Whenever you put more than three NHL fans in a room together, unless they’re all of the same team allegiance, there will be a fight within five minutes. This is scientific fact.
Hockey fans argue more than the Real Housewives, and generally over some random obscure statistic or whether or not Martin Brodeur has overstayed his welcome (which he has). Some will say the arguments are as integral to hockey as the on-ice fighting. There’s nothing anyone can do about it, and that’s just how it’s going to be — on and on, with no end.
Except for the Olympics.
Every four years, hockey fans become united under one flag — the one of their nation. The American fans pull for Team USA, the Canadians pull for Team Canada, and so on. While there’s some intense rooting and counter rooting between the Americans and their Canadian co-workers, it never turns ugly, simply because it’s the Olympics.
Of course, someone who already is a hockey fan will drop everything to watch his or her nation compete in the the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, that’s assumed. But what about the folks who have never seen a game in their life and are blissfully clueless that their city actually is home to a professional hockey team?
Flashback to the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics. You know the one — The Miracle On Ice ring any bells? Team USA took down the Soviet Union that was killing everyone and whose guts every god-fearing American hated? People who had no idea ice hockey was even a thing were suddenly chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” and believing in miracles. The excitement of watching the Americans compete in the Olympics was contagious. Most people don’t know that the, “Do you believe in miracles?” broadcast was a tape delay in the U.S. That tape delay drew a 23.9 percent market share of television viewers. The live broadcast of the gold medal game against Finland? 23.2 percent. All just to watch college kids play Finland.
It’s not only the Miracle On Ice. In recent years, Olympic hockey makes reaches into new markets. In 2010, a Sunday broadcast of hockey from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics drew 17 percent of viewers in Austin, TX — a city with no NHL team. When the Olympics are over and those people say “Hey, I’d like to watch some more of this hockey stuff!” where are they going to go? To their televisions, thats where. What league is shown on American television? The NHL — who could use the ratings.
While some argue the risks of injuries and extended mid-season break make the Olympics a moot point, in the end, there is nothing wrong with getting more people to watch televised hockey more often. In fact, since Olympic hockey is without fighting and hard checking is discouraged, the players risk injury more if they were on NHL ice for those two weeks.
With the 2010 Olympics ending in an overtime USA-Canada gold medal game that drew 34.8 million viewers, there’s no way that can be anything but good for the game.