America. Land of the free, home of the brave, right? Americans love their country, they love their food, and most of all, they love their sports.
In the U.S. we have a mythical Mount Rushmore of professional sports. This Mountain, quite like the historic landmark in South Dakota, bears four recognized groups: The National Football League (NFL), The National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), and of course, our dearly beloved National Hockey League (NHL).
Well faithful followers of Good Night, Good Hockey, it’s time to face the reaper. Time to face the facts and admit to a gruesome fact we’ve all known for years: Professional Hockey in America is simply not rising quickly enough in popularity and is slipping down the Mountain of Relevance of professional sports in this great nation. This, however, does not mean that the sport is decreasing in popularity. It is actually increasing in viewership but struggling to keep up with the fast advancements of other sports.
What? Why? How? Calm down Happy Gilmore, the sport isn’t dying before your eyes. There’s simply issues with the appeal of a Canadian sport in an American marketplace. Yet, what are those infamous issues?
Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems
Emulation. Human beings thrive off of the idea of imitating their heroes and idols at every chance they get. This concept is perfectly mirrored through professional sports. I mean, c’mon, what young, sporty kid isn’t outside with a football, pretending to be Tom Brady driving the Patriots down the field with two minutes on the clock? What childhood hoop dreamer doesn’t sit in their driveway pretending to be Steph Curry or Lebron James holding the ball for the last shot? Every dreaming adolescent sports fan imitates these scenarios at one point or another.
So, why is this not the same for Hockey? Kids should have the same ability to imagine themselves as a swift Patrick Kane or deceptive Sidney Crosby sliding down the opposition’s territory and hitting the five hole for a glory goal. Unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen of GNGH, it’s just not that simple.
You see, the ease and simplicity of picking up a football at the local sporting goods store for $25, or getting a basketball for $30 to work on dribbling is a convenience like no other. To emulate your heroes for a few measly dollars is a blessing in itself. However, Hockey is no cheap hobby. Hockey skates run a low price of $110, sticks hit prices of $100+, and add a few pucks for $10, and you’ve got a hefty price of $220 just for wanting some leisurely time on the park rink. Not even mentioning the possible price for pads, helmet, and other accessories. This can really turn off casual fans from being deeply invested in the game because they can’t enjoy the experience like their favorite players enjoy it without turning wallets inside out and flipping bank accounts upside down. In turn, this dilemma has started directing fans toward easier to relate to sports like basketball or football and has lowered interest in Hockey in the United States, slipping the sport farther and farther down that infamous mountain.
Pierre McGuire Just Is Not Interesting Enough
Recognize that name? Of course you do, you hockey nerd. Everyone knows who the great Pierre McGuire is. Famous for being the quirky commentator on the NBC Network, McGuire is a widely recognized analyst for any hockey fan who has watched a sunday afternoon game on the major network. But of course, you didn’t come here for a biography on some bald guy who watches people skate for a living. While he is widely known by hockey enthusiasts, McGuire is an unrecognizable name for any casual fan. So what’s my point? Hockey has little, if any, strong television presence. Professional Football has a monopoly on Sundays, Monday and Thursday nights, and let’s not forget the infamous Thanksgiving tradition of watching pro football. Basketball has exciting match-ups on Wednesday and Friday nights, not to mention classic Christmas Day games. As for baseball? IT’S ON ALL DAY EVERY DAY. Does hockey have a classic game? The argument could be for nationally televised games on NBC occasionally on Sunday, or even the Winter Classic. But are these even staples? No, in fact, as of the 2015-2016 season the viewership for the NHL on NBCSN has actually gone down 11% to 349,000 since the lockout season of 2012-2013 when the ratings were at 392,000. So, why aren’t these games staples attracting more viewers? In a competitive entertainment environment like the U.S., people want flashing lights, amazing commercials, advertisements that pop off the billboard. Other sports have fulfilled this requirement while the National Hockey League still attempts to remain traditional and catch up at the same time. A hard-hitting, fast paced game deserves to be promoted for what it is! Yet, while hockey deserves this recognition, a hockey game could not even crack the top 50 most viewed sporting events of 2015!
Dominated by the NFL, the top 50 most viewed sporting events of 2015 have no inclusion of the grandaddy of them all, the Stanley Cup Finals. One may observe that the list is a very Professional Football dominated ranking. With further research, I found that the chase for the Cup wasn’t included in the top 50 most viewed sporting events outside of the National Football League!
Good people of GNGH, statistics simply do not lie. In the race of viewership, the National Hockey League is falling behind in the U.S. and it’s not changing fast enough. Step it up Pierre.
Hockey America Needs More of Hockey City
In case you don’t know much about me personally. I live in Northern Ohio, right on the tip of Lake Erie and it is COLD. Like cursing Jack Frost every morning cold. But in my small, freezing town, nobody knows a lick of hockey. One would think that kids would be going to the pond every weekend for some good pick-up games, right? Absolutely not. If I was to trudge to school in the morning and ask 100 students who the Blue Jackets were, 90 of the 100 would tell me they’ve never seen that kind of bug before. I’ve witnessed the lack of popularity of hockey in America firsthand and I live in a cold weather town. Imagine the lack of support in many towns and cities that are warm year-round, focused on playing basketball and baseball outdoors. The National Hockey League must strategically place franchises in places that are better geared towards increasing fan numbers. Recently established, the Arizona Coyotes (refounded in 2013) are an example of a poorly placed franchise that doesn’t attract popularity. In fact, according to The Hockey News’s complicated algorithm determining the top NHL fan bases, the Arizona Coyotes rank last in popularity.
Other “warm weather franchises” like the Florida Panthers or Dallas Stars struggle with attendance or social media following. Placing franchises in states in the New England area or even the northern midwest area could provide much better results and greater revenue to the league. The very ideal of “Hockey America” is made up of many “hockey cities” and “hockey towns.” In order to draw fans to the army of hockey Americans, the NHL must appeal to better markets and take control before reaching to other, riskier corners of the nation.
So Where Does That Leave Us?
Followers of Good Night Good Hockey, you’re probably panicking right about now. You’ve probably laced up your skates, folded your Howe jersey, and bubble wrapped your collection of the Mighty Ducks movies, putting them all into your bag and you’re moving up north. I say as a disciple of this great site, do not fear. Hockey is alive as a sport worldwide and isn’t leaving America by any means. However, there are some concerns of the issues permeating the National Hockey League and its influence in the United States. But how are we to solve these issues? Well faithful reader, that is a question to be possibly answered in a later article released in the distant (or not so distant) future. As for me, I will continue watching and supporting this sport beyond the problems, hockey will always be a staple in my life, and hopefully it is in yours. I’m happy to have enlightened you as a passionate hockey fan myself.
As always, this is Drew Bishop signing off. Have a good night filled with good hockey America.
Drew Bishop is the Hockey America columnist for Good Night, Good Hockey. You can contact him at his email: firstname.lastname@example.org