The View From Wisconsin
Just a random set of rants from a Sports Fan from Wisconsin.
Saturday, May 14, 2005
A Proposal for the NHL
As the day draws nearer (we hope) that the NHL returns to the ice, it is obvious that the league will need to bring fans back to the game. There is a distinct need for the league to get fans interested in the game, and for fans to have a connection to the players out on the ice.
Among the many suggestions that have been forwarded about how the league can make the game more interesting is the use of the shootout to determine the winner in tie games. The shootout itself is an extremely polarizing issue among fans – either you love it or you hate it.
But what if you could do something that would not only get fans more interested in the game, but actually get naysayers to look forward to the shootout? And not only would you get fans interested, but they could actually win something – even if their team doesn't win the game?
That is where the Fifth Shooter Voting process would come in.
The most commonly used rule for the shootout is for each coach to name five eligible shooters (non-goaltenders) to a list after the completion of the game or overtime period. Those five shooters would alternate penalty shots with shooters from the other team to determine the game winner.
What the Fifth Shooter program does is this: it allows the fans, both in the arena and at home on their computer or cell phone, to vote for who they want to see as the "fifth shooter" on their team. The player that the fans select would be named to the list of the five shooters in the first round of the shootout.
So the coaches wouldn't be completely shut out of the process, they would be allowed to substitute one player for any one of the five shooters in the second round of the shootout. And, if the player selected as the fifth shooter is injured or otherwise ineligible for the shootout (i.e., due to unexpired penalty time or disqualification), the coach may choose his replacement.
The voting would go something like this: when the arena doors open for fans to enter, each fan can go to a table or electronic kiosk to receive their ballot. At the kiosk, they would swipe their ticket under a scanner or enter their seat location on the screen. Once their ticket is validated, they may choose one skater from the active roster on each team as their choice for the "Fifth Shooter." The screen will verify their selection by having them enter an alphanumeric code, and the kiosk will print out a receipt for their vote. If the fan doesn't want to bother with the kiosk, they can go to a table set aside for balloting and have a team representative enter the information for them. The receipt would have a printed photo of each player selected, and their current statistics, along with the seat location, date of the game and a verification number. Fans in the arena would only be allowed to vote once. Voting in the arena would end at the opening faceoff of the third period.
For fans at home, they can either vote via the internet at NHL.com, where the balloting would be similar to that of the All-Star Game, or via their cell phone. Fans would select the shooter from the starting lineups, and would verify their selection by either logging on to an account at fifthshooter.nhl.com, or by entering their name and e-mail address. The ballot would be validated in the same manner as with the kiosks: entering an alphanumeric code to prevent "automated" entries. Fans voting online would be limited to only five ballots per game; the user's IP address would be logged, along with their e-mail address or login information to prevent further votes. Voting online would not start until the opening faceoff, but would still end at the opening faceoff of the third period.
For cell phone users, they would be able to send a text message to a particular phone number. They would receive a detailed text message giving the caller an opportunity to choose the number of a player, and sending it in as their vote. Cell users would be limited to one vote per team, and restrictions on voting time would be the same as with internet users (from the opening faceoff to the beginning of the third period).
During the third period, all three tabulation methods would be counted, and the vote totals for each player counted in each area. To prevent abuse by people at the arena, results would be weighed 60/40 between the arena and the internet/text messaging votes, depending on the team. A player on the home team would have 60% of his final vote percentage come from the arena balloting, while 40% would come from the online ballots and text message votes. A player on the visiting team would have the reverse (60% online/phone, 40% in-arena). An example: Player A, who is on the home team's roster, receives 20% of the votes in the arena, but only 5% of the votes from the online/cell phone ballots. 60% of 20 is 12, and 40% of 5 is 2. 12 plus 2 equals 14% - the player's final vote total. In case of a tie, the player with more total combined votes wins the selection.
At the end of regulation time, the results of the Fifth Shooter voting will be announced to the fans. If the game does not end in a tie, the announcement will be made after the Three Stars of the game are awarded. If the game is tied, each coach will be notified of the individual chosen, and will have the entire overtime period to consider who else will be on their shootout list.
If there is a problem with the voting in any of the three areas – a power failure prevents the arena count from going forward, or there are problems with the internet or cell phone voting – the voting is suspended, and the coaches are notified at the end of regulation (if the game is tied) that they will be able to choose any six players for their shootout list.
The fan participation wouldn't end with the announcement of the shooter, however; regardless of whether or not the game goes into the shootout, one fan in attendance would have his/her name drawn (or seat number called) to win a prize package. The prize would be something tangible: free ticket to a future game, t-shirt, puck, set of trading cards, whatever.
Fans participating on the internet and/or via cell phone would be chosen at random to win a prize, either a free ticket to a future game, a t-shirt and/or some other prize, like access to a photo gallery or one week free access to online video clips of their favorite team.
If the game goes into the shootout, and the "Fifth Shooter" scores the shootout-winning goal, the fan in attendance will win a deluxe prize – an autographed jersey, use of an arena party suite for a future game, or some such prize.
The NHL could have a league-wide sponsor for the "Fifth Shooter" balloting (yes, I'm thinking Jack Daniels might have an inside track on this, but anyone could take it and run with it). Announcers could update the voting totals during the game, maybe keep track of a season-long "shooter voting" record. Perhaps teams could have special promotions for individual winners, like having a year-end drawing for a trip to either Las Vegas or the Stanley Cup finals.
The concept of fans having a say in who could potentially win a game is a piece of PR goodwill that the NHL could definitely use after the ridiculously long lockout.