What the NHL Could Learn from the Other Leagues
Learning from one another is something that every person is taught the importance of from the early ages of being a toddler. Unfortunately like many lessons that were given to us at those preschool ages we often times forget as we grow older and learn new ones through this difficult journey of life. We shouldn’t however forget the lesson of learning from one another because it is one that will undoubtedly help us grow as individuals and as an entire group of people known as the human race and the four major American professional sports leagues are no different.
Over a four day span I will attempt to instill some valuable lessons into the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL on what they can learn from the inner workings of one another which will enable them all to grow individually and collectively as the major powers of American professional sports. First up was the almighty NFL, next up to the plate was the MLB, then came the NBA now it’s the NHL’s turn to learn and we all know they definitely need to.
The NHL could learn plenty of things from the NFL after all in this situation you have the alpha-dog versus the zeta-cat so-to speak. The one aspect that I would like to focus on here is producing an improved television schedule. Question; how many casual hockey fans know when the NHL’s primetime game of the week airs? Or how about; how many games actually air on national television during a week or a season? One of the reasons why the NHL is so invisible to the casual fan is because it is invisible. It’s never seen unless via highlights on Sportscenter or some form of compilation show. The NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) has the contract for airing most of the NHL’s games (NBC airs the game of the week) but how many viewers actually watch this channel; not many.
When the NHL and ESPN parted ways at the conclusion of the 2003-04 season, the NHL seemed to disappear from television and their coverage hasn’t been the same since then. Now look at the NFL it is clearly the most visible sport because it is the most visible sport on television. There are games played on three days/nights of the week (Thursday, Sunday and Monday) on five different networks (NFL Network, CBS, FOX, NBC and ESPN); the epitome of over-saturating an inelastic product successfully. It will obviously take the NHL a while before that many networks will offer to air their games but you have to have more than just one option which essentially the NHL does with NBC. If hockey can get another network that’s willing to air their games on maybe Friday Night or even Tuesday, a night that isn’t dominated by another league then things can change as far as more games being seen.
Now it’s time for the NHL to learn a lesson from the MLB which is to improve on the in-game experience when attending a game. Going to any live sporting event is a remarkable and exhilarating experience however there is nothing quite like going to a Major League Baseball game. It’s fun for the entire family; from the food and beverages to the souvenir stands it’s quite something. Now I’m not stating that going to an NHL game lacks food or jerseys but it’s in no shape form or fashion the same. Maybe it’s the whole indoor versus outdoor experience but the NHL has to figure something out.
As of matter fact now that I think about it, that’s exactly what it is. Have you ever noticed the one regular season game that the entire sports world gets excited about is the Winter Classic? Why is that? That’s an easy question to answer, because they are always outdoors whether in a football or baseball stadium. Now obviously you can’t move all 82 games of the season outdoors, but why not allow each team to have 10 of their 41 home games in an outdoor stadium in or near the home city. The Winter Classic has been a huge success since its inception in 2008; why not build on that success? This would make the entire experience of going to an NHL game similar to that of going to an MLB one. It would also help with more networks wanting to pickup games on the stations which would coincide perfectly with lesson one from the NFL.
The NHL could learn how to globalize their game from the NBA; no league does a better job than the Association when it comes to that. Currently besides Canada, certain parts of the U.S. and Europe there aren’t many places throughout the world that has any type of passion for the game of hockey. Now grant it some of that has to do with climate but there can always be ice inside of indoor arenas that won’t melt. The NBA has made basketball popular in numerous countries where it wasn’t just 20 years ago. Look at the huge amount of growth in popularity in Europe, South America and Asia that basketball has experienced. With that growth overseas it has not only allowed the NBA to become a much bigger and popular global brand but it has also produced players from the nations to come to America and compete within the NBA which then makes the game and league even more popular in other lands.
Think of the possibilities if the NHL can become popular in places such as Africa, Australia or anywhere else you could imagine. The league would be reaching more viewers, thus more ratings which would lead to more money and prosperity. Along with the instant tangibles there would also be more children growing up and playing the sport which would then lead to more cultures one day playing in the NHL. That there would then produce more money and popularity for the league similar to the NBA.
I hope Gary Bettman and the NHL powers that be have taken some notes because your league needs more assistance than any other professional sports group besides boxing. Oh yeah another thing quit with all the damn work stoppages, I don’t think that would hurt either.