Point/Counterpoint: Does the NHL do enough (or too much) to bring in new fans?

The NHL does enough to bring in new fans…by Eden N.

In the NHL marketing world, there is, well, what looks like, not much. I mean, how many of us fans are constantly having to explain why we love hockey? No one has to explain their love of football in this country.

So, is the NHL doing enough to pull in new fans?

There is more hockey on television today than ever before. I don’t really have to look up a statistic for that because, hello Versus and Center Ice and playoffs on network channels. HBO’s 24/7 has done extremely well and hopefully will continue in that vein. There are tons of options for viewers that would have been unheard of just mere years ago. I, for one, have Gamecenter Ice because I live on a teacher’s salary and chose internet over cable. I get to see most Flyers games and if I can’t (due to the game being on a regular channel), I can hit a bar.

We have the NHL Awards (I won’t talk much about the hosts because I’d be lying if I said the NHL doesn’t need to do better there).  There’s the All-Star weekend, with the draft, the skills competition, the rookies, and the actual game. The Winter Classic.  Tons of opportunities for a casual viewer to get hooked.

The NHL has opened franchises in places that seem incongruous to hockey.  Now, not all of them have worked out (RIP Thrashers. Again.), but some have taken. Carolina Hurricanes (the Stanley Cup helps) and Nashville Predators have impressive followings for being the South. Two hockey teams in Florida? No problem, both the Tampa Bay Lightning (more so) and Florida Panthers are making headway into being true hockey markets. Thirty teams in Canada and America is not shabby, with most of the major cities being hit (I want one in Wisconsin, but that’s just me).

The NHL is doing a lot to pull in viewers.

Here’s something I’ve learned about hockey in my short time loving it. It’s a hard sell. A lot of the things that we fans love about it, would turn off the regular viewer. It’s a tough spectator sport. Yes, it’s tons of fun to watch, but it goes so fast and even with television breaks, it’s hard to watch and do something else. Football stops every couple of seconds which is much more conducive to discussion between spectators.  You miss a lot in hockey if you try the same thing.

There’s this reputation about the fighting. Not just the Flyers, but hockey in general is still viewed like it’s the 1970s and a dose of Slapshot. A brutal and undignified sport. The NHL puts their players in suits and there are so many charities that the teams, the players, the organizations are involved in. But hockey is fighting according to the outside viewer. Should the NHL try harder to clean up that image?

Don’t we like having hockey be hockey? The NHL does a lot to pull in new fans. Maybe they can do more, but hockey is its own entity. And the fans that find it are just as unique.


Counterpoint: The NHL does too much to bring in new fans…by Filip Strych.

Is NHL doing everything for avoid next lockout in the upcoming season? I don’t think so.  The next question is? Do you want to become a fan of a league which has lockout every seven years? Is this good for the fans? Is this good for the league?

As far as I’m concerned in NHL I can’t judge North American market because I’m European. But give me a chance to look at it from different perspective. The North American market, more precisely the market in the US has tons of sports. NHL isn’t the first nor the second. It’s fourth. The imminent lockout in the NHL would drag the league down.

There is more hockey, that’s for sure. But the league cares only about the money from “bigger market“ teams which isn’t good. With “bigger market,“ I mean teams like Philadelphia, Detroit, Toronto, Rangers. These teams have many fans. It’s not difficult to root for these teams. Why become a fan of Panthers if there are the Dolphins? There’s simply no reason for being a hockey fan in a city like Miami with sunshine nearly every day.  Personally I think that people from cities which lies in the south (or in the desert like Phoenix) are not suitable for hockey. They have no connection with the sport because there’s no history of ice hockey in Florida or Arizona. NHL tried twice to settle own team in Atlanta and both cases had the same result – they failed. There are exceptions like Los Angeles, but L.A. is a different story.

There’s another point. I’ve mentioned “bigger market“ teams. Not every team with poor fanbase is situated in the south. Columbus lies in the mid-north of America but they don’t have as many fans as Detroit or Chicago. But why? Both Detroit and Chicago have a history. A long history. Columbus has only been in the playoffs once in ten years. And that’s bad, especially for a hockey organization which has been desperately seeking for new fans. Fans want winning club or club with a proud history. Players represent the other side. No one chooses an organization with that record. Players are making money and attracting fans. NHL isn’t doing enough to attract fans. They want to expand but they’re choosing bad markets. And bad markets mean poor fanbases.

What has to be done for tighten more fans?

1. Stop expanding to bad markets like Florida, Phoenix.

2. The fewer, the better. It’s OK to go with 28 teams. Players need to compete more for their roster spot and the league will become better. Who doesn’t want to compete isn’t good enough for the NHL.

3. Strengthen current fanbases and expand them by making special offers – free parking lot with tickets for three or more home games or every 50th burger, 100th beer will be free etc. Fans love giveaways so I think this would be a very good offer. And the best way is to avoid lockouts and adjust the whole CBA/Salary Cap stuff.

4. NHL wanted to “protect“ small markets with Salary Cap. But that didn’t happen. The gap between small market and bigger market is going to raise every year. Salary Cap has to be adjusted because it loses his first purpose – to protect – which means to save teams without big bucks behind their backs.

5. Keep rolling with NHL Winter Classic and NHL Premiere in Europe. This makes a lot of people die hard fans with pure passion for the fastest game all over the world in the best league – in the NHL.