Will the NHL Ever Be Big in the US?

[Editor’s Note: The views in this post are those of the Author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Publisher.]

 

A couple of nights ago, I had the opportunity to watch high profile soccer clubs, Manchester United and Inter Milan, play at Fedex Field in Washington D.C. As the United States begins to welcome the notion of soccer being a big time sport, obstacles still arise. Entertainment is the key to sports, but what I saw between Manchester United and Inter Milan was offensive attacking problems — when a game ends 0-0, and has anti-climatic penalty kicks, people begin to lose focus on the game.

As the NHL is trying to gain more national attention, are they loosing focus on some key elements that US fans crave?

Americans Loves Offense

What do Americans love when it comes to sports? High scoring games. That’s what makes football — of the high school, college, and professional variety — a sensation in the United States. The more points scored, the more attention paid to the game. Games that are high scoring shootouts keep the fans invested into the game, while low-scoring games invite fans to flip the channel, or if they are in attendance, to visit the concessions.

It’s not hockey’s fault that a goal is only worth one point. The issue comes when games end 0-1. It’s hard to keep people focused on a sporting event that lacks offensive prowess and scoring.

A solution to more scoring would be to eliminate the offsides. When play stops, it’s an additional 30 seconds of a person’s life wasted away. By taking away the offside calls, the game becomes more fluid, and will create more scoring chances. Yes, goals allowed averages will probably inflate like a balloon, but it’s only collateral damage taken for the sake of creating a more pro-offense league — that would attract more fans.

 Keeping Interest Over the Long Haul

boston vs washington 2012 playoffs
Attendances numbers are up, but what about the people who aren’t at the game? (Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE)

The serial position effect is a psychology term used for knowing the beginning and ending of a list, but not the middle. This can also be attributed to the hockey regular season. People love the fanfare of the beginning of the year, and the chase for the postseason, but interest gets lost around the midway point.

Attendance isn’t the big issue; 13 of the 30 teams had an average home attendance of 100% or greater for the 2013-2014 season — while 23 teams had at least 90% attendance for home games.

Right now, the NHL broadcasts a selection of weekend games on NBC. That’s great, but the footprint needs to be increased for a wider audience. If the NHL could have a Wednesday night game nationally televised in the months of January and February, more people in America might get hooked on hockey. If people begin to really watch hockey in the midseason, then interest would develop at the All-Star break and carry into the postseason. The NHL could gain a few more followers, and completely hook them with the always-dramatic Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fight Night On Ice

(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
Fights are (and will always be) part of the NHL. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

The interest in hockey games for some people comes from the chance at witnessing a fight break out during the game. The argument of late has been that fighting should be eliminated from the sport all together. Even though eliminating fighting would make the sport less violent, it wouldn’t help in terms of making hockey more attractive to the typical sports fan.

What generally makes it onto ESPN or any sports show? Fantastic goals and fights. Take away the fights, and all you have are the goals — which barely get any airtime as it is. Fights are just part of the game, and the culture that hockey brought.

The physicality is what attracts people to the game. The toughest of the tough play hockey. Fights will need to stay in the game if hockey wants to reach a wider audience.

 

These are just some of the things the NHL can do to make hockey a big sport in the US — and become rival to America’s game: football.