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Blog Entry

Hockey a major sport?

Posted on: January 20, 2009 6:19 pm
Edited on: August 27, 2009 2:05 pm

It was difficult to think of a topic for my first blog entry.  Some of the obvious came to mind - i.e., upcoming super bowl, college hoops, etc.  I decided to stick with a topic near and dear to a kid from northern

Following the 2004-05 lockout, which resulted in cancelling the entire season, the NHL has struggled to revive itself as one of the four major professional sports.  It was well on its way out of that elite company prior to the lockout, but it is even more evident in recent years.

One of the biggest issues is lack of a major TV contract.  Cable TV programming is with the Versus network.  Versus commits to at least 54 regular season games (usually 2 per week) and most playoff games that are not on network TV.  The contract was initiated following the lockout season and recently extended through 2010-11.  Financially, it made sense for the NHL and was the only viable option after the lockout.  Versus is owned by Comcast, which prevents its availability on many satelite or basic cable packages. 

The other national outlet is NBC, which televises a weekly Sunday matinee game.  It seems clear professional hockey sits at or near the bottom of NBC's totem pole.  This was evident in 2007 when NBC cut to horse racing during overtime coverage of an NHL playoff game. 

Whether Versus or NBC, the NHL continues to suffer from TV ratings that rank on par with the likes of snowboarding, bowling, and the WNBA.  Although the NHL has long been considered a poor TV sport because of the speed of play, this paints a very dim picture in comparison to the other 3 major U.S. sports.  

Another factor is the league's failure to market its star players.  There has been an increased effort in recent years, but today's Stars such as Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby are not on the same level as Mario Lemiuex and Wayne Gretzky when they reached stardom.  Teams are doing a nice job of marketing at the local level, but this is out of necessity to fill seats.  League commissioner Gary Bettman has rightfully received his share of criticism on this issue.   

There are certainly numerous problems to address, but the final one I will discuss is the lengthy regular season.  This could also apply to the NBA, but due to star power of its players, the issue is not as critical.  The playoffs are considred a "second season", which is true both in length and intensity.  Teams currently play 82 regular season games and up to 28 playoff games. 

The playoffs generate considerable more fan interest and the Stanley Cup remains the most prestigious and well-known trophy in sports.  As a devoted hockey fan growing up, I find it hard to tune in for regular season games.  In this blogger's opinion,  the regular season should be reduced by at least 30% to promote the playoff races earlier in the season. 

We all know the chances of that happening are virtually zero due to lost revenue in ticket sales.  However, it is my belief that the sport would benefit in the long run through more lucrative TV contracts and increased fan interest, which would lead to more profits split between teams. 

Whether it's TV, lack of marketing, or scheduling, the NHL has dug itself a hole bigger than the one between Jenna Jamison's legs.  This should be an exciting time for the league.  There is an abundance of extremely talented stars entering their prime.  If they don't figure out a way to grow the fan base and get people interested, nobody will care. 

Category: NHL

Since: Feb 16, 2007
Posted on: January 23, 2009 4:42 pm

Hockey a major sport?

Whiskey jim, I could be wrong but 2 of the 4 things you mentioned i dont agree with.

2) We got cut by ESPN because ESPN played the west coast games at 10pm on the weeknights and for me well I was in highschool so I was getting ready for bed. Rarely was there any games on ESPN that were before 10 but the playoffs were awesome. So since ESPN cut us we had to start somewhere and that is the Versus channel. In my eyes thats a great start. It started as a terrible feed and now it seems to have grown into a great channel. Give it time and let the NHL regrow from the lockout and hope it gets covered on more then VS. NBC takes some at the end of the year for the game of the week and they cover playoffs too (but cut us off for horseracing)

Also the NHL does have its own channel. Its the NHL Network and its channel 215 on my directv. I actually watch it often because its pretty awesome with vintage games and top players of past decades.

3) Revenue sharing. I could have sworn that the NHL did this already. They took revenue that is made from the top teams to help support the lower teams.


