Stop me if you’ve heard this before: one of the four major sports in the United States is on the verge of a lockout.
Yes, if a deal is not made before September 15, the NHL – like the NFL and NBA did in 2011 – will lock out its players.
Except this time around, nobody besides the die-hard hockey fans actually seem to care. And in the case that a lockout does occur (which is very likely), the only hockey fans left will be the die-hards.
Because the casual fan will most likely have completely given up on hockey entirely. Would you want to watch a sport that has consistently been the least popular “major” sport in America, and is about to head into its second lockout in the past decade?
Perhaps the most blatant example of this has been in the media, particularly a television network named ESPN.
When’s the last time that hockey has been the top story on Sportscenter? When’s the last time ESPN showed a complete, in-depth highlight package of NHL games, like they usually do with the MLB, NBA, and NFL? In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, ESPN spend more airtime previewing the upcoming NFL season in June than the Stanley Cup Finals, when football was more than two months away.
In an interview with ESPN’s Vice President Vince Doria, he explained why “the worldwide leader in sports” treats hockey like an estranged family member, as well as why hockey is not as popular as other sports:
It’s a sport that engenders a very passionate local following. If you’re a Blackhawks fan in Chicago, you’re a hardcore fan. But it doesn’t translate to television, and where it really doesn’t transfer much to is a national discussion, which is something that typifies what we do.
Baseball fans are interested where Albert Pujols is going. NBA fans are interested in the Miami Heat. For whatever reason, and this is my unsubstantiated research on it, hockey doesn’t generate that same kind of interest nationwide. You look at national talk shows. Hockey rarely is a topic. People in Boston aren’t that interested with what’s going on with the Blackhawks.
Even as one of those “die hard” hockey fans, I have to agree with his statement. Why?
Hockey doesn’t transfer much to a national discussion: Face it, it just doesn’t.
I’ll give you a primary example: I live in the Bay Area, home to several sports teams which include the San Jose Sharks. Even in the middle of the NHL season, I rarely hear the local radio talk shows discuss the Sharks (and if they do, it’s usually just a quick note of when their next game is).
The bias towards other sports in the Bay Area is even more prevalent when you take a look at which radio stations air which sports teams. The San Francisco 49ers (NFL), Golden State Warriors (NBA), and San Francisco Giants (MLB) have their games on KNBR 680, the leader in sportstalk in its region. The Oakland Athletics (MLB) are on 95.7 The Game, who are KNBR’s biggest competitors.
The Sharks? Well, they’re left with nothing but garbage scraps. San Jose Sharks’ hockey airs on 98.5 KFOX, a Classic Rock music station that has no sports-related shows at all.
It’s not the like the Sharks are so bad that no one wants to talk about them. They’ve made the playoffs 15 of their 20 years of existence, and they consistently sell out games.
But why does no one in the media seem to care?
People in Boston aren’t that interested with what’s going on with the Blackhawks. If you’re a Bruins’ fan, you most likely have less interest in the Blackhawks than a Celtics’ fan would have in the Bulls. Or put it this way: a sports fan in Boston would probably be more intrigued by Derrick Rose than Jonathon Toews.
I can give you more examples. Baseball fans everywhere seemed interested in where Albert Pujols signed this off-season, and NBA fans can say the same about the LeBron James saga of two years ago.
Did anyone (outside of the teams involved) in mainstream U.S. media show any hint of intrigue about where Rick Nash was traded? How about the Zack Parise and Ryan Suter signings? Or all the Shane Doan “drama” (if you can even call if that) which is now reaching its apex?
Which is why I beg to ask the question: will the media completely give up on the sport of hockey if there is indeed a lockout? It is even possible for leading sports stations to cover even less of the NHL than they already do?
Hockey fans, I want to hear what you have to say. Let your opinions loose below.
Eric is a journalism student at the University of Southern California and a sports editor at the Daily Trojan. He grew up in the Bay Area and has followed the Sharks since a young age. He served as a beat writer on the team for SFBay.ca during the 2014-2015 season. Previously, Eric has worked at FanSided and Bleacher Report.