Every professional hockey team has a team doctor, and in most cases, they’ve got many. I remember being in our ECHL dressing room, sauntering into the medical room and wondering “Who the hell are all these guys?”

At that level, the team doctors get season tickets in exchange for their services, not to mention all the money that comes their way from follow-up treatments on the many injuries that occur to players over the course of a hockey season.

In the NHL, the dealings are a little different, and to be honest, a little more shady.

Chris Botta of the Sports Business Journal (it’s Botta day on Backhand Shelf, apparently) wrote a story on the Dallas Stars new deal with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, which explains how the team has gone from using several specialists around north Texas, to consolidating all their care.

In exchange for the privilege of being the Stars singular medical provider, UT Southwestern has agreed to make a six-figure payment to the team for each year of the five-year agreement.

For that, Botta explains what they get in return:

UT Southwestern will receive dasherboard and LED signage, a website banner, and advertising via the team’s yearbook, game program and Stars Insider email.

In addition, the Stars’ Hockey Pulse microsite will feature wellness and sports medicine tips from UT Southwestern staff. The hospital will have its logo on the Stars’ practice jerseys and become the presenting sponsor of the Stars’ efforts for Hockey Fights Cancer, a leaguewide initiative.

Basically, they get a ton of advertising.

Teams – specifically those that struggle financially like the Islanders – have essentially been selling the rights to be their team doctor(s), meaning that in some cases, players aren’t getting the best care available. Instead, they’re getting first opinions and occasionally surgeries from doctors whose companies bought a suite, a dasherboard ad, space in the program or whatever. Basically, the highest bidder.

The players likely get the care they need – it’s not like they’re hiring this guy:

- but in some cases, there are surely better options available. (I haven’t been able to figure out if the Penguins are a team that does this or not, but given Crosby’s concussion issues, it’d be interesting to find out).

As a player, I couldn’t care less about the business-side of the team I play for as long as my paycheck keeps coming and there aren’t any other major needs. What I would care about, is getting the best available care, given that my entire livelihood depends on my physical health.

It’s not the most evil, gasp-inducing concept in the world, but looking at it from a player’s view, I can’t help but feel like deals like this are a little shady.

Comments (12)

  1. “I haven’t been able to figure out if the Penguins are a team that does this or not, but given Crosby’s concussion issues, it’d be interesting to find out”

    Yes and no. Yes they have auctioned off their medical care, but no, it wasn’t during Crosby’s time on IR, it was in June or so of this year. Previously, they had one 100-year old guy, Charles Burke, an orthopedic surgeon by day, who had been in association with the team for something like 30 years. Everything was handled by referral through him.

    Should also note that this new agreement is with pretty much the largest entity in Allegheny county, so it’s not like three guys with degrees from university of phoenix got the agreement.

  2. “meaning that in some cases, players aren’t getting the best care available.”

    So employees in the NHL are just like employees that work everywhere.

  3. In fairness to the Dallas Stars and UT Southwestern. While UT Southwestern may have been buying the rights to be the doctors for the Stars, it is also the highest ranked medical school in Texas and one of (if not the) best hospitals in Dallas. It’s also around 10-15 minutes from the American Airlines Center which makes it pretty convenient in terms of game day coverage (practice is different, at around 30-40 minutes depending on traffic).

  4. While I understand the concern for getting the best care for the athletes, UT Southwestern is one of the finest medical schools in the country and its staff will definitely provide the best, cutting edge care to the Stars.

  5. It’s nice that hospitals are so profitable that they can afford to advertise. Nothing wierd about that. Nothing at all.

  6. This is a very common sponsorship practice around all leagues, not just the NHL. Most teams have a partnership with a hospital (and that hospital’s doctors) to provide care for the athletes and in return, the hospital pays for an advertising package.

  7. So odd to think of a hospital needing or wanting advertising, or being a profit seeking entity. Sure is a different country in some ways down there.

  8. Like Lisa said this is very common across all professional sports. The team establishes a partnership (essential with whatever local hospital is willing to step up with advertising $$) and then they in turn provide the medical services. Completely normal in the industry.

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