Since: Mar 22, 2008
Posted on: January 22, 2009 3:03 pm

Hockey a major sport?

Actually the question is wrong, because of course hockey is a major sport; it will just never displace the top 3 (Football, Baseball, and Basketball) in the USA.  Is it less than it was?  I believe so.  Rather than replying to your points, I'll add some of my own:

1)  Like any other sport, you need to play it to enjoy it.  Since I grew up playing hockey on frozen ponds, that's difficult in Florida.  And don't tell me they can go to a rink.  The price of equipment has skyrocketed and many parents, even in Canada, are opting for soccer.  It's a regional sport and should be viewed that way.  I played hockey and watched some professional leagues in North Carolina.  The ice was so bad I never played again, and the professional games were like watching people skate on glue.  The speed of the game was roughly the same as 12 year olds in Canada; cute but boring.

SOLUTION 1: Reign in the league's proliferation, and reduce the number of teams.

SOLUTION 2: Find a way for kids in southern climes to play on imitation ice on soccer fields, and have the NHL lend its brand name to inexpensive equipment.

2) There are two huge issues with American television coverage; the network AND coverage quality.  First, using a regional channel ain't going to get it done.  Second, and perhaps even more importantly, American hockey coverage is incredibly boring.  Most American announcers couldn't cover a Junior 'A' game in Canada.

SOLUTION: the NHL should start its own channel so they can give it the attention it deserves, and keep some of those sorely needed revenues.  Second, juice up the coverage, especially the color.

3) Revenue sharing.  Something drastic has to be done to help the sport.  They are getting as bad as baseball.

SOLUTION: I suggest they take a lesson from the NFL. 

4) The season is way too long.  You want to watch hockey in June?

SOLUTION: Reduce the number of games.

Most of hockey's issues began when they decided to ignore the fact that hockey is a regional sport.  If they want to fix it, they either need to reduce its footprint, or find a way to make hockey for kids affordable, including equipment and imitation ice on say, soccer fields.

Since: Sep 27, 2006
Posted on: January 22, 2009 1:15 pm

Hockey a major sport?

I see a few reasons why the NHL has never really made it big.

1.  The game is very hard to enjoy on TV.  Either the camera is too far back to see the players or too close to see the play develop.

2.  I think the rinks are too small.  Look at the size of the players and speed at which they skate.  It's just too tight.

3.  Too much grabbing and holding.

Since: Sep 30, 2006
Posted on: January 22, 2009 10:40 am

Hockey a major sport?

Here's just a thought...why? Easy. Minor leagues! Baseball is in just about every small city in America. AAA to the Rookie leagues. football has even more, yes it is called College Ball which most of their monies go into the program. Basketball has high school, this is why they allow players that young to come to the NBA.

Now Hockey. Ok, some small cities have it: Internatiional and ECHL. But, becuase of the costs will never become the small city sport untill a superstar of the states is born. Get the young guys into major commercials like Pele did and watch the sport grow. Catching the NBA as the #3 sport.....Priceless!


Since: Oct 17, 2006
Posted on: January 22, 2009 9:25 am

Hockey a major sport?

i think most of the arguement comes down to what sports we were raised to love as kids. like with me my list is very much influenced by what i loved as a child. and what i was around.heres my list with reasons

1. Football.    i will always be a football geek cause as a kid i played and breathed football. loved the contact of the tackle and loved the rush of adrenaline when i scored a touchdown. now as an adult i spend every august till february eating breathing and living football.

2. NASCAR.   i realize with most people that watching NASCAR is akin to shoving needles thru the eyes. but when you spent your childhood elbows deep in an engine with a future cup driver you would understand. my adopted uncle is Mike Skinner. nuff said

3-5 Basketball, Baseball, Hockey  cant really rank the remaining 3 in any real order cause i love all 3 as much as the next. being a truck driver i listen to various games every night of the week depending on my mood. like right now its hockey and basketball. but if no good game is on then its NFL network and the nightly talk shows on the Super Bowl.

my beliefs are that the region of the world any one person lives in will prob determine what his or her favorite sport is like southeast US is Nascar, europe is soccer, canada is hockey, cuba is baseball, south america is soccer and so forth.

we all have our own lists that we hold dear to our hearts and to rank the sports by just pure money or what is watched is a diservice to anyone who bleeds and cries for their own favorite sports. that said.


