I recently posted a blog about the all star game and I wrote the following paragraph:
"The All Star game is meant to show case the NHL's best, even if they weren't named to the first team most will still be there but when they play a meaningless game in an uninspired way it doesn't showcase anything to an American Audience that is, in all honesty, already uncaring."
I was told I was trashing americans and that I was comparable to a racist for that. I'll let you decide. But since the worms are out of the can here is my take. It is simply that although there are some caring American fans the vast majority of that country could care less about hockey. It seems obvious and plain and I am not condemning them for it or judging, it is just a fact.
NHL used to be broadcast nationaly in the United States, ESPN, NBC, ABC, FOX... all carried at one time or another hockey. They all dropped it eventually due to low ratings, I've heard that Gary Bettman is the reason for this. First of all he didn't make millions of people not watch hockey, he simply would not PAY ESPN to run games. NBC still carries games that are broadcast mainly in the afternoon and do a terrific job in my opinion however what does that tell you? That they believe the NHL can compete against the nothing it running against, it certainly is not in prime time.
I was just in the United States (and had a terrific time by the way), during my stop in Seattle I decided i'd stop by the magazine shop and buy a hockey news. I found a sports illustrated with a hockey section in it but that's it, I found 4 gun magazines, a football, basketball, soldier, boating and tennis magazine but no hockey news... if you don't belive me take a trip! The reason they don't sell that magazine there? It wouldn't sell.
So while I know everyone who reads this is an American hockey fan just due to the site you are on when you step out of your homes, go to your jobs and talk around the water cooler in say... Kansas City... are they talking about the all star game and who got voted? Or are they talking about the Cheifs? or Royals? maybe that's not fair because there is no NHL team, lets take Pittsburg, are they talking about Big Ben's concussion and the steelers or the penguins losing streak and apparent locker room mutiny? Ney York, the giants,or yankees? Or maybe the rangers? Maybe?
If you want your answer go to ESPN and see where the NHL ranks on it's links or turn on your TV and watch the local sports, the vast majority don't care. Again this isn't being critical, I think all of you hockey fans down south of us are awesome and do everything we do and care as much as we do. I was just stating fact, you can go ahead and say we don't care about baseball I won't take it personally.
Your comments on the general American public are correct. It's a shame for us hockey fans. We all know hockey has the fewest numbers of fans, but they are more hardcore than the fans of any other sport. It's a damn shame. Greatest game on earth and ESPN could care less. Going to Versus was a mistake (Bettman money grab) that has hurt the growth of the game. Believe it or not, so have the Sun Belt teams (minus Dallas, San Jose, and Anaheim). They are dragging the rest of the teams down with them, and it's not fair to the fans. When you add it all up, I blame nobody but Gary Bettman.... and a bit of blame goes to ESPN. But we could be on ESPN if Bettman wanted it that way.
It is disappointing that there are not as many American fans since we all know how great this sport is. Although I do have to say that in Buffalo the Sabres are talked about probably as much as the Bills are. We have a great hockey area here and I love that I can go pretty much anywhere near Buffalo and can find an intelligent hockey fan to talk to. If you are a hockey fan living in the US this is probably one of the best cities to be in.
Ask yourself how Canadians feel about football.
CFL or NFL Pens871?
While your idea of American fans is probably true, you have to understand that there is still a growing number who are begining to show interest in the game we love. But you also must understand that the fans on this site are all just as die hard about their favorite team as you are about yours. Areas like Minnesotta, Michigan, New York and New England have very good passionate hockey people.
Pens871, actually... all of my friends are huge NFL fans! I'm a titans fans and have been for four years (no bandwagon here), my best friend is a 10 year colts fan ect. (we have some pretty good afc bets on right now since his team is out) so us candians love us some football too! It's actually Nascar that I shake my head at, I get basketball and baseball even though I don't really like them but turning left for two hours? Anyway that's another blog i guess...csulliven... I couldn't be happier to hear it man!! I need me some hockey magazines in the States!!
I live in Pittsburgh, and i am an American. I picked Calgary as my team because i could not stand the pens fans. Fair weather fans, or like you said the Steelers are still number one here. I love hockey and truthfully i would move to Calgary to watch the flames every home game. It is sad that that hockey is barely played on tv here in the U.S.. I would like to see a few different teams play but you have to pay extra to get the nhl, which i do, but most U.S. fans don't. Really all that i am trying to say is the NHL needs to do something to bring more hockey into the U.S., and let people watch more than just the home team, i have to watch every stupid football game and i can't even see the local flyers play. Go flames
Unfortunately, (until HDTV gets better entrenched) hockey does not translate well to TV. Add to that an audience that wasn't brought up on the game and you'll see why it isn't as popular down here. It isn't anti-American, it's just a fact. When the best way you can see a game is by being there in person, your audience is going to be smaller. Hockey is too fast of a sport to cover on standard-def TV's. Although, being a Ducks season ticket holder I've had the experience of introducing a lot of people to a live hockey game and all of them have left with a better impression of the sport and the speed and skill it takes to play in the NHL. So there is hope.
I agree with Duxcup in the regard of Americans not being brought up on the game, and think that until this is overcome, it will be difficult for hockey to truly achieve status equal to any of the three other major pro sports in America. The lack of public programs like Little League, Pee Wee Football, and rec league basketball, and facilities available for them to use, make it hard to engrain the love of hockey from an early age. Even though I live in the northeast, it's not possible to make a rink in my yard, and until there was a rink built within a reasonable travel distance from my house, the only exposure my children had to hockey was through TV and then roller hockey because there is a roller rink nearby that has house leagues. I'd equate hockey in the US probably about on the level of basketball in Canada. People know it exists and will watch it if there's a "name" player involved, but I doubt that basketball ratings in Canada are any better than hockey in the US. I do know that some of the Owners in the US realize this, specifically I'm familiar with the program Ed Snyder started in Philadelphia to provide equipment and ice time to inner city children to introduce them to the game. If the NHL, ESPN, Versus or any other entity interested in seeing the game flourish in the US decides to make the somewhat long term investment in providing the opportunity for more children to play the game, the game will grow rapidly.
