VANCOUVER — Sorting out the major winners and losers of this week — with a bottom-line twist — in the world of sports.
• BULL OF THE WEEK:
Despite being in Year 3 of a new CBA designed to usher in an era of parity — both competitively and economically — the NBA isn't quite there.
It still has its share of domestic challenges, including public opinion polls that show its popularity at an all-time low. Only six per cent of Americans, for example, tag NBA basketball as their favourite pro sport. That's just a percentage point north of the NHL in the U.S. and about one-third of where it was in its glory years.
Having said that, despite those challenges in the North American markets, the NBA is riding high on the strength of its global marketing strategy. Nowhere is that more the case than in China.
The world's biggest population and second largest economy is absolutely bullish on the NBA. As the New York Times pointed out this week, it has 175 times the following of the NFL on China's two Internet giants; Sina Weibo and Tencent. With 70 million followers on those two microblog platforms compared to less than 400,000 for the NFL, the NBA is a powerhouse in China and is the most popular U.S.-based sport league throughout most of Asia.
The foothold in China accounts for less than three per cent of the NBA's $5.5 billion in global revenues, but it is growing at such a rate that even freshly minted commissioner Adam Silver admits the league will eventually be bigger internationally than it is in North America. Some — including yours truly — suggest that might already be the case in terms of fan engagement if not in revenues.
• BEAR OF THE WEEK:
No team in the NHL has seen its stock fall faster and further this year than the Vancouver Canucks. From first in the league two years ago and third in the conference last year to 21st in the league and 10th in the conference this year. The fall is amplified because of just how lofty a status the Canucks have held as one of the league's best-managed franchises for most of the past decade.
The impressive results over the past 10 years have been there both on the ice (with seven division titles, two Presidents' Trophy wins and a Stanley Cup Final berth) and off the ice, with a Forbes.com franchise valuation that is now pegged at $700 million and is fourth strongest in the 30-team NHL.
In recent years, the Canucks have been among the top-five revenue earners in the league, thanks largely to record per capita regional television and radio deals, the second-highest priced tickets in the league and a sellout streak that was rock solid for 10 years.
Unfortunately, there's nothing impressive about where the team is now. One of the three most popular NHL brands over the past decade in terms of online fan traffic (behind only the Canadiens and Maple Leafs), the Canucks have skated off the rails this season and will miss the playoffs for only the third time in 10 years. The fall from grace spans the gamut of hockey product management — from low ROI on key trades to a new head coach who surprisingly over-performed with his media accountability, but flatly under-performed where it matters most to fans — in the win column.
Tom Mayenknecht is host of The Sport Market on Team 1040 and TSN Radio, where he regularly rates and debates the Bulls & Bears of the sports business. Listen to The Sport Market on Team 1040 Saturdays 7-11 a.m. Bulls & Bears air at 9 a.m., followed by Weekend Extra with Sun Sports at 9:30 a.m. Follow Tom Mayenknecht on Twitter @TheSportMarket.
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