is what you do in the front office for more money. It shows: I’ve seen better puck control on my table hockey set. By dint of some demonic fortune, however, these same Rangers are about to make sporting history. On December 28, they will become the first regular NHL team to play a regular Russian team—the inaugural event in a series between eight NHL clubs and two Soviet squads. They will, therefore, also become the first NHL team to lose to the Russians.

Putting the Rangers aside for the moment, or forever if you wish, the series still represents the best display of hockey talent Canadians are likely to see all year. The shifty Kharlamov, the graceful Yakushev, the punishing Vasiliev: it’ll be nice to see again what the game used to be like. The fans, however, aren’t the only ones to benefit. When this little Christmas pie has finally been divided into all its unequal portions, the NHL, the Players Association, the CBC, Canadian Sports Network (which owns Hockey Night In Canada) and MacLaren Advertising (which owns CSN) are all going to be sitting in some little corner counting their profits, which include:

The gate: eight games, with an average attendance, say, of 14,000 at an average ticket price of nine dollars. Total box office revenues: about one million dollars, to be split 50-50 between the NHL and the Players Association. The league will pay each owner a percentage of the gate (enough to cover his operating expenses for the night and let him take his wife to a few thousand dinners) and distribute the remainder among the 17 other clubs. The PA will pour its piece of the action into the pension fund.

Better still, the NHL and the PA will also derive revenues from the sale of TV rights—in Canada to CSN and in the El.S. to whoever will buy the league’s prepackaged (with commercials) product, CSN, I am reliably informed, paid slightly more than $500,000 for Canadian rights. The NHL might do equally well in the U.S., where various affiliates are hedging their bets, waiting for ratings of the early games before buying what’s left. Strategically, the best game—between the Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers and the Soviet Red Army team—will be played last, on January 11. (The NHL is still negotiating for national network exposure in the United States for that one.) Gross revenues for the entire series should approximate two million dollars.

Philadelphia’s Bobby Clarke and Russia’s Vladimir Tretiak: for cash and country

CSN won’t exactly suffer either. With a little help from everyone’s favorite broadcasting corporation. CSN is selling 100 minutes of advertising time, at a net fee of $13,390 a minute. (Total ad revenue: $1,339,000.) Of course, CBC takes a share for transmission and promotion costs and CSN has its own production expenses, but a number of people will not be favorably disposed if CSN fails to emerge with a tidy, six-figure profit from all of this. MacLaren, it is only decorum to add. reaps the 17.65% agency commission on any commercial messages it sells for broadcast. As it happens, Imperial Oil and Molson’s—two major sponsors—are both MacLaren Advertising accounts.

Is everybody happy? Is the post office obsolete?

And what of the Russians, with their well-earned reputation for shrewdness at the bargaining table? Have they turned an ideological eye to this crass oligopoly of Christmas cheer? Have they not uttered even one proletarian nyet? You bet your sweet samovar they have. Wanting no part of the risks, the Russians settled for a flat fee. Win, lose or draw, they’ll fly home with a cheque for about $175.000, plus expenses, courtesy of the NHL and the PA. Come to think of it, that’s more than most NHL teams make in an entire 80-garne schedule. When it comes to commerce, we are all comrades under the skin.