Sean Avery Was Right About The NHL, and They Know It

Bryan GoldbergSenior Writer IDecember 3, 2008

Sean Avery is right about a lot of things, and the NHL knows it.

It's ironic that he plays for a team called the "Stars", because the NHL has proven itself totally incapable of creating anything resembling a true household name.

Maybe in Elisha Cuthbert's home country, Canada, it's common for beautiful women to throw themselves at hockey players. But here in the United States, most girls could name, at most, one player in the history of the sport.

"Wasn't Wayne Gretzky a hockey player?"

Meanwhile, even my mom knows who Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant, and even Tony Parker are. Sure, it's not always because of their athletic accomplishments, but they are still celebrities in her eyes — no different than a popular actor or musician.

Sean Avery, a below-average hockey player on a lackluster team, is about to become the most famous athlete on ice. The NHL seems to have a problem with it, because they don't want their league to appear on the pages of Perez Hilton or any other pop culture rag. But there's a reason why pop culture exists:

Because it sells.

The concept of a talented athlete vs. a famous athlete is nothing new. Great champions like Pete Sampras and Tim Duncan frequently shun attention, probably to their own financial detriment. That's fine, it's a personal decision. The NHL's job is to make money. It is a business. That's different. They have an obligation to make money.

And when it comes to the business side of things, the league can't make up its mind on anything. Are fights good for the sport? Do 'bad boys' do their leagues' a favor? Is it worth appearing atop the sports page by any means possible? Can teams garner the attention of fans in busy places like California and Texas?

When people begin to know players' backstories, it makes it much more likely that fans will have a reason to pay attention. Feuds are good. Trash talk is good. Interesting backstories are great. Ever wonder why that marketing machine known as the Olympics has pre-recorded backstories on hand for every single member of the USA team? Because sports is about personality.

Nobody likes it when athletes dope, beat their wives, or commit serious crimes. But turning the league into something of a soap opera is exactly what PR agencies are meant to do. They squeeze the personality out of people, even when there isn't much personality to work with. Do you think that Nicole Richie became famous due to her singing voice?

Let me make something clear: I would have NO interest in watching the basement-dwelling Stars play against a team located in a desolate place like Calgary. But you better believe that I will check out this matchup the next time it happens, as I want to see Dion Phaneuf beat the daylights out of Avery. Or vice-versa, I don't really care. I want a fight. I want to tell my friends about it the next day at work.

The Sharks have the cup wrapped up, so please give me some other reason to watch this sport! A flat-faced Sean Avery would be delightful, thank you.

I hope that the next time a team owner or NHL official uses the word "integrity" to describe their goals, they think about the cost of that very concept. Integrity is swell. But not at the cost of millions, perhaps billions, in future revenue.

Sean Avery will be famous, and therefore rich, well after his undistinguished career reaches its conclusion.

I can't wait to see what other stunts NHL players pull when they realize this truth.