Commentary, opinion and news on the world of hockey.

Monday, January 03, 2005

NHL and the U.S. - will it work?

Tom Knott gives a good read on the over-zealous NHL expansion into the United States. It echoes my earlier sentiments that certain U.S. markets will never be considered hockey friendly. I agree that hockey can, and will continue to, work in markets such as Minnesota, Philadelphia, New York, and Detroit - teams that consistently produce high attendance figures and have a solid connection between the fans and NHL hockey.

On the other hand, does Florida really need two teams. And furthermore, does the NHL really need teams in Anaheim, Carolina, Nashville, Atlanta, Columbus and even attendance challenged Phoenix?

Now, before I upset everyone from the specified U.S. markets, I don't mean to say that attendance should be the only mitigating factor in determining whether or not a team belongs somewhere. After all, almost every team has gone through attendance woes at one time or another. And I certainly do not mean to say that the U.S. does not deserve their share of teams - certain U.S. markets have hockey fans that are just as ravenous and passionate as the Canadian fans.

But a consistently poor showing at the gate coupled with a weak connection and history with the sport of hockey will be the ultimate reason why the NHL will never succeed in certain markets. The league expanded much too quickly into way too many markets. Some locations are just not currently, nor will they ever be, considered receptive to the NHL - no matter how hard Gary Bettman tries to convince us otherwise.

Knott has this to say on the topic:
History, in part, drove the baseball process in D.C. It was a history that added to the passion in the debate. The NHL has no such history or sway in all too many of its U.S. cities. The league has expanded well beyond its roots, and worse, to second-tier localities of questionable staying power. Its vision has not comported with the elementary facts.....If the Caps were never to return to Fun Street, most of Washington would yawn.
Well put.

To continue on with my rant, the latest television deal accepted by the NHL just goes to show how weak hockey really is in south of the border:
"The NHL is barely clinging to the notion of being one of the 'four major sports'. The reality is, when it comes to television, the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, NCAA football and basketball, NASCAR and golf all are more popular than the NHL (in the U.S.)," John Dolezar, a Sports Illustrated NHL columnist, once said.
I would add several other sports to the list that are ahead of the NHL when it comes to TV ratings. Even during the playoffs, the NHL had less U.S. viewers watching it than wrestling, arena football, bowling, poker, and yes, tractor pull.

I don't think that I've really said anything new or profound here. One contributing factor in all of this is that the NHL has morphed into a game that is sometimes very painful to watch. Defensive play has become the norm and the trap is a household phrase in hockey hotbeds. High skill players have been pulled from their place and now play beside armies of grinders and checkers. The skill game has been smothered in favour of results and the game has regressed to resembling soccer on ice. Perhaps these factors are the real reason hockey will never succeed in the U.S. At the very least, they contribute a lot more than was perhaps once thought.

In the near future, I will take a look at the arguments for and against contraction. Is it necessary for the game to thrive or would it just further a runaway train that is the NHL? Stay tuned for my take on those issues.

5 Comments:

  • At 5:30 PM, Blogger Christy Hammond said…

    Yeah I definately agree with Knott and your comments about the problems relating to the quick expansion from 21 teams to 30 in a relatively short period of time.

    I wrote an 'article' in my blog about this and some other problems facing the NHL. I saw 5 ways to better the NHL:

    1) Improve marketing (we need commercials featuring great goals, hits, puck-handling, etc. and NOT Shania Twain explaining changing on the fly). With better marketing, we'll see higher game attendance and tv ratings. Higher tv ratings lead to better tv deals.

    2) Contraction. I don't really think they can pull this off unless the team folds or something. But Bettman really did something when he allowed all those new teams into the league, especially when they come from areas that don't have that hockey tradition/history.

    3) Let teams play their traditional rivals. The Red Wings (my hometown team) plays Toronto once a season if we're lucky. With such history and tradition in that rivalry, its sad to see us rarely play them. Fans love to see rivarly games with the great intensity and passion typically played in those contests.

    4) Makes some changes to the game (like decreasing goaltender pads) suggested by Shanny's summit or that GM's meeting.

    5) Get rid of Bettman. Place a person in the commissioner spot who has a passion for the sport. Someone can gain respect from both players and owners.

     
  • At 5:43 PM, Blogger Brett Mirtle said…

    Can't really argue with your suggestions. I think contraction would have to come in the form of a team folding due to financial reasons. I don't think the league would a) want to contract, and b) force any of the owners to do so without it costing the rest of the owners HUGE dollars.

    However, if the lockout rages on for two seasons as some would suggest, some of the teams may fold during the 'negotiaion' process.

    Regardless of whether the league has 30 teams or 24 (in my opinion, the perfect amount of teams), there are ways to make the game better from the current zombie inducing drivel that regularly hits the ice.

     
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