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The NHL Needs Some Help

June 7, 2012

Hockey

If a team wins a cup in LA and no one is around to watch it, did it really happen?

The Los Angeles Kings are on the verge of capturing their first ever Stanley Cup. While hockey fans around the North American continent (possibly including Mexico, good excuse for some tequilla) are salivating over the rags to riches story of the Kings, those in positions of power around the NHL are probably crying themselves to sleep.

Before I continue any further, I need to make something completely clear.  I love everything about the sport of hockey. I played it, follow the Red Wings and watch Hockey Night in Canada as if my life depended on it.  Hockey has essentially been my backup religion since I was born.

The LA Kings are by no stretch of the imagination undeserving of the Stanley Cup. If you were looking for the model team to win the Stanley Cup, pretty much found it.

Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick, and Brown are all home-grown studs. The trades for young, talented forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were absolutely genius. Adding a Justin Williams as a role-player who has won a Stanley Cup and can contribute with more than just points was a great idea.

The mark of a great organization is sending a defenseman of Jack Johnson’s caliber WITH a first round pick to grab Carter with full belief in the organizational depth to overcome…..and actually be right.

They caught fire at the right time, snuck into the playoffs, and have dominated everyone who has stood in their way.  They are an unbelievable story and deserve every bit of recognition that they are getting.

(Yes, I feel confident enough writing this story before the Kings actually beat the Devils. If you watch the games for a single period, it is not hard to tell that LA is just the better team.)

With that being said, the LA Kings being on the verge the Stanley Cup may set the NHL back farther than it will progress it.

As big teams started falling, you could almost feel the despair around the NHL offices hundreds of miles away. When both the Phoenix Coyotes and Kings advanced to the Western Conference finals, you could almost tell the NHL was praying to the high heavens that the New York Rangers could just take care of business.  All the NHL needed was one marquee team from a “hockey-crazy” market to get the average fan to tune in.

Well, that just didn’t happen.

LA Kings v. New Jersey Devils. MMMM let us lather in that butter for a moment.

Think about this for a second; average sports fan flipping through the channels, NBA is having an off-day, baseball doesn’t really matter right now, so he/she decides to flip on some NHL.

What sounds like something they would actually watch?

LA Kings v. New York Rangers – “An original 6 team featuring a ton of stars battling a team that probably shouldn’t be there. Hey cool its an underdog story, go Kings.  Ok I can watch a period or two of this.”

LA Kings v. New Jersey Devils – “ummm didn’t the Devils suck last year and who the hell plays for the Kings? Can’t say this  is going to make me watch.”

The sad reality of sports is few people care about the Devils and I am not sure everyone in California is aware that there are multiple hockey teams there. If they know that much, probably don’t understand which ones are which.

When a news station can’t get a logo right, you know that no one cares

If a small-market team (in the NHL landscape, I consider LA small-market) wins a Cup one of two things happen.

1) The fans of that city rally around that team. What was once thought to be a nonexistent hockey market actually allows the sport to thrive.  Example- Carolina Hurricanes, “Caniacs”

2) Not a damn thing. They win the cup and the fans pay attention to another sport.  Example – Anaheim Ducks.

In case anyone forgot, Anaheim and LA are both in California.

Nothing is going to change in LA. People have other pro teams to watch in the Clippers, Lakers, Angels, Galaxy and USC football.

Well at least LA is getting a little exposure right. HA HA no.

The game 4 TV rating dropped a remarkable 24% from last year’s Canucks v. Bruins series. Not only does no one in LA care, the nation doesn’t seem to be responding.

The reason for the down TV rating is simple.

People don’t want to watch these two teams.

While the argument could be made that the success of small market teams is positive for the NHL, the Kings are not the ideal team to breakout.

Crossing sports for a second, take a look at the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Small market yes, but laden with star power. Not only that but they have a cult following. People in OKC will watch them because that is all they have until college football starts, people around the nation will watch because Durant and Westbrook are electrifying.

Ever since the lockout, the NHL has struggled with lesser-known teams being marketed on a nationwide scale.

They can escape this conundrum if they are laden with star power (like the Capitals for example) or a smaller-market but hockey-starved area (Wild).

If you play in the South on a good, scrappy team with a bunch of Russian guys sports fans have never heard of, your name isn’t going to come up that often.

Do yourself a favor, watch SportsCenter on a random night during the regular season. I can guaransheed these will be the only teams mentioned. Flyers, Wings, Rangers, Canucks, Rangers, Bruins, Penguins, Montreal and on slow day the Capitals.

There is a reason; those cities are major hockey markets.

The Kings and the Devils are not on that list. Brodeur is one of the greatest goalies of all time but he and Ilya Kovalchuk may be the only household names in the entire series. Neither are major markets.