Since: Sep 14, 2006
Posted on: January 22, 2009 2:06 am

Hockey a major sport?

As a Canadian, I find it wonderful to find that American sports fans are losing interest in hockey. Outside of a few markets like Boston, Detroit and the state of Minnesota, NHL hockey is not really appreciated by Americans, and that's just fine by me. Why? When the NHL had its' biggest popularityin the U.S.A. (late '80's to mid-'90's), we had escalating salaries, expansion into markets like Florida and California (yay -- the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, a team created to promote a Disney movie), the relocation of two Canadian teams (Quebec and Winnipeg) to Colorado and Phoenix, along with the Bettman pipe-dream of a national TV contract in the U.S., bringing with it blue-glowing pucks with laser tails on FOX. Wonderful.

If the NHL were drop out of the 'big 4' it would be better for the game of hockey. Salaries would decrease, and the players would become more in-touch with the average fan. Let's face it; 98% of hockey players are pretty down-to-earth guys anyway, they get in far less trouble than the other major sports' athletes. Not being multi-millionaires wouldn't hurt them.

If the NHL would accept that the American South is just not interested in hockey and get out of markets like Nashville, Atlanta, Florida, and Phoenix, everyone would be better off. Americans could spend more time watching NASCAR and besketball over the winter, and Canadians (plus a few interested northern U.S. markets) could have a larger pool of players for their teams to choose from, and have more competitive hockey to watch.

As it currently stands, the six Canadian teams account for half of the NHL's revenue, and they make up just one-fifth of the league! Why wouldn't the NHL want to go back into markets like Winnipeg? Plus they could explore another team in Ontario, possibly even a 2nd team in Toronto. Halifax remains a possibility. But no, we hear about Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Las Vegas...

But then, it shouldn't surprise me any of the NHL honchos in New York would want to listen to anybody north of the border. I mean, what would Canadians know about hockey?

Since: Dec 23, 2008
Posted on: January 22, 2009 12:44 am

Hockey a major sport?

wouldnt even consider hockey a major sport as long as poker gets better ratings  !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Since: Jan 20, 2009
Posted on: January 21, 2009 7:44 pm

Hockey a major sport?

Here in Buffalo, hockey is #2, behind the Bills of course.  HSBC arena sells out nearly every game.  Being right on the Canadian border, it hardly seems like hockey is dead.  Most people around here can at least name the goalie or top goal scorer on the Sabres, and jerseys are all over my high school.  However, on the national level, I can understand why hockey suffers.  Like with soccer, most americans are simply too easily bored to appreciate hockey.  To be fair, NBC coverage puts me to sleep.  As for the NHL, I don't think they can do anything about it.  Market as they might try, you cannot buy an engaged fan base for a less than spectacular sport.  I have come to like hockey, but if I wasn't from a success starved city that enjoys watching some sort of team in the playoffs, I would probably resort to basketball during the winter months.  Even now, I hate to admit that I watch more Knicks on MSG than Sabres.  I can't say the NHL is dead, but it will never be very alive, either. 

Since: Nov 3, 2007
Posted on: January 21, 2009 5:40 pm

Hockey a major sport?

Hockey will NEVER pass the NFL, MLB, or NBA. Hockey will stay at #4 or fall lower, but there's no way it'll pass the top 3.

Since: Oct 31, 2006
Posted on: January 21, 2009 5:28 pm

Hockey a major sport?

As a hockey fan, I've never really cared that the sport generally falls to fourth on sports fans' pecking order of interest. Hell, I love the sport to death, but it's only third on my own pecking order. I go NFL, MLB, NHL, with the NBA a distant, distant fourth -- and that's saying something considering I was a high-school b'baller and really love the game.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or