Dear National Hockey League,
I am writing this letter to express concern over your well-being and to offer a few suggestions. I feel that you are driving a good product into the ground and doing a horrible job with your public relations. Very few people seem to care about the NHL, and even fewer follow it consistently. Many elements of your game should be extremely appealing to a lot of people in today’s society, but for many reasons it isn’t.
First off, let’s address something that you probably can’t control or change anytime soon. Being able to play hockey is, for all intensive purposes, more of a privilege for children rather than an option. You don’t have to look very long at your local sporting goods store to see that hockey equipment is insanely expensive. If you have kids in hockey and have to buy new equipment each year as they outgrow the old equipment, you may be looking at a hefty sum in short time. For many families, this just isn’t an option when you can spend eighty bucks on a pair of Nike’s and have your kid take up basketball. Keeping an ice rink going year round isn’t free either and league fees are also expensive. It’s not your fault here, hockey, but because of the price your exposure, through participation, is low as soon as you leave the gate.
The NHL also has about as much diversity as the Ku Klux Klan, let’s be honest. Only on The Mighty Ducks will you see two black guys on the same team in a hockey game. Sure the NHL has diversity in terms of nationality but its a white league through and through. The other three major sports in the US have more diversity and an overall bigger, more diverse fan base. I’m not saying that people need players from their own race/ethnicity playing in the sport to have interest in it, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Again hockey, I’m describing something that you probably can’t easily fix, but there are some things to do. Promote youth hockey leagues and make them financially possible for less privileged children. Spend some money and run some new promotions targeting a younger, more diverse audience instead of…..wait, do you guys even run commercials??? I’ll check on you at the end of the year, NHL, and when I see Jay Z or somebody rocking an Avalanche jersey, I’ll know you’ve made some efforts.
Moving on to a personal gripe, but one that has some legitimacy. How does Minnesota, the “State of Hockey”, go seven years without a professional team while cities where it doesn’t snow has them? The North Stars leaving Minnesota had plenty of controversy when it happened and it still lingers today (you can still buy North Star gear at sports stores in Minnesota). After some investment group bought the team they demanded a new stadium and when ticket sales fell, they left town (just three years after making the Stanley Cup finals). I remember being at a Gopher men’s basketball game at the hockey arena as chants of “Norm Green sucks!” broke out. Greatness. Anyway, seven years later hockey came back. Considering Minnesota hockey holds the attendance record for high school state sports tournaments (even more attendance than Texas and California football), it was long overdue.
Now, on to some things that are within your grasp to change, or are going good as is. Lets start with the product itself. You have a sport where players move at speeds upwards of 30 miles per hour with reckless abandon for their bodies and the wellness of others. There aren’t too many sports where teeth are considered a luxury item and are easily parted with. In the age of Twitter and instant gratification, you’d think a sport like hockey would be appealing over say, the slow pace of many baseball games. You guys don’t even stop the game to substitute; you can work with this! Plus, people can’t get enough violence and you guys actually let players duke it out (I’m linking what comes on Youtube when you search hockey fights…..enjoy). So, NHL, you have a fast-moving, hard-hitting, fight-allowing sport in your hands….promote that! Big screen TVs and high definition picture has done wonders for your sport, which can be very hard to watch on TV. There is a lot going on all over the ice, so when you have a limited view of the action, it really takes away from the action. How about some standard picture-in-picture broadcasts that have multiple angles at once? Just a thought.
I’d like you to keep in mind soccer for one very important reason. A big gripe about soccer is how low scoring it is. Casual fans don’t appreciate good defense in most cases because it isn’t as visible as good offense. The NBA has modified its rules over time to increase scoring as well. In the NHL, goalies have more padding than the feminine products isle at Wal-Mart. There are small countries who have less protection. The surface area a goalie can cover just standing there is simply too much. Scale it back and more goals will be scored and I think people will appreciate great saves even more.
Take my ramblings for what you will NHL. These are just casual observations from a part-time hockey fan. But remember that I am a sports fan first and for whatever reason, your sport just doesn’t interest me, and I even fit your typical fan demographic (middle class, white, and from Minnesota). I think you have a lot to offer hockey, but even great leagues have to adjust with the times and you are no exception.
Pat Lussenhop – www.thesportsgeeks.com