In the early 90's, a young man who would later become a big Blues fan and a scientist (proving not all scientists are smart) started taking an interest in hockey. Hockey seemed to be everywhere at the time. The game was gaining in popularity thanks to great players such as Lemieux and Gretzky. There were movies (yes I know they were the Mighty Ducks movies, but they were popular with kids), and even the EA NHL videogames were must own by even non-hockey fanatics. The league was enjoying a great status as one of the "big 4" sports maybe even cracking the top 3 as basketball's popularity seemed to dwindle.
Then the lockout happened in '94. With hockey gone and basketball stagnant, football dominated and when the NHL started playing again, no one seemed to notice. Problems were further complicated by the introduction of the neutral zone trap, which won games but also slowed them down making them incredibly boring to the outsider (and some die-hards too). The sport tried to generate interest by putting teams in non-traditional markets, but most of those have struggled to bring in the fans they were expected to produce. Then another strike happened and an entire season was lost. The NHL tried to take advantage of the shut down by instituting new rules (and enforcing old ones) to bring about scoring and to try and bring some excitement back into the game. Nowadays hockey is nowhere near the "big 4" in the states (yes Canada we know it is still #1 in your hearts, but bear with me).
There is a silver lining right now. There are a ton of good young players in the league that are starting to bring back the excitement of the NHL. The problem is simple, how do you get people to notice this. One thing the NHL has not improved on in their many years of existence is how to market their game to the general public. Hockey is either seen as soccer on ice (which really should not be an insult, but it is) or as a game filled with goons and constant fights ala Slapshot (the movie was great but may have ruined hockey's image to some).
The question becomes "How do you overcome these preconceived notions and get people to start paying attention?" The answer is relatively simple actually. Pinpoint the things that you can sell to the public, and then market those things to them. I am not talking merely about merchandise, but things that can get people to want to see the product. Below are the things I have identified as unique to hockey and things that can truly generate interest. I would be happy to hear your thoughts on my short list and any other things you may feel belong on there. In the coming weeks, I will go through these things and give my ideas on how you can not only use these things to sell your game, but even how you can build a marketing campaign around them.
1) The Stanley Cup
-lets face it, aside from Olympic medals, this is easily the most recognized and best looking trophy in all of sports. It is evident when you see championships being awarded in other sports (football for certain lately) and they try and mimic the importance of the trophy (and in some cases the ceremony), but it just seems like a cheap imitation to the majesty of the cup.
2) The game itself
-Soccer comparisons aside there is no other game like hockey. You combine grace and brutality and you mix it in with a rabid crowd and you have a wonderful experience.
3) The fans
-speaking of crowds, hockey has some of the most loyal fans in the history of sports. If you live in Edmonton and tell your parents you like the Flames, I am sure some form of grounding or disownment may be in order. This is true in St. Louis with Chicago, Toronto with Montreal, etc, etc, etc. You cannot tell me that if you show the passion of the NHL's fans, that people wouldn't feel left out and want to be a part of hockey.
4) The athletes
-What seems to be the trouble most professional sports have right now? Performance enhancing drugs, egotistical athletes, people putting money first. Now how many of those things apply to hockey? Sure you have a couple bad apples out there, but for the most part hockey players are clean, humble, genuinely likable people. I have seen the Crosby and Ovechkin ads, but there are so many more personalities that can be utilized here.
5) The atmosphere
-This is going to be hard for some teams, but the old school atmosphere did make things more enjoyable. If you can create an experience unique from other sports (in other words no loud music during breaks, let the game sell itself) you may be able to draw in new fans that liked it when sports were about the game.
This is starting to get long so I will stop here, but I welcome your suggestions. Join me next column when I delve into marketing involving the fans (yes I know the cup is listed first, but it will not come into play until later in the year).
Not directed at you Doc, but why do so many in the hockey world have a popularity complex and some unknown drive to "grow" the sport as it compares to other professional sports. Why? Tickets are impossible to get in major hockey cities, players are now making close to $10M per year, for a small pile of money you can watch any game you want, greatest game, greatest athletes, greatest fans, and the absolute best playoff and Championship Trophy in all of sports. I say, let's be greedy and not share any of it with the rest of the dopes out there who have not figured it out. Shhhhhh, let's keep our game quiet. I don't want my tickets prices going up again next year either.
Totally agree with ducksfan07, If anything we should pull the game where it isnt selling and put it where it is who cares if we dont have a team on every corner of the continent, give the fans the game and screw anyone who would rather watch nascar, ufc, golf, ect ,ect...
The problem with the NHL is that it keeps trying to change to lure the casual fan...scoring is down, time for rule changes. Fighting isn't a good PC thing...instigator...Perhaps the best thing is for the NHL to watch NHL network and see a game from 1987 and realize that the product sells itself, so long as the Madison Ave clowns get out of the way. One good idea would be to run NHL commercials in places other than during games. If you have people watching one game, chances are they're already hooked.
good points/but truly been there done that/bettman thinks everyting is fine/until then this will fall on deaf ears/