As a sports expert of sorts (and by “of sorts” I mean “not at all”) I often find myself thinking long and hard about the future of two professional sports leagues that I care little about: the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).
(For the record, my order of pro sports preference is: football, baseball, basketball, Russian women’s tennis, hockey, golf, auto racing, jai alai and last, and most definitely least, soccer.)
Just a few short years ago it seemed like both leagues were poised to conquer the world: NASCAR announced plans to build race tracks in exotic locales like Long Island and Mexico and the NHL expanded from 17 to 30-something teams. But as quickly as it started, the momentum abruptly stopped: the NHL went through a long lock-out, settled on a non-lucrative TV deal with the little-watched Versus network and ended up with a bunch of nearly-bankrupt teams. Meanwhile, NASCAR stopped talking about how their TV ratings were going to exceed NFL levels and quietly shelved plans to expand into non-traditional markets.
There’s a fancy term that we use in the business world to describe the point when things stop growing: plateau. (You also may be familiar with ‘plateau’ if you’ve ever been on a diet or climbed a mountain.) Yes, it appears like both the NHL and NASCAR have hit a plateau. But I’ve got a genius idea that’s going to take both leagues all the way to the top – together!
It’s Time for the NHL and NASCAR to Merge into One Super-League.
Cool idea, huh? Here’s how the merger would work:
The National Auto Racing and Hockey League (NARHL) will become a dual league that is operated on a regional basis. Cities south of the ‘Grits Line’ (the geographical line where grits are served in restaurants) get auto racing. Northern cities and Canada get hockey.
This regional approach makes a lot of sense because hockey is a very difficult sport to comprehend if you’ve never before seen ice, blades or Canadians. Plus, the whole concept of the “Zamboni” will take generations to explain. Similarly, auto racing is puzzling for people who primarily ride the subway or sit in traffic jams. Also, kids up north aren’t really allowed to ride tractors or go-karts or ATVs, which seem to be the three primary training vehicles for professional drivers.
To make this merger happen, we’re going to have to dump a bunch of hockey teams, but losing these clubs (or moving them north) is no big deal: Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Atlanta Thrashers, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, Phoenix Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, and San Jose Sharks. (Personally, I’d love to boot LA, Dallas, and St. Louis, too, but at least those cities have some hockey tradition.)
The following NASCAR tracks will have to be eliminated, but it shouldn’t too be a big problem because NASCAR fans love road trippin’ in their RVs: Pocono, Michigan, New Hampshire, Chicagoland, Indianapolis, and Watkins Glen.
Now, I know that this idea is so radical and innovative that at first blush it might seem a little insane. Hockey and Auto Racing clearly have NOTHING in common.
Or do they? Let’s look at the many ways in which the NHL and NASCAR are nearly identical:
1) The Champion Wins a Cup
In hockey the champion wins Lord Stanley’s Cup. In auto racing the champion wins The (insert sponsor’s name here) Cup. Moving forward we’ll probably want to maintain the historical significance of Lord Stanley, but make it a little bit more accessible to the average NASCAR fan (“Lord” does sound a little twee,) therefore, I suggest that we rename it “Stan’s Cup”.
2) There’s a Lot of Missing Teeth on Both Sides
Sure, in hockey the players are missing teeth due to the flying pucks, while in auto racing, the fans are missing teeth due to a lack of basic dental hygiene, but the bottom line is that we’ve got two leagues that don’t expect perfect smiles – and I for one, find that refreshing. (And say ‘allo to future UK expansion plans!)
3) The Mullet is Always in Style
Hockey players choose the mullet because it works well underneath their helmets. Fans like the mullet because most of them (male or female) look like Ray Bourque anyway. NASCAR fans like the mullet because it provides a little neck shade and is easily converted into a rat-tail for formal occasions. In the end, it doesn’t matter why you wear a mullet, as long as you’re wearing one.
4) Major Rule Changes, Anytime
Both leagues have a habit of making major rule changes to the game whenever they damn well feel like it. No one, drivers included, have any idea how the cockamamie “Chase to the Cup” even works – something about top 10 or 12 finishers and bonus points and penalty points. In hockey, I think fans now vote on how a team gets points: overtime losses? Shootouts? Mini one-on-one battles? Sure! You decide. And the rules for off-sides and two-line passes change daily. Let’s be honest: these are two leagues that are always up for some change.
5) A Shocking Lack of Diversity
On a side note, I’ve got a spin-off idea for a great new reality show, called ‘Needle in a Haystack’. Two teams compete: One has to find a Jew at Talledega. The other has to find a black guy in Ottawa. Good luck!
But seriously, neither hockey nor auto racing are the most diverse sports out there. A little cross-pollination between the NASCAR fan base and the NHL fan base might be good for the country. I mean, since when have northerners and southerners not gotten along in this country?
As you can see, this idea has some real merit. And that’s what I’m here for – providing real solutions to non-existent problems.