The basic fact is that there are probably as many hockey fans in the U. S. as in Canada but the U.S. is 10 times larger in population and competes with three other major sports plus all the collegiate programs so of course the ratio of viewers is smaller for the networks. I also agree about the fact that only a limited portion of the country has any level of access to the development programs as mentioned in some comments. Maybe regional coverages for the networks are the answer until a national audience can sustain the network's requirements . We have more than enough regional viewers for the networks to show games in certain areas and still get the viewer numbers to support broadcasts and it's doubtful that national audiences could support the telecastss anytime soon. Maybe, an ESPN regional with a choice of broadcast option is the answer for the NHL.
You are correct in a general sense. But thinking about it, who cares? Those Americans that love the game, get to watch as many games as they like. Between NHL Network, VS, and the local Kings and Ducks games, I can see all I have time for and still miss plenty. The other side is how difficult do you want it to be to get an actual ticket to a game. 50 year waiting list or $300 at the gate? No thanks. I prefer a smaller pool of fans who REALLY love the game more than an overhyped, overpaying crowd. The NHL is profitable, the owners are profitable, the players make a good to great living, and the real fans get to see plenty of games live or on TV. Let's leave it there. If the NHL turns into the NFL, NBA, or even MLB, my interest will certainly diminish as many facets of the game will be tarnished and not as enjoyable. A special sports is best keeping it's special niche.
Lets take a look at ESPN for a second. Pierre LeBrun now blogs for them, Barry Melrose was rehired, and they have many more staff writers. John Buccigross for example has a mailbag that has a cult following. All this to say that ESPN is not cutting down on its coverage of the NHL, but expanding it. That said, it is only a matter of time before they are looking to have games on TV again. If they cover games, they don't have to pay for the highlights. Did any of you catch the Winter Classic's ratings? Up by 12% from last year. It was a 6 share, not too shabby for a day that was considered a Holy Grail for Bowl games.I coach in a Rec League hockey program. We have two ice arenas for our kids to play at. The sport is growing, adults of kids who love the game are now showing up for Mens Drop In Hockey whether they can skate or not. They have fallen in love with the game.Don't take what I am saying as me thinking with the glass simply half full. There is a SO MUCH MORE WORK to be done if we want to see this sport grow. We need more coaches who have played the game. We need more schools to want Hockey as a school sport. We need more ice time at an affordable rate. These are the grass roots plans that will make the sport grow to a level that people will enjoy.
In response to sreekers, hockey will never become popular in high schools or municipal leagues for one reason: money. Between ice time (if it's even available), insurance, and equipment, it costs probably 5 times more than any other sport at the minimum. Many families can't afford ice time, let alone the $800 it costs to outfit a kid in equipment and the incidental costs (sticks, tape, skate sharpenings) that aren't needed in basketball or soccer. We tried to get my high school to sponsor the (club) hockey team while I was playing... we succeeded, sort of. They gave us like $2000 (about what they spend on other sports) but that paid for the cost of registering the team with USA Hockey (insurance) and a few hours of ice time. Between ice time (4-5 hours a week including games) and uniforms, each player was still on the hook for about $700.... and that was only for the high school team, not the travel teams that most of us played for also.
I live in Delaware and am a Flyers fan. I know it's a small state but a lot of people here do watch hockey. There's actually 2 ice rinks within 5 minutes of my house. The Pond and University of Delaware. I work in a car sales building and everyday i meet someone new that watches hockey. A lot of people here travel all the time to different states to watch the games. I sit next to a Red Wings (ew) fan and we argue everyday haha. I think Comcast SportsNet does an awesome job with hockey, they replay games all the time and have multiple teams on. I dislike Versus' because the announcers always get the players names wrong, no matter what team. And Philly fans are some of the most die hard fans, ftball-baseball-hockey, in the country. I honestly think that hockey is growing around the US, of course more in some states than others.
All of you guys have left really insightful comments, thank you. I agree with the local coverage, it doesn't need to be national! There's a program here to start building "box rinks" basically just four walls and a couple of change rooms and a couple rinks just to provide cheap ice time. It's a great program. As far as competing leagues...yes they are there but we also get all of that coverage, and I'd say basketball is the least popular along with college anything, baseball and then football. Football (NFL) is quite popular here. I wasn't aware of the winter classic ratings but having maybe two of the greatest hockey cities involved is what the NHL needs and should keep doing! Thanks guys!
More grassroots programs are needed in non-traditional hockey mkts of the US for the sport to truely expand to challege the Top 3. Look @ the US WJ team. They have a few kids from LA, which came from the Gretzky trade and the introduction of Ducks, Sharks. Is Nashville, Atlanta, Tampa, Florida, Phoenix big in community starting programs and building rinks?
Since the Predators came to Nashville hockey has experienced the greatest growth out of all the major sports. There is now a state-wide tournament at the high school level with teams from Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis playing in the tournament. This was impossible 10 years ago. Last year Nashville had the 5th highest viewer rating for the Stanley Cup Finals. That's 5th in the country. So those of you who think that expansion into non-traditional areas hurts the sport, I beg to differ. There are more people who enjoy hockey now than ever did before and given the time it will only get better.