Is NHL’s Growth in the US Being Stunted?

Even with their playoff run, the Coyotes’ future in Phoenix is shaky at best because of one thing: lack of profit. Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

Trying to figure out the fine details of each and every proposal between the NHL and NHLPA seems like it requires a MBA. The bottom line comes down to one important thing: profit. The league has a huge profit, and each side has a different idea on how that profit should be divided.

You would think that with all that profit, hockey would be popular in the United States. We know it is in Canada – tha’s a given. But even with a Stanley Cup-winning team in Los Angeles and league commissioner Gary Bettman talking about his dream of “growing the game”, hockey still isn’t as popular here as its mean stepsiblings, football and basketball. So what’s getting in the way of hockey’s growth in the States?

One word: profit.

At the end of the day, the owners are concerned most with making a ton of money. Some hockey markets are incredibly successful, as in Chicago and Boston, while non-traditional ones such as Phoenix and Columbus are losing money. Losing money is a bad thing, and it makes team owners want to put their teams in markets where they’d make more money. This was the case in Atlanta, where the owners of the Thrashers virtually gave up on promoting the team and sold them to someone in a more profitable market.

Even as those non-traditional markets in Nashville, Carolina and Florida are growing, they still need help because they’re not growing fast enough. The problem is that the successful markets don’t want to help the unsuccessful ones. And so the struggling markets continue to founder.

The lockout isn’t helping with growth, either. If all goes well, we could see a December or January start to the season, but many fans are threatening to boycott the season in spite of it. Yes, the fans will return, but it’ll be slow, and some fans will sit this season out before they come back.

And while kids from non-traditional markets like Texas and California are among the batch of US hockey prospects that are wowing scouts, it’s no indication that hockey is wildly popular in general. As an example, Georgia State University had a fledgling hockey team last season, although it was only a club team. They were full of heart, if not money, but they had to cancel this season due to lack of players. The University of Miami in Florida has a club team as well, but it would be a surprise if they come back next season.

It’s a never-ending cycle: profit begets growth, growth begets profit. If the owners can put aside their seemingly insatiable thirst for money, perhaps “Hockey Day in America” will become another mainstay of U.S. sports culture.