Over half of Canada watched the epic United States-Canada gold medal match this past Sunday. The US rating was just as high, placing only behind the Super Bowl and the BCS Championship games of this year. But just as quickly as the game was played, the hockey hype has dwindled. The smallest of the four major sports in our country, hockey is tough to take root especially in the southern and midwestern states. First off, hockey just isn’t played there. I mean, how many hockey rinks do you know of in Texas or in Mississippi, or even in New Mexico. Second, it’s more of a world sport dominated by the Europeans and the Canadians. Here’s what hockey and the NHL have to do in order to expand and grow the sport.
First, the NHL needs to sign a new television deal. Yes, they are actually on television which is a shock to many I’m sure. But being on Versus automatically excludes all DirecTV customers unless they subscribe to the Center Ice package (or watch on the local Fox/Comcast affiliates. Versus is best known for its coverage on the Tour de France and maybe the PBR. But after ESPN and ABC abandoned the leauge, the NHL has been wandering around like a charity case for someone to pick them up. And don’t get me started on the NBC Sunday game. You might as well put it on MSNBC is they are going to put it up against the NBA double headers as well as Nascar.
The foundation of the sport has to also be cultivated at the junior level. That means more exposure, more rinks, more community teams. But that also goes hand-in-hand with the television contract. Kids are so plugged in to the media whether it be online, Facebook, cell phone, Twitter, etc. The league has to start reaching and building the fan base. That means picking out certain players to market. Yes, in Canada Sidney Crosby is a god. He has always been touted as the next Wayne Gretzky. But if you went to took a poll, I bet not even one-third of the nation would know who Crosby is. Sure he will not be the global icon a Tiger Woods or a Michael Jordan might be, but at least market him a little harder.
There is also speculation that, as of this moment, the NHL will not send NHL players to the 2014 Olympic games in Sochi. So let me get this straight, you just struck cash gold with the Canada-US show down and now you are unsure if you want to send the greatest North American players again? What a joke! Commissioner Bettmann should be on the phone right now booking a charter flight leaving Toronto to Sochi for 100 players.
But give the NHL as well as Versus some credit. While initially they were scheduled to only have a Monday game this past week, because of the high ratings during the Olympics, they have placed more games on national coverage. ESPN is also showing more hockey highlights and even had the top play be a great goalie save. I just hope that this is more than just a small wave of hype. Hopefully this is a snowball that will build over time.
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