How to Reignite the Passion for NHL Hockey in the United States
Poor leadership and greed have put the sport of hockey in a position to fail.
The NHL lockout is threatening to destroy the progress the sport has made since 2004-05 labor stoppage.
Hockey is particularly vulnerable in the United States. It is a popular sport, but it is clearly fourth among major league professional sports, well behind the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA.
When commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners lock out the players, it causes a lot of pain for die-hard hockey fans.
However, casual fans concentrate on football, basketball and college sports. They turn elsewhere and don't give the NHL lockout a thought.
So with each passing week, hockey digs itself a deeper hole.
When the lockout is over, hockey's leadership is going to have to take action to rebuild the sport in the United States.
NHL Center Ice
Fans are angry at the NHL because of the lockout and they feel like they are being slapped around by the commissioner, the owners and the players.
They want to see some kind of meaningful gesture when the lockout comes to an end.
One of those gestures could be offering the NHL Center Ice Package to all fans for free for the rest of the season.
Part of the joy of hockey is seeing your local team play. But when you can also have your choice of watching all the rest of the games, it's a magical experience.
The NHL owes this to its fans.
Contact sports are dangerous.
With each further piece of scientific data, it seems that parents are putting their children at risk when they allow them to participate in contact sports like football and hockey (source: Brainline.org).
The NHL can't just concern itself with its own players. It has to look at future players and change rules to emphasize safety.
That would show that the league cares about all players who compete, not just those skilled enough to put on their uniforms.
Subsidize and Recycle Equipment
In basketball, all you need are gym shoes, a basketball and a hoop.
In baseball, a bat, a ball, a glove and a field will do.
In hockey, you need skates, a stick, gloves, a helmet and safety equipment. Not to mention a suitable ice surface.
Many of those who are interested in playing get shut out at the start because the game is just too expensive.
It's time for the NHL and equipment manufacturers to subsidize the costs and reduce expenses.
There's nothing wrong with recycling equipment for those who can't afford new equipment.
A program like this could grow the game for future generations.
Make the game more accessible to the fans by making the players more accessible.
Once the lockout ends, each team should have an autograph session of up to one hour in length after the game ends.
Minor league hockey teams do this regularly and youngsters love the chance to meet and collect the autographs of their hockey idols.
NHL players may feel this is beneath them, but after the damage that has been done to the sport, this is a small step that they can take to help rebuild trust.
Do this twice a month per team for the rest of the season.
Piggy Back with Other Sports
Build a rapport with the other major sports.
Thirty or 40 years ago, this would be considered blasphemy, because sports executives considered the other sports their competition.
However, hockey fans go to baseball, football and, yes, basketball games. When the Blackhawks won the 2010 Stanley Cup, they were celebrated at U.S. Cellular Field (home of the White Sox) and Wrigley Field (home of the Cubs).
The Blackhawks have had players from the Chicago Bears shoot the puck at between-periods promotions.
It creates camaraderie and greater interest in the sport of hockey.
All U.S. NHL teams should try to expand their relationship with other the other major league sports teams in town.
Hockey has made great strides on television as technology has improved and the picture has become more defined.
High definition television has benefited all sports, but perhaps hockey more than others. Casual fans often had a hard time following the puck at game speed, but that's no longer an issue with hi-def.
However, the picture can still get better. Improved video would help all hockey fans enjoy their sport further.
The NHL needs to get behind the research and science of improving video technology.
It will help grow the sport further.