With the NBA lockout likely claiming an entire season of basketball, many hockey fans have been anticipating a boost in popularity for the NHL.
This claim makes a lot of sense. Not only do NBA and NHL teams have multiple common markets, but their season and postseason lengths are identical and run at almost exactly the same time. With no NBA to compete with, it's easy to understand why the NHL would receive a boost in popularity, especially in the postseason.
Certainly some places need and will receive this boost more than others, and in cities like Detroit, Boston and Chicago, hockey is already more popular than basketball, but what cities need it the most, and what cities will get it the most?
The answer to both questions is the same: the Los Angeles Kings.
Why LA? Why not. You've got three huge markets in the United States, being New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. New York and Chicago already have good hockey teams with rich history. The Kings, on the other hand, have never won a Cup, were not an Original Six team and aren't in what could be considered a traditional hockey market.
Oh, and did we remember to mention that they also just happen to play in the biggest NBA market? It's certainly relevant considering all those LA basketball fans will have nothing to watch for a year.
Will the NHL fan base experience a significant growth during the 2011-2012 season and playoffs?
So the real question here is, with the NBA and the Lakers inevitably missing a season, has there ever been a better time for the Kings to be one of the best teams in the NHL on paper? Many think the Kings will overtake the Sharks for the Pacific Division title this year.
Whether that claim is true or not remains to be seen, but look at the moves the Kings have made. They traded Ryan Smyth, mainly for cap purposes, and sent Wayne Simmonds on his way as well, but in return, they got Mike Richards from Philadelphia and signed Simon Gagne during free agency.
Both, no doubt, are good players, and as long as Gagne can stay at least somewhat healthy and Richards can keep his hockey life and party life separated, the Kings should have made a vast improvement with these two additions.
While star defenseman Drew Doughty still has yet to be signed, it's assumed that because he is a restricted free agent and LA has the money, that a deal will be closed on at some point, but the two sides are in a stalemate on the terms of the deal.
So the real question here is, where do the Kings go with this? Do they become massively popular in the LA area? Does the fanbase just stay the same for the most part? A lot is going to depend on their success. Certainly a Stanley Cup win is a plus for any fanbase, and would likely be double that for LA.
I'm going to guess it goes somewhere in the middle. The Kings certainly won't overtake the Lakers in terms of popularity, nor will they become one of the top five fanbases in the NHL, but I think the Kings are going to experience significant growth over the next year.
Needless to say, with a growing LA audience and the NHL already bigger in several key markets like Detroit, Chicago and Boston, the NBA needs to keep their head up, because before they know it, the NHL could come blowing by them.
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