Why Nobody Likes Hockey: A Sharks Fan Comes to Grips with Being in the Minority

t williAnalyst INovember 5, 2008

I walked into class this morning, excited as the next person about the huge victory on Tuesday.

I’m talking about the San Jose Sharks' 11th win this season last night over the Minnesota Wild, of course.

When I announced to my friends that my Sharks were indeed 11-2, first in not only the Western Conference but in the entire NHL, I got a slew of sarcastic and cold-hearted replies.

“What’s the NHL? Is that a league or something?”

“What’s hockey? Is that a sport?”

I tried to defend myself by saying that the San Francisco Bay Area hasn’t had such a successful franchise in years, and I was really proud of my home team.

Few can claim actual residence in San Jose. Most fans live near enough to the city; not literally a step away from it. No matter, I just kept receiving taunting remarks. I slumped down in my chair, dejected.

Then the question arose in my head. Why don’t people like hockey?

There are a variety of factors. Many reasons will never come to light; I, myself, can’t understand why hockey isn’t adored by every single American citizen, but that’s just me and my extremist views of sport.

First off, let’s attack the general American public. Consumers like instant gratification. We want it, and we want it now. We’ve been brought up to believe that this is an acceptable thought process, and entertainment feeds it to us. With the addition of the Internet and improved technology, it’s even more attainable to have what you want, right now.

For example, digital cameras take away the suspense of what photos are going to look like. Point, click, and you have your picture right here, right now. Television shows are also centered on instant gratification.

In this day and age, the majority of consumers are too busy to devote an extensive amount of time to just one show. Therefore producers within each show create a plot, pathway, and solution all in the convenience of one tiny hour. You get your crime scene, your facts leading up to the apprehension of the criminal, and it’s solved. Case closed.

Now, what happened to the good ol’ days, when hard work and determination was what brought success and happiness? Did we forget about things being “worth the wait?” In a time with “get rich quick” schemes, earning online degrees in just months, and slim down diets in days, society has gotten caught up with being satisfied instantaneously.

Back to hockey. Instant gratification is not seen on the rink, nor in the eyes of the players, fans, or referees. Sure, one could argue that one could get quite the instant satisfaction of a quick blow across the face of an opponent, but that is not the main goal in hockey.

But it is understood by the ones involved that scoring and winning does not rely on a fast break, an interception, or a quick turnaround.

Perhaps when a sports fan realizes this, they, too, can appreciate the aesthetics and mesmerizing draw of the sport of hockey. Passion sets apart hockey fans from other sport fans; hockey fans love to love their sport, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hockey is a sport that can hold one’s breath yet just as quickly take it away; it is a combination of speed, strength, stamina, agility, and teamwork unparalleled in any other sport.

Sports that require so much time and dedication to achieve a single goal usually have low-scoring outcomes. This may be another discouragement and reason as to why hockey hasn’t picked up as large a following in the U.S., when compared to that of football or basketball.

Low-scoring competitions reflect perseverance, an ability to work hard, sweat it out, and keep trying and trying, even after countless failed attempts. When a team finally does pull out a goal, it’s most gratifying and overwhelmingly electrifies the arena.

One can see this electricity running through the crowds of soccer fans as well; these two sports share more similarities than die-hard fans from either sport would readily admit.

While they take place on different surfaces, the setup of goals, strategies on how to attack the goal, emphasis placed on assists, and ending tumult that occurs with a successful goal are all extremely alike.

Soccer does not have as quite a big following in the States, either; this could further prove the need Americans place on instant gratification and high-scoring sporting games.

Perhaps there are cultural differences further separating hockey from the more popular sports in America. Hockey originated in the neighboring country of Canada and has since traveled south to find homes in many East Coast cities, as well as less likely (due to warmer climatic) southern cities such as Phoenix, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta.

However, hockey has been assimilated into American culture so seamlessly that recently teams in the U.S. have been outperforming many Canadian teams on the ice.

Maybe it is just a sport that one has to grow up with to appreciate—or live in the right climate or demographic area.

Hockey requires specific equipment and is much harder to come by versus playing a simple game of pickup basketball or touch football. Yet this argument doesn’t hold true for its cousin soccer, and therefore cannot be a true reason for why it doesn’t house as many fans per capita in the U.S.

Until Americans can appreciate the hard work and blood, sweat, and tears that goes into making a single goal in a game of hockey, it seems that the sport will never have as large a following as football, basketball, or baseball—America’s three most popular sports.

Hockey will just have to sit, satisfied in fourth place, never receiving the top television spots or largest marketing offers.

It is important to realize that this is not because hockey is lacking in any aspect; on the contrary, consumers need to understand what comprises the sport and increase their patience.

Yes, there is no basket or yardage gained every minute; but when a forward gets hold of the puck, spins around in one fluid motion, and angles the puck right into the net underneath the goalie’s outstretched skate, it’s magical.

Until then, I’ll continue to watch the San Jose Sharks dominate the ice. Heck, it’s not like the Warriors or 49ers are making it back to the playoffs anytime soon. Then again, one could argue that these two teams are not relying on instant gratification, either.


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