The 2009 NHL season is in its last month and it appears that now is the time that the cry goes up. The United States economy is in the midst of a recession, the world isn't in much better shape and every one has a suggestion on how to "save hockey."
I suppose the problem that I have with this line of discussion is that it places a strict emphasis on hockey, as if it were the only sport that has a problem in a slow economy.
The MLB is suffering, their biggest stars are now outright admitting to steroid use, which makes me wonder if talent and conditioning is enough to keep a player going through 162 game seasons every year.
The NBA is suffering, enough so that Bill Simmons called it the "No Benjamins Association," are you starting to understand what I'm driving at?
Hockey is a sport that is suffering from the same case of marketing pathos that these other two professional sports leagues are. if you want to know what needs saving about hockey, what needs redevelopment, look no further than the job of keeping up their image.
Marketing is probably the single most important thing in any business, you can have a great product but still not sell it because no one knows about it or aren't compelled to purchase.
I can provide a host of examples from the business world, but those would be looked at as no-brainers, think about the iPod.
The point here is that in a world where anyone has instant information at their fingertips, exposure is the key to success. The only way to keep people interested in something is to keep it on the tip of their tongue, otherwise, you are forgotten.
The Chicago Blackhawks are an example of precisely what I'm talking about. The Blackhawks were stuck in a market that despite original six origins were not supporting the team. The management of the Blackhawks fought hard to make sure every game was broadcast to the fans.
That plus the addition of young, energetic talent has made the team a viable organization and a playoff contender.
The NFL is successful largely due to the fact that you know on Sunday and Monday during the fall, you will see an NFL game, and on a network like NBC or ABC not just the local channel for your local team.
The NHL could stand to learn quite a bit from this, the NHL network is a farce. How can you expect fans to stay strong in a weak economy asking them to pay $200 for a package from their cable company?
There are signs of life for the league as well. NBC is carrying the "game of the week" on Sundays, but Bettman needs to really reinvest his energy into making the game of hockey as ubiquitous as possible.
Make sure every sports fan gets to see Alex Ovechkin's next highlight reel goal, and every single fan can see Martin Brodeur returning from a near season ending injury to pitch two shutouts in three games.
If you want to save the NHL, you need to shore up the leagues image, you need to keep fans in a steady stream of hockey all season long. Keep the fans happy, and they will do the same for you.
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