The NHL and ESPN: ESPN Robbing America Of a Sport It Loves

C KSenior Analyst IJanuary 20, 2009

Wait...what? America loves hockey? No way!

If you are not a hockey fan, that was likely your initial reaction to this headline. In fact, even if you were a hockey fan you probably reacted in that way.

I'm here to tell you why America does, in fact, love hockey. I'm not going to stretch this into a game of which sports are better; that's all about opinion. No, I just want to make you think a little bit more about hockey.

Let's start with ESPN, and the injustice they are giving to the American people.

If you watch SportsCenter every day like I do, you can tell me that the folks at ESPN choose to show just one hockey highlight a night--two if we're lucky. Most of the games they show are games involving Sidney Crosby and/or Alex Ovechkin. They even ignore Evgeni Malkin, who many consider to be better than Crosby.

Yet, we see every single NBA highlight of the night shown. There is even more golf, tennis, WNBA, NASCAR, and Women's NCAAB news shown than there is hockey news. It's terrible. You cannot tell me that those sports, by any means, are favored over hockey!

Why does ESPN do this? Because they do not have a television contract with the NHL. It's ridiculous. Sure, it's a smart business strategy, but it drives many fans like myself away from SportsCenter and to a local sports network.

And that's the thing—not many cities have local sports networks right now. So ESPN has no competition.

Yet, Comcast SportNet's are sparking up all over the country and soon will cover the most of the country. People are already sick of the lack of true reporting and quality coverage seen on ESPN, so when their city gets a local channel that gives them news on only the teams they want to hear about, SportsCenter could be in trouble.

I'm in the Philadelphia area, and I have to say that the coverage given to me by Comcast SportsNet Philly is much better than ESPN. Many other fans will realize the same thing in the coming years when they get their own CSN.

So what does that have to do with the NHL, you ask? Well here comes my point.

ESPN is showing more NBA, NASCAR, WNBA, etc. highlights than NHL highlights. I already stated that. So why is this bad on ESPN's part?

Because the NHL is more popular than the NBA.

Huh? Wh-what? How is that possible...you never see anything about hockey on TV...

So what. The media has nothing to do with popularity. As I said before, ESPN ignores the NHL because they have no TV contract with the league. That does not mean hockey isn't popular.

You want me to prove it to you? I will, in the only possible way I could find—attendance.

To compare attendances, the only way you can do it is by the percentage of their stadium filled by each team. This represents how much of the stadium was filled in relation to the stadium's capacity. This is better than just looking at the overall numbers because the stadiums are different sizes.

In the NHL, seven teams fill over 100 percent over their seats every night. In the NBA, only two teams can claim that. (Don't ask me how you can fill over 100 percent of your capacity...)

Both leagues have three teams that fill exactly 100 percent of their seats every night.

The NBA has twelve teams that fill from 90 percent to 99.9 percen of their seats, while the NHL has only seven. But that's the only spot where the NBA wins.

The NHL has eleven teams that fill from 80-90 percent of the seats, while the NBA has just six teams that can say that.

After that, the NHL has just two teams left below 80 percent. Those two teams have percentages of 79.5 and 77.7. The NBA has seven more teams left below 80 percent, all of which fall under the two NHL teams below 80 percent. In fact, all seven of the NBA teams left fall below 75.8 percent. What is even worse is that two of the teams fall under 70 percent!

So overall, the NHL has a much more consistent fan base.

But if you do want to go by the actual numbers, and not percentages, that's fine as well. Because there is only one NHL team who averages less than 14,000 fans a game, yet there is five who do so in the NBA. Two of those five even average less than 13,000!

You have just been fooled by ESPN into thinking the NBA is so popular. By what I have just presented to you, it appears to me that the NHL is more popular.

Now, is it a close margin? Absolutely. And could you argue that there are more ways to prove this and that I'm just being a hockey fan who hates the NBA? Absolutely.

You could also argue that hockey has six Canadian teams, and Canada loves hockey. Yet, only three of the seven NHL teams with averages of over 100% are Canadian teams. The four others are American teams. And then, the three teams with exactly 100% attendance averages in hockey are the other three Canadian teams. This means, the rest of the teams are all American.

But you cannot tell me that by looking at this that the NHL is a sport in which nobody cares about. That is just what ESPN wants you to think.

Chris DiFrancesco, the Philadelphia Flyers co-Community Leader, wrote an article similar to this highlighting the growth of the NHL. The enormous growth inside the league is obvious to us hockey fans; we just want you to know about it.

It's a travesty what ESPN is doing. They know people do not want to see anything on the WNBA, but they show it because they have a TV contract with them. People only sit there and keep watching ESPN because it is all they have—until Comcast SportsNet's come along, that is.

You know, it's because of them people can name more golfers than they can players on one of the best teams in hockey, the Boston Bruins.

I hate basketball, but if you are like me and watch ESPN, you have to sit through the NBA talk. And it makes you learn less about the game of hockey.

But hey, that is why I have almost completely transitioned over to watching Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia. They give me what I want to see. And when the entire country finally gets a CSN of their own, you will all feel the same way.

My intentions in this article were not for you to become a hockey fan if you were not already one. It was for you non-hockey fans to open your eyes a bit, and realize that the game is more than two or three players. I also wanted you to realize that millions and millions of people love the NHL, possibly more than the NBA, and that the NHL is not a trash league.

Don't be one of the people who do not watch hockey because of its reputation of being a weak sport. Give it a chance. Watch a game or two. Try to find a hockey game on Versus on Mondays and Tuesdays or on NBC on Sundays and give it a chance.

It is remarkable how the NHL has survived like this and put up terrific attendance marks with a terrible TV contract. It must mean something—like maybe it really is a loved sport and that ESPN is just a bunch of stuck up businessmen.

So all I ask is that you do not listen to ESPN. Watch a game of hockey. Give it a chance like millions of people have already done.

You'll love it. I promise.