So my boss got all up in my grill a few weeks back in Chicago for not writing about hockey more. I told him that my honest answer is that I don’t really know anything about it. Therefore, it would be unfair to the players, league, fans, and teams for me to write, give opinion or outright bitch and moan about it, since, well, I got nothing.
So, I guess I do know one thing. Hockey, although its considered one of the big 4 sports(NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL), it will never gain the same popularity as its other three brothers because its really only played in pockets all over North America. I grew up in Northeast Ohio, which is very much a football and soccer dominated area. Baseball and basketball come next, then probably golf and tennis if you had to keep things in general terms. In fact, my high school didn’t pick up hockey at all until after I graduated in 2000. So my exposure to hockey was very limited. The most hockey I played was with a crappy plastic stick in Gym class. That the 4-5 kids that ever played hockey dominated because they knew how to scare the crap out of us with a wrister.
What people don’t know is that much like baseball, things happen a lot quicker in person. The television really kills the game. I’ve been able to attend a handful of collegiate and pro hockey games, and there is no doubt about it, those guys are really athletic. You can tell right away that their skating technique is so much different then Joe Blow who skates for fun. It’s a powerful lunge that stems from their hips, not just a step-and-glide like your parents taught you. Most of the defensemen look like lumberjacks carrying their sticks, and most of all, they’ll bash your face in whenever they want, and you’ll like it.
The NHL does a poor job marketing and exposing their game. They can’t get a network to pick it up for more then a year. Their teams in non-hockey markets don’t get the viewership they need, and corporate sponsors know all of that. Not to mention that people, just aren’t compelled to watch. The stars aren’t visual and aren’t in your face. I actually find that quality a little endearing. There is to much me first and look at me going on in the other leagues. The NHL needs to look at exposing thier big match ups and making us care. I want to care about hockey.
Not to mention that youth hockey isn’t the cheapest thing going for people. Kids grow out of equipment every year. You grow out of a baseball mit about two times depending on your position.
They recently just had one of the best match ups in the play offs they’ve seen in years, that brought their two best young players in a long time to prime time center ice, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Alexander Ovechin. Crosby, who’s drawn comparisons to Wayne Gretzky is the golden boy of the league. Ovechin can flat out play, but is stuck in a bad market. Each played extremely well, and duelled each other to the bitter end. But the NHL left it up to ESPN to create the chatter about the game. That to me is a tragedy. Heck, people think there’s more drama in the Little League World Series and they don’t even know the kids.
Bottom line for the NHL, its time to step up and take your game seriously. Work on your salary cap, get a great marketing campaign and network partner involved, expose the match ups and get tickets sold. Easier said then done I know, but no one seems to want to say it.
Just an FYI if you don’t know, a great rematch of last years cup is set to get going. The Detroit Redwings and the Pittsburgh Penguins will look to get the rivalry fired up again. The Wings are a little banged up, and the Penguins are far and away better then that “deer in headlights” team that skated last year.