Sounding cynical an easy thing to do

BILL LANKHOF -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

Some of your favourite NHL stars are going barnstorming.

Just what you've been waiting for, eh?

Hockey fans pine for the end of the lockout and instead they get the Millionaires Club going on a European holiday.

"We're going to be hitting teams in the middle of their seasons over there," says goaltender Martin Brodeur, not sounding too scared.

"They're going to be very competitive," he insists.

Yeah, it'll be exciting, all right. We haven't kicked Polish all-star butt in years.

As much as the organizers and players try to sell this tour, considering the NHL lockout, it is still like trying to close the barn door after the horse has escaped.

The only thing Canadian hockey fans want to hear is that the lockout is settled. Most don't know who to blame, so they're blaming everyone -- and it's difficult to fault that thinking.

IMG, the firm that represents many NHL players and is organizing the event, tried to spin the tour as a chance for players to get ice time, and that proceeds will go to charities.

"I'm not out there to make any money," Brodeur says. "I'm out there to have fun and help some charities."

A world class goalie and now an international philanthropist. Hold the Vezina Trophy and give that man a Carnegie.

Meanwhile, IMG has hooked up with Viewers' Choice pay per view.

"All we're trying to do is exercise some of the wishes of our clients ... which is: 'We want to play some hockey,'" says Brad Robins, IMG's director of hockey marketing. "And if people want to watch us, that's great because that's going to be a conduit to allow us to raise money for some kids."

Ah, there it is again. The old charity gambit.

It always makes it difficult to be critical when the beneficiaries are supposed to be waifs, or wounded critters with big, soft brown eyes, or motherhood and apple pie.

Just not done.

But, truth is, if enough fans buy the pay per view (that's $9.99 a game, or $59.99 for the package, if you please, and not a penny less if you're not pleased) the players will end up with a share of the proceeds. Okay, it's not much by NHL players standards.

Still, if they're trying to sell this as a Christmas gift to the Canadian public -- and they are -- you may want to opt for the Christmas tie, instead. It could be just as exciting.

"The Russians are going to all be NHL players," Tie Domi says. "I'm excited. I've never been an all-star in my life."

Memo to Tie: You still aren't.

Any all-star team that includes Luc Robitaille, John-Michael Liles and Alexandre Daigle is stretching the truth.

Sure, there are legitimate stars such as Sergei Gonchar and Brodeur, but this is not going to be an easy sell to Lunch Bucket Louie out in Scarborough.

"I don't know how it will sell. I'm betting that the hockey-starved Canadian will overcome any cynicism," says Viewers' Choice spokesperson Basia Ujejska. "We're stressing that it's not for profit. It's not about the bottom line."

This could be the first litmus test of the game's resilience, especially with guys like Louie. First, the NHL priced him out of actually seeing a game in person. Then it took away his Saturday night TV fix. Now it wants to charge him 60 bucks so Tie can eat caviar in St. Petersburg and Dominik Hasek can show off in front of his Czech roller hockey buddies?

Sure, that's cynical. But that's the way it will sell on the street. And IMG knows it.

"In North America, especially in Canada, the cynicism has developed," Robins admits. "There's nothing that we could do, or announce here, that's going to change that."

And, what if people hold a grudge?

"You don't want to put it out as a leverage situation," Robins says, doing precisely that. "But the charities won't be getting as much money."

Or the players, either. Although nobody would say that.

Viewers' Choice has about one million paying customers. So, there is a potential for a lot of money to be made if marketers can spin this as a gift to Canadians.

"Fans want to see the stars," Robins says, "and that's what they'll get."

He is half right. They want to see the stars. But they want to see them in their home-town rink, not in Latvia.


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