Little star-power + small market = time to turn on America’s Got Talent.

The NHL can try to pimp out LA as suddenly becoming hockey crazed, but it is just a blatant lie.

There are no octopi on the ice, no random men dressed in blue humping a penalty box, no utter hatred for anyone.

The best LA can do is chant “Martyyyyyyy, Martyyyyyyy.”

While I am ever so marveled at their creativity, that is weak sauce.

The NHL playoffs are great, it takes heart and soul to advance as far as the Kings have.

Admittedly I have watched every minute of the Finals, I am a die hard. Die hards love this series and see nothing wrong.  There are a ton of people rooting for the Kings because of the rags to riches story.

They are by no stretch of the imagination fans, which in the end is what is needed. The guys you see in the stands at LA Kings game aren’t either, they are just enjoying the ride. Actually, you probably have to be on the bandwagon for longer than a series to enjoy the ride.

This is pretty much the NHL in a nutshell.

What should be a great story, turns out to be worst thing that could happen.

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11 Comments on “The NHL Needs Some Help”

  1. bob vance Says:

    I suggest next time doing some more reading with that same article you used rather than just looking at what you need. You use this whole article to rip on Kings fans, BUT, the LA area drew a 6.6 rating for game 4, their highest in the series, probably the highest market in the country for game 4, and the NBC Sports Network was #1 in the LA market during the game. Meanwhile, the NY area which is where Jersey is playing, ratings are falling hard, with only a 2.9 for game 4.

    But don’t worry! Keep thinking that it’s LA’s fault the ratings are down! Also, you’re saying they aren’t fans? They sold out every home game the past 2 years, and during the playoffs are well above 100% capacity. I suggest you stop taking pot shots at fan bases.

    Reply

    • erat77 Says:

      So essentially what you are saying is a major television market actually tuned in to watch their local team possibly WIN A MAJOR CHAMPIONSHIP on a day when the Clippers, Lakers, etc… were all off and the only competing NBA game was essentially done early. I would HOPE that LA would be number 1. If any team were in the Stanley Cup, the exact same thing would happen in their city. And people in New York do not give a single care about New Jersey, they have the Rangers, Sabres and there may be an occasional Islanders fan.

      Yes they sold out games and have had increasing attendance. http://kings.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=626109. There are your numbers that prove that attendance that is going up. They have not sold out every game in the past few years, but had a nice streak going this season. However, the Kings were awful a few years ago. People don’t pay to watch an awful team, which is why Tigers tickets will be .99$ on stubhub soon. If your team suddenly, idk, makes the playoffs two years in a row then yea numbers will go up.
      Maybe the Kings will grow a small following, it could happen. I just believe LA has too much going on to actually support this team with full commitment.
      My main point is that if the NHL is going to continue to grow, the Kings are not exactly the team that is going to lead the charge.

      Reply

  2. Stefan Jagot Says:

    Well to be fair to the NBA that was an external event, not one sponsored by the league.

    Reply

  3. Aaron Rice Says:

    I’d much rather watch a sport where the players “lack personality” than watch a sport that has it’s #1 player hold an hour long special to inform everyone that he is “taking his talents to South Beach.” Also, ratings are lower because yes, the NHL does not have a contract with ESPN. ESPN refuses to air NHL highlights/coverage on purpose for this reason. Finally, there are many NHL players that have big personalities. They just don’t get marketed in the U.S. because they are typically foreign or Canadian. Many of the Canadian NHL players do marketing in Canada.

    Reply

  4. Stefan Jagot Says:

    Hockey players have no personality outside of the game, the only player who has made huge headlines besides Crosby and Ovechkin over the past years is Sean Avery. Who was in the media spotlight because of his outlandish personality. I think hockey fans need to come to grips that their players are just not as marketable as the athletes in other sports.

    Reply

  5. greg fehlinger Says:

    I do not think having the Kings win is a bad thing. Anyone who follows hockey knows they have very good players who under achieved years past. As for the devils the same could be said about them. A team with talent who only showed up the last part of the season last year. I will admit the finals have not been as exciting to watch as years past, but it is only one year.

    The nhl is not under contract with ESPN. I feel this has a lot to do with the ratings. This also effects someone’s interest. It is easy to turn on the tv and see anything other than the nhl. It is poorly covered. Fans have lost some interest since the lockout. It is probably a slowly dying sport. Detroit has had a great team for decades so we have that tradition. Where as other teams are in bad locations and have never been anything special.

