It is no secret that the NHL lags behind in popularity in the American sports landscape. Although the league has made strides to enhance its image and heighten its presence, they have yet to reach the ratings standards of the NFL, MLB and NBA.
This gap may be attributed to the dominance of football, baseball and basketball, among other sports, at youth levels. Hockey is an immensely expensive game, as it can cost thousands to play for club teams, even at young ages. Unlike other sports that are easy to join through local leagues and schools, hockey is not easily accessible at lower levels. Playing competitively often requires traveling many hours and miles, while also playing at obscure times.
Naturally, kids who pick up a sport at a young age are more likely to follow the game on TV and in the media. The lack of participation in youth hockey spirals into media and translates to having more adults who end up choosing to watch other sports instead.
Youth involvement though, only tells a small part of the story. The NHL has not particularly aided its media deficit, as they lack opportunities to showcase their stars’ personalities. The media often focuses on baseball’s supposed struggle to market its stars, claiming they do not do enough to take advantage of the exciting personalities they have at their fingertips. But amidst it all, baseball is still being talked about. Hockey is so irrelevant to most sports pundits that they would not even care to wonder why the game takes a backseat.
In terms of sales and brand growth, the NHL has had plenty of success. They recently expanded to Las Vegas and plan to settle in Seattle shortly. New, irregular hockey markets are thriving, while many of the league’s arenas are sold out on a nightly basis. It is mainly the media landscape that the league has failed to penetrate.
The NHL’s biggest names do not boast the same superstar personalities that other leagues do. The game’s best players, Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby, are reserved and solely hockey focused. And although management may enjoy their gentlemanly demeanor, their drama lacking lives don’t play too well as a segment on First Take or SportsCenter.
Sports traditionalists preach the philosophy of letting their game do the talking. But in today’s media driven society, where new content is available to us every second, game play is just not enough. As much as fans love to see the amazing skills of their favorite athletes, they also relish learning about them as people.
Ironically enough, it’s often members of the hockey media that criticize the players that do attempt to take that extra stride to connect with fans. P.K. Subban, who was traded to the New Jersey Devils this offseason, receives frequent disapproval regarding his outgoing nature. Subban consistently posts content on social media, including pictures of him wearing matching bathing suits with his fiancée, Lindsey Vonn. He also often shares videos of his dogs and summer workout routines.
Canadian sportscaster Andrew Walker sarcastically snarked about Subban’s frequent posts, questioning if he was “working hard like the other players.” This sort of mindset is exactly what is hindering the NHL. Subban’s summer updates are content that fans enjoy seeing, and often are refreshing since few other hockey players share as much as he does. It seems people often forget that sports are supposed to be fun.
Last season, another Canadian broadcaster, Don Cherry, dubbed the Hurricanes, “A Bunch of Jerks” because of their unique postgame celebrations. Although Carolina used the phrase to their benefit, the commentary was intended to be insulting. While Cherry believed that the Hurricanes’ antics were unsportsmanlike, in reality it was one of the few things garnering widespread attention in the media for hockey. Displays like Carolina’s bring joy to game and draw eyeballs for the NHL.
Seeing exceptional athletes perform at the highest level is a given in professional sports. While hockey fans are lucky to be able to watch the likes of McDavid and Crosby play, we can certainly pass on their postgame interviews. I can do without the cliches about “Getting pucks in deep” and “taking it one shift at a time.” To see more personal flair throughout the NHL would bring the game the recognition and attention it deserves.
Dylan Barrett is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.