What does it mean to “overpay” for a player? Since July 1st, fans have been complaining that players are being “overpaid” arguing that a particular players hockey numbers don’t warrant that kind of money. And that may well be true. But those fans are forgetting one thing: the NHL is a business.
This isn’t about winning games; this is about selling tickets. For an example close to home (at least for me), take a look at Paul Kariya and his three-year, $18 million dollar contract with the Blues. Now, numbers-wise, the Blues may have overpaid, but not by much. Kariya had 76 points last year and he’s making $6 million while players around him in the 2006-2007 scoring hunt like Koivu, Sundin, and Kovulchuk are making anywhere from $4.75 to $5.5 million.
But I can tell you that whatever the Blues overpaid was well worth the money because people in St. Louis are talking about hockey in July and August, which is unheard of in this proclaimed “baseball town.” In New York, I don’t think the goal was about signing Gomez and Drury as much as it was about bringing the biggest free agent names on the market to New York, where the Rangers compete for attention, not only with the Yankees, but with all the city’s attractions and events. Sure, the Rangers have signed two good players, but big names = more attention, and more attention = more money. Simple, yet true.
So did St. Louis overpay for Kariya? A little. But in the end, the Blues could not have bought the buzz through traditional advertising that this free agent acquisition started. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is now covering the Blues during the summer, which was previously unheard of. Today, for example, there was a feature on Lee Stempniak. And this free agent signing has translated into good business. Hundreds of season ticket packages were sold the next day after Kariya signed, and the Blues have already passed last year’s season ticket numbers, despite being two months away from the opener.
Are Blues fans getting their hopes up for nothing? Is Paul Kariya the answer? Hockey-wise, I’m not sure. But business-wise, the Blues have pushed the right buttons for the fans of the city.
After all, this is a business.