    I’m glad it is not crosby hoisting the cup. It goes to show an underdog team that plays well together can get it done. I’drather see something new than something old. Look at the nba. 10/13 last championships were won by either the lakers, spurs, or mavericks. All the same top caliber teams make it. Same old same old. Besides the thunder who some picked to win, every team in the playoffs could have been picked before the season started. You watch an entire year just to see the top teams play the top teams. I’m glad the nhl has an 8 seed in the finals. That is awesome. Sure seeing the rangers over the devils may have lead to a closer series but in all reality hockey fans love hockey. You like certain players on certain teams, respect other organizations, and root for who you like. A true hockey fan loves this series. I love hockey so I watch. Sidenote, if you do not know a player on either team, then you probably no nothing about the nhl. Maybe if Justin brown was shoved down your throat like lebron, the world would know him. Hockey doesn’t get great advertising. However, I still love the game.

    Reply

    • erat77 Says:

      Thats the NHLs problem though, not neccesarily just the Kings. I could not give you three players around the NHL who have any personality. I would bet my entire life savings that there are some great flavorful guys in those locker rooms.
      I know that Osgood, Draper, Holmstrom, Jesus, and Datsyuk are funny guys because the Detroit media gives them life.
      The NHL has essentially bombed away at losing a casual fan on a national scale.
      Some small market teams are good for the NHL, not all. I commented on another post about Nashville being a perfect example. In the same way that OKC has nothing going on outside of OU football, Nashville has nothing but country music past January. There is just too much going on in LA to make a significant impact.

      Reply

  6. Aaron Rice Says:

    I do agree with you that the NHL does benefit from having big-market teams playing in the Finals. That’s pretty obvious. Large fan bases = ratings. However, I think it is great that the Kings are in the Finals. This could be one of the best times for the Kings to become relevant in their own city. The Lakers struggled and the Clippers are on the verge of becoming the biggest thing in that city, but they aren’t playing anymore. If/when the Kings win the Cup, even if people who aren’t fans take notice and pay attention, that is a win for the NHL. The parity in the NHL is at an all-time high and better teams in lesser “hockey markets” is what the NHL needs to break through and become a more relevant professional sports league. Fans like seeing teams win. I could be completely wrong, but if the Kings win the Cup and continue to play at a high level (advancing in the playoffs but not necessarily winning the Cup) then I believe you will see a fan base grow in LA unlike the case of Anaheim. I enjoyed the article and see your point, but I will take lower ratings if it means that the sport has a potential to grow in a large market like LA.

    Reply

    • erat77 Says:

      The reason I believe that nothing will really happen if LA wins is really two-fold.
      1) People have no connection to hockey outside of the Kings. Kids grow up wanting to be on the Lakers, Clippers or to play for USC. I have to believe that is just the mentality there.
      2) The attention is great and I love the smaller-market teams breaking out, but the Kings are essentially a dead end. Say if a team like Nashville wins the cup, I could see the fans embracing that team in an almost cult-like way. Face it, Titans are normally done in December and fans want to support a local team. LA just has way too much going on for the Kings to have a chance.

      Reply

  7. Andrew Clements Says:

    to comment on your TV ratings remark…the fact that game 3 and 4 are on stupid NBC Sports network while 1 and 2 are on national televised NBC have a thing to do with it. Almost everyone can turn on their TV and watch NBC, but I’m sure more than half the country can’t watch NBCSN. At Saginaw Valley, in my apartments, I only receive 49 channels and NBCSN is not one of them. This is forcing me to go out and try to find a bar/restaurant that has it on so that I can watch. What about countrymen Zach Parise as a household name? He also helped us go to the Gold Medal game in the Olympics two years ago. This is just me, but I dont think the NHL is in trouble…although we will see when the CBA is over in July. But I think this is still good for the NHL. Too me, I see that it is no longer the 6-7 powerhouse teams winning the Cup year after year. These other NHL teams are starting to learn from the powerhouses and are starting to win games now. No one would of thought this playoff would of been a fluke if LA was a 3 seed.

    Reply

    • erat77 Says:

      I completely agree on the aspect of the NBCSN. The sadistic fact was one game for the Wings v. Predators I had to go online to watch them. The damn red wings. However you cannot honestly tell me that there is more interest in Kings v. Devils than there was Bruins v. Canucks. Hell people rioted after it.
      I do not count Parise as a household name. A casual observer of the NHL knows who he is, no doubt. He is damn good but he is not on the same level as Datsyuk, Ovechkin, Crosby or even Brodeur for that matter. I get your point but by that logic Ryan Miller would be a superstar.
      I may have not made my point clear enough. LA does not have enough of a fanbase for anyone to really care. They don’t have any “bite” as a franchise. People aren’t pissed that they won or jumping off cliffs when they are losing.

      Reply

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