Baseball is still considered America’s pastime. Football is America’s sport. Basketball has been on the rise for years.
Still, without a Canadian Stanley Cup victory in 15 years, the NHL does not receive nearly as much media attention as the other three. It also has a much smaller fanbase.
Let us take an objective look at this.
Baseball is slowly losing all credibility in the country. Based on this year’s All-Star game, there appears to be but one savior: Albert Pujols. He is the only superstar left that has not been directly linked to steroids or other performance enhancing drugs.
If he is able to achieve either 62 homers or the NL triple crown, that would be a significant lift for the sport. At this point, that remains to be seen and the achievements over the last decade and a half have been shadowed by the steroid menace.
Football has taken much of the limelight from baseball, but it still has its problems. Everything from Michael Vick to Steve McNair’s death, to the myriad of problems with Cincinnati players has Commissioner Goodell pulling his hair out.
While each of these situations have been dealt with in an appropriate manner, it stands to reason that problems in football are not isolated incidents.
Basketball: See above football. Same reason, different players. Namely Stephon Marbury, Carmelo Anthony and Dennis Rodman.
So with all the ambiguous problems surrounding the resolution of these issues, why does the seemingly innocent NHL get no love? Three big reasons exist, among many smaller ones.
First, the media hype resulting from these incidents in other sports bolsters the recognition of the sport. Whether good or bad, recognition is everything. Hitler may have been recognized in a bad way, but 50-plus years later, people are still talking about him.
The NFL season hasn’t even begun, but already we’re talking about the sport due to the release of Michael Vick from house arrest. The most interesting piece of gossip from the NHL is Marian Hossa and where he would end up. Not great for the media coverage.
Second, the big stars do not get the recognition they need to attract the popularity of the masses. Look at Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez and more. They have done ads, endorsements, thousands of public appearances, and more.
Sidney Crosby needs to embrace that side of the business of the sport. Yes, he’s young. So is LeBron James. That doesn’t matter. He is one of the only ones who can help the sport right now.
Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin need to get a much better grasp of the English language before they can start with endorsements and public appearances. NHL executives and agents need to be more conscious of this side of the sport and make an effort to exploit it.
Finally, the NHL fails to embrace the best times to promote. The Winter Olympics is one of those times.
The 2009 playoffs were easily the best in years. NHL executives should have taken advantage of that and promoted the sport in a big way. There are only so many things ESPN and Sports Illustrated can do.
The Caps-Pens series should have been the biggest, most publicized series of the playoffs, with the NHL’s three brightest stars playing. In addition to this point, the NHL needs to (and excuse my French) get the hell off of Versus. Most people do not even have access to the station.
The NHL has incredibly tough odds to become a populace favorite in the United States. But with a little tweak here and there and maybe a change in management, the fanbase could double in five years.
For the last 15 years, an American team has won the most coveted prize in the sport and has generally gone unnoticed except in the city that won it. Hockey is such an entertaining, fast-paced sport that people cannot truly appreciate without watching the game.
The NHL has an obligation to bring that game to the masses. It can be done, but it will take time and hard work.