Early this summer, I remember hearing about what the National Hockey League wanted to do with the 30 official team web sites where it wanted to have them under the NHL.com identity. It sounded like a very sensible idea, but I support it as long as the teams still have their original web addresses to them. That is the case.
But the problem was that not everyone likes the idea of every team using the same web page "template" where the layout of the page was under the same format. I didn't if there was no variety in each team using their own detailing to the elements of the web page.
As the offseason wore on, more teams re-made their web pages to switch over to the NHL.com format, including the "nhl.com" web address suffix attached to them. But as the preseason began, only one team was the lone holdout. That would be the New York Rangers. It was a mystery to me as to why this was the case. But late last week, we finally found out as to why.
On Friday, the Rangers filed a lawsuit against the NHL in U.S. District Court in New York City to seek an injunction.
In the lawsuit, the Rangers and its parent company Madison Square Garden want to keep the NHL from dictating how their team web site will operate and who will administer it. The Rangers even titled their lawsuit as "the NHL has become an illegal cartel".
Also within the filed 34-page document, it read, "In recent years, the NHL has taken steps to eliminate, restrict and prevent 'off-ice' competition between the NHL and member clubs, as well as between and among the member clubs themselves, in ways that are not necessary to the provision of major league men's professional ice hockey contests."
In other words, they're accusing the NHL of overstepping their legal authority to oversee the 30 NHL teams in their operation and marketing practices, including advertising and merchandise sales. But much of the focus in this issue is the league not allowing the teams to compete against each other. Then again, with where the NHL stands in a crowded sports landscape in the United States, it might be their death blow if big market teams are allowed to run free and squash the small market franchises. The 2005 lockout happened because the league wanted to level the playing field and the new collective bargaining agreement featured a salary cap to help make that happen.
While the official team web site address "newyorkrangers.com" has remained in active operation, from Friday to today it had re-directed you to the new "rangers.nhl.com" web address, the team has kept a separate web page using their previous design and format at an alternate web address of "nyrangers.com". With the lawsuit tied up in court, the original web site is now back up. The National Hockey League re-launched a new design to their web site today to mark the start of the new 2007-2008 season in North America (the first two official regular games were played in London on Saturday and Sunday).
New York Daily News Rangers beat writer John Dellapina reports that a hearing for this case will be held on October 23rd.
Concerning the web site dispute, the lawsuit claims the Rangers should not have to turn over control of their alternate site "nyrangers.com" to NHL.com, cannot sell branded merchandise in its own way online and that they cannot provide games to Optimum Online subscribers via streaming video on its Web site. Madison Square Garden also disputes the NHL's ban on virtual advertising during MSG Network broadcasts. I do remember during one of their home playoff games against Atlanta last spring, they used a bank loan lender as the sponsor to two computer-generated virtual advertisements placed on the plexiglass near the corners opposite of the game camera.
The team was being fined $100,000 per day that the Rangers did not turn over the web site to the NHL and end their own use of selling NHL-licensed merchandise independently from the league. This lawsuit is seeking to prevent the NHL from collecting on those fines.
In some ways, the Rangers have a legitimate beef. They should keep some kind of control over the way they run their web site and the team in general. If it is uniformity in design the NHL's looking for, then the Rangers should just adjust to the format while using their own unique detailing such as banners, subsection title bars and so forth. But if the NHL is to strive as a league, the Rangers will have to be flexible. Not to suggest they aren't, but there needs to be a middle ground. Either way, the overall rules must be followed as the other 29 teams would do. The New York Rangers shouldn't be the exception.