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Can they save their sports?

David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at USC, and Times columnists weigh in on Crosby, Parker and Big Brown, who are breathing new life into the NHL, WNBA and horse racing.

May 20, 2008|Helene Elliott and ON SIDNEY CROSBY and Kurt Streeter and Bill Dwyre | ON CANDACE PARKER and ON BIG BROWN

Sidney Crosby is the NHL's best hope for retaining loyal fans and attracting casual fans who still wonder what offside means.

He reached the Stanley Cup finals in only his third NHL season, one season faster than the great Wayne Gretzky. Crosby is a photogenic, humble kid who is accustomed to attention -- he was singled out in Canada as a phenom while still in grade school -- and he has proved to be a capable leader.

He's no savior because this is hockey, after all, and there are still people who refuse to embrace it because it's "foreign." But he has helped give the sport a pleasant and recognizable face and has inspired enough fans to search for Versus on their cable systems for the NHL to have gotten an uptick in its U.S. TV ratings.

CARTER'S COMMENT:

"The league must ensure that its teams are in markets where a compelling business opportunity exists. Second, the NHL must do so without any more work stoppages. Until [then], the contributions of any one athlete -- no matter his skill -- cannot be fully appreciated."

Candace Parker is a much-needed cornerstone for the WNBA to build on, but she'll need help if the league wants to see its popularity increase.

Parker brings more to the table than any woman in the league's brief history. She's a marvelous athlete, pure and simple. She's a marketer's dream, possessing not only great skill, but an engaging personality and good looks.

Parker's potential significance to her sport is similar to what Andre Agassi meant to tennis. Agassi came along when his sport, in this country, was in the doldrums. With his distinctive skill and charisma, he became the cornerstone for a comeback, but he couldn't have done it alone. He needed a passel of gifted rivals such as Pete Sampras. Same will prove true for Parker.

CARTER'S COMMENT:

"She delivers a compelling 'wow' factor to a league in need of one. By making the Sparks look and feel cool, while . . . posting triple doubles in Magic Johnson-like fashion, Parker may prove to be that rare athlete that a league can confidently hitch its wagon to."

As much as horse racing, and the horse racing media, yammers on about what a long-awaited Triple Crown will do for its sport, the likelihood remains that, on the Thursday after the Belmont, assuming Big Brown wins it, there will still be 3,400 people at Hollywood Park.

A Big Brown Triple Crown helps the sport's image, creates some buzz and puffs up some chests inside blazers at Magna and the Jockey Club. And, were Big Brown to continue racing and actually show up as a 4-year-old for races at places such as Hollywood Park, then that 3,400 would be 30,000.

But when Big Brown is 4, he will be spending his time lighting up cigarettes and smiling a lot, while his wealthy breeding syndicate will be buying banks and smiling a lot.

CARTER'S COMMENT:

"Horse racing, once high-flying with boxing and baseball, has stumbled over the years and lost its place as a first-tier sport. . . . A single horse, even one that wins the Triple Crown, will have a hard time turning back the sports business clock."

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