Industy Insights By Mark Brasier
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THE GOOD OLD HOCKEY GAME
It should come as no surprise that we love our hockey in Canada. There isn’t a kid in the country who hasn’t dreamt about lifting the Stanley Cup over his head. The game is ingrained into our DNA.
For years everyone went about playing the game the exact same way year after year – taking the same approach, implementing the same mindset, the same thinking, and inevitably producing the same results. It became a game of set plays, with the same stable of players, moving from one team to another, each circulating the same thinking into the game.
The game crept into a sea of conformity. The players carried out their roles in a pre-determined manner as outlined by management. It was robotic to a degree. There was the regular cast of characters on every team: the goal scorer, the pest, the enforcer, the goalie and a collection of middle-tier players to fill the roster. The management
team in a sense.
And this was the very group responsible for cultivating the sport – this set-in-their-ways group liable for cultivating the next round of talent coming into the league and forging the future of our great game. These were the people driving the breeding ground, incubating the future, for all those starry-eyed kids playing road hockey on a Saturday afternoon dreaming of one day playing in the big league. It was just a game played with a piece of wood, rubber and steel. Just a bunch of kids looking up to the leaders for the next great move, the next great celebration dance. They wanted more than to be told to skate hard, keep your stick on the ice and get to the net. They wanted someone to put the puck somewhere it had never been.
THE GREAT ONE
Every once in a while someone different comes along: a rebel willing to test the given; a player willing to take risks and challenge the standards; a player ready to reinvent and redefine how the game is played.
Traditionalists didn’t believe the game needed a change. When Wayne Gretzky arrived in the National Hockey League in 1979, he had to make believers out of his staunchest opponents. The narrow-mindedness had become so entrenched into the very composition of the game.
Nobody had ever seen the game played the way Gretzky played. The traditionalists didn’t get it. He led by example and the forward-thinking teams around the league figured out how to build around him, draft off the success and momentum and equip their team with a plan that would address and allow them to compete in this revolutionized game. A league that was capturing the imagination of fans worldwide and encouraging individualism while never losing site of team play.
Gretzky was an individual. He put the puck places nobody has ever seen it go before. When he had the puck, he completely controlled the flow of the game. He would set up office behind the opponent’s net and orchestrate plays like a point guard, or bring the puck into the opponent’s zone, circle back and pass it back to a trailing teammate. What on earth was he thinking?
Gretzky made getting an assist more respected than scoring a goal. He made it his responsibility to raise the level of play not only on his team, but in the entire league. He took the game to places never imagined before. That sea of sameness disappeared once he arrived and the level of play was elevated, and it inspired and brought a re-emphasis on innovative and performance thinking.
Franchise players build franchises. They also build leagues. They are the rainmakers, the individuals who build and shape the players and teams around them. Gretzky practically built the entire league by attracting new fans from all over the world and pushing participation numbers through the roof. Every kid wanted to wear #99. He and the Edmonton Oilers rethought the game, anticipating where the game needed to go in order to raise the play of the league and, in effect, all the other teams.
With a view of the game like nobody before him, he brought about a style of play that has inspired others to constantly raise their level of play. This was all about one individual changing a team sport. Longboarding is the game, the teams are the brands and the collective brands form the league. The game thrives on individualism but also
needs collective efforts to be great.
This game is woven into the very fiber of the culture – a game so entrenched that those closest to it are oblivious and don’t see the very shaping that is taking place around them.
Don’t look back at how other action-sports leagues have played their games. Many of those leagues are defunct and searching for a new relevance. The inactive or “sit back and wait” attitude will hurt every time. You miss 100% of the shots you never take.
The “longboard league” has an opportunity to move away from traditional action-sports thinking. Nobody in the longboard league is looking to conform and simply fit in.
All of the elements are there. Traditional thinking has already set the league onto a course. You have to do something different to get a different result. And it has to be done now.
How many times have we read the articles about the big boys who are going to reap all the benefits by taking it to the masses and commercializing the category? Same story over and over again. But these dealers are in the longboard league too. They service a consumer base that prefers to shop there. Is keeping the puck away from them in the collective best interest of the league?
We all seem to believe that if/when the sport becomes mainstream and commercial, it signals the beginning of the end. Is it really? Does it have to be? That thinking suggests we go to where the puck has already been. Think about who is putting the puck there. Longboarding must step away from the infractions that took place in hockey: too many men on the ice, all those nasty hits from behind, the flagrant offsides and the occasional good old donnybrook!
What if instead the league helped nurture the underdeveloped teams and players, invested time and helped prop them up to a level that reflected positively on the league? The league needs to develop great teams and players. If the talent pool is too small to meet the market’s needs, weak players will step in and lower the game.
The leaders have to control the game. The leaders must set the standard and drive the league for the better good – even if many teams don’t and can’t see it. The leaders must take the puck and direct it where it needs to go. They are the only ones who truly know where the puck needs to be. And they must have their heads on a swivel so they have the full vision to see the opportunitiesfrom all directions. The strong will adapt their game to fit and will be part of the success. Who wants the puck? AXS
Written By Mark Brasier