The NHL kicked off its second half this Monday, though you would probably never have noticed because of all the Super Bowl coverage and the non-surprising (but still appalling) lack of NHL coverage on Sportscenter.
Amidst the greatness of the MLB playoffs, the ending of the NBA lockout, the NFL season, college basketball and now the Super Bowl, the NHL has been wrongly overlooked this season, a season that is, arguably, one of the best since the lockout year in 2004.
While the NFL had what I thought was a very below-average season, the NHL has been the complete opposite. Of course teams like Detroit, Vancouver, Boston, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia are all playing well, but teams, such as Nashville, St. Louis, Ottawa, New Jersey, and even Winnipeg, are becoming more and more competitive, creating a sense of insecurity among many of the top teams.
Take the Central Division in the Western Conference as an example. Four of the five teams in the division are in the top six places in the Western Conference, and all are within a game or two of each other. The Eastern Conference has a similar story in the Atlantic Division. Four of the five teams in that division are all currently in a playoff spot.
Inner-division games often have a lot more energy and are usually just better games than teams who don’t play as often, so I am predicting a very hard-fought NHL playoffs, which I am looking forward to.
Despite a 66% increase in sponsorship and advertising revenue in 2010, the 2010 Stanley Cup Final having its largest audience ever, NHL merchandise sales up 22%, and a deal with Comcast/NBC to air more games for the next 10 years, why does it still feel like the NHL is receiving the back-burner?
Hockey should be a lot more popular in the United States. It’s fast-paced, only lasts 2.5 hours(and would be shorter if the ice didn’t have to be re-surfaced between periods), has checking, has legal fighting, and features just as many “top plays” as any other sport. The majority of Americans like all of these things.
The answer to why the NHL isn’t as popular or gets as much as coverage is simple: $$$. The NHL just doesn’t bring in as much money as the NBA, MLB, or the NFL does, but I think this is about to change.
Ratings among popular events such as the All-Star Game, the Winter Classic, and the playoffs are all increasing year after year. These are all going up along with, like I stated before, merchandise and sponsorship revenues. If this trend continues(and there’s nothing to say it won’t), the media and other companies might start investing more in the NHL, increasing exposure and hopefully popularity.
So even though the mainstream media basically ignores the NHL, there’s reason to be optimistic. Sooner or later people will begin to realize what they’re missing.