I played hockey for years because it is a lot of fun and even at it’s most rudimentary levels it is entertaining to watch. Unfortunately the rest of the country doesn’t agree. The NHL used to be the second most popular sport in the country when it came to tv ratings. Now it is competing with the MLS and in some places it is loosing. So, what is the NHL doing to boost it’s exposure and popularity? Cancelling games.
The NHL is currently in it’s second lockout in 8 years. The last lockout almost destroyed the league and professional hockey in America is not even a talking point 8 years later. Over the last 3 weeks I have had to listen to countless hours of SportsCenter discussing inadequate officials in the NFL and not one word about the NHL lockout. Last year everyone went into a panic when the NFL almost didn’t have a preseason. The NHL just cancelled their entire preseason and no one even batted an eye.
Gary Bettman and the NHL’s player association needs to understand that they are not the NFL. They aren’t baseball and they aren’t basketball either. They are the 4th of the 4 major sports and they are in danger of not even being that anymore. They play one game nationally a week. They can only be seen consistently on local cable networks and obscure sports stations. It’s a joke and unlike the NFL, where there was good reason for both sides to take the time an get it right, the NHL just needs to get it done. Both sides need to understand that if they loose another season or even half of a season, the fans probably won’t be there when they come back. I like hockey and I might stop watching just on principal.
For the last few years the NHL needed to boost revenue by selling out arenas, signing good tv deals and selling merchandise. They failed in all three because they failed to promote their sport appropriately. You never saw hockey players in national commercial outside of ESPN. I missed games in the playoffs because there were no ads letting me know what channel or when they were on. A potential elimination game in the Stanley Cup Finals was on cable instead of a national network. Now they aren’t even going to give the cable network anything to air.
MMA is a growing sport because Dana White was smart enough to realize that exposure builds a fan base. The NHL alienated a fan base 8 years ago and the fraction that they were getting back is about to slapped in the face. They are limiting their exposure and it will devastating to their bottom line. There is no guarantee that the NHL will survive another long hiatus.