NHL: 5 Reasons Hockey Wins If the NBA and NFL Lockouts Continue

Ryan DavenportContributor IJuly 11, 2011

NHL: 5 Reasons Hockey Wins If the NBA and NFL Lockouts Continue

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    With both the NBA and NFL in the midst of lockouts, it's unclear if either league will resume play in time for the starting dates of their respective 2011-2012 seasons.  

    If neither league can reach Collective Bargaining Agreements in the near future, it will almost assuredly increase the popularity of other professional sports in the United States, including the National Hockey League.  

    While Major League Baseball could also benefit from the absence of professional basketball and football in the U.S., the timing of the NHL season means it will likely gain more than the MLB, as the season is over by the time winter is upon us.  

    So, without further ado, here are five reasons why hockey will benefit if the NBA and NFL Lockouts continue.  

5. Increased Popularity in Cities with NBA or NFL Teams

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    The most obvious way in which the NHL will benefit from the absence of professional basketball and football is the increased attention NHL teams will get in cities that have franchises from either league.  

    Though NHL teams based in cities like Philadelphia, Boston and Pittsburgh have very strong followings, other franchises based in non-traditional hockey markets such as Nashville, Phoenix, Raleigh and Dallas will have opportunities to widen their fanbases without the option of NBA or NFL action within their cities.  

    NFL teams welcome more than 50,000 fans into their buildings for eight games every season, and without football, it's likely many spectators will choose to give the NHL a chance.  

    Seeing as how Atlanta was forced to relocate this summer after Phoenix was dangerously close to moving to Winnipeg, NHL franchises in the Southern regions of the United States could use all the help they could get in stirring up more fan interest.  

4. The Lack of a NBA Postseason

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    The NHL and NBA Playoffs take place around the same time during the year, so the loss of one can only be a gain for the other.  

    The NBA's postseason was wildly entertaining in 2011, which is why many missed out on the fact that the 2011 NHL Playoffs were one of the most exciting of the last 20 years. If the NBA closes up shop for the 2011-2012 season and playoffs, sports fans across North America have only one postseason choice with regards to spectating: the NHL Playoffs.  

    Each league had stirring Finals series in 2010-2011, but the seven-game Stanley Cup Finals series would have undoubtedly been more popular in the United States (outside the city of Boston) without the NBA Finals.  

    If the NBA lockout continues through the postseason, the NHL will benefit immensely.  

3. Increased Attention for NHL Stars

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    While hockey has generally been on the upswing in terms of popularity since the NHL lockout in 2004-2005, the league still trails the other major North American professional sports in terms of marquee star players. 

    Beyond the likes of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, the NHL has lacked true superstars since the days of Mario Lemieux (and arguably Jarimor Jagr and Eric Lindros) during the late 1990's.  

    If the NFL and NBA are locked out through 2011-2012, NHL stars who have enjoyed nationwide popularity for brief periods of time, such as Ryan Miller, Steven Stamkos and Tim Thomas, could become household names outside of the cities where they play.  

2. More Exposure in Cities Without NHL Franchises

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    Twenty-three cities in the United States have NHL franchises, so teams in those areas will obviously benefit from the absence of professional basketball and football if the NBA and NFL lockouts continue.  

    However, in addition to those 23 cities, the NHL will likely become more popular in big-market sports towns that don't boast NHL franchises.  

    As the only in-season major professional team sport for more than five months, sports fans will be left with only one option during the winter: the NHL.  

    Fans in cities like Houston, Indianapolis, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans and Charlotte, who avidly support NBA and NFL teams, will be exposed to the game of hockey in a way like never before, which can only benefit the NHL.  

1. The Television Factor

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    After the NHL lockout in 2004-2005, it appeared the NHL's popularity would take a hit after ESPN opted not to renew its television deal with the league.  

    Instead, the NHL has flourished, as it enjoyed the second-best television ratings in the league's history in 2010-2011. Though now with a less popular sports network in Versus, the league has drawn more fans via its relationship with NBC and more importantly because the game is a more enjoyable product for spectators.  

    Without the presence of the NBA and NFL, hockey will undoubtedly be featured more prominently on all sports networks. For example, how will ESPN manufacture a SportsCenter "Top 10" without at least seven hockey clips when the NFL and NBA are locked out? 

    The NHL is only growing in terms of its television audience (Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals enjoyed the best ratings for a hockey game since 1974), and will clearly benefit from the lack of professional basketball and football in 2011-2012.