Why There Is Still an East Coast Bias Among the NHL Powers-That-Be
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It's hard to get away from it.
When there's a big story in the NHL or a great team having a big year, it gets played up a lot bigger when it's happening on the East Coast.
It's called East Coast bias (source: ESPN.com).
Toronto, Pittsburgh and Montreal are not close to the coast line, but they are in the east. Stories from those cities are often seen as "East Coast" stories because Toronto and Montreal are the two biggest cities in Canada, and Pittsburgh is home to perhaps the most talented players in the league in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
In the NHL, if it doesn't happen in the Eastern Time Zone, it often seems as if it's too late to care about.
While the media concentration is greatest in big eastern cities, franchises like the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks have gotten their due when they have had great teams. The Wings have been one of the league's best franchises for the better part of two decades, while the Blackhawks took Chicago by storm when they won the 2010 Stanley Cup, their first in 49 years.
However, it often takes something monumental to get the attention away from the primary media cities.
The Los Angeles Kings authored one of the great postseason stories in recent NHL history when they rose from eighth place in the Western Conference to Stanley Cup champions this spring. They beat the Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues and Phoenix Coyotes before finishing off the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Los Angeles is the second-biggest city in the United States, but they were a mere curiosity to east coasters. When they squared off with the Devils in the Finals, it seemed like a disappointment.
The Devils had beaten the top-seeded Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals, and the NHL powers-that-be had been quietly contemplating a New York-Los Angeles final series.
The Devils, playing in the shadow of New York City, should have been just as big a draw. However, New Jersey is not New York City and they simply did not have the sex appeal of the Rangers.
As a result, the television ratings were not what they would have been if the Broadway Blueshirts had been in the Finals.
Long-suffering Kings fans were not thrilled during their coronation. Instead of getting to hear their own legendary broadcaster Bob Miller at the mic for the TV broadcast, they were forced to "endure" Mike "Doc" Emrick on the NBC broadcast.
Emrick is clearly one of the great voices in the history of the game, but Kings fans did not want an "east coaster" broadcasting the game, according to the Los Angeles Times. They wanted their own legend.
The concentration of media in the east coast cities is one of the reasons for a bias, but it's not just a numbers game. It's the intensity of the feeling that fans and reporters have for teams like the Rangers, Flyers, Bruins, Canadiens and Maple Leafs.
Hockey isn't just a fast-moving sport in those cities. It is close to religion and a way of life.
When the Flyers lose a game to the Rangers, there is a palpable depression in the City of Brotherly Love. If the Bruins drop a home game to the Canadiens, don't try making small talk with a Bruins fan. On the other hand, if the Bruins travel to the Bell Centre and trounce the Canadiens, its a virtual holiday on Commonwealth Avenue.
Listen to the talk shows in those cities. Claude Julien may have brought home the Stanley Cup in 2011, but when the Bruins lose two in a row fans are ready to call for his head. John Tortorella is regularly under the gun in New York.
If those two cities are tough on coaches, it's even more intense in Montreal and Toronto. There's pressure in western Canadian cities like Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, but the media scrutiny is not quite as intense.
The east coast bias probably makes things tougher for the teams in that geographical area. Coaches, general managers and players know they are not going to get away with anything. The fans and the media care and put everything under the microscope.
That's not going to happen in many of the other cities, including Chicago, Dallas and Denver. In those cities, football is king, while baseball and basketball command far more attention than hockey.
The NHL can get lost in the shuffle.
One might think that the ability to watch all games even when not in a given market would make for greater intensity in some of the non-traditional markets, but it hasn't worked out that way.
There's no sign of the non-East Coast cities catching the major media markets in intensity. It may be close in Vancouver and Calgary, but it's not quite at the same level.
The East Coast bias is real and it remains intact.
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