If NBA super agent David Falk is to be believed, the NBA is in serious danger of losing the entire 2011-12 season in order to radically change the way they do business. While sports fans will be the biggest loser, the NHL is first in line to be the biggest winner.
The NHL considers themselves a part of the big four professional sports leagues, but those in the sports media know that the NHL is actually a distant fourth behind the NFL, MLB and NBA. As a News Director I had access to a plethora of statistical information and audience research that indicated lagging interest in the NHL vs. the other sports. Specifically, more people would change the channel when NHL news or highlights came on as compared to the other major sports.
I have witnessed management, at both regional and national sports networks, mandate NHL highlights are not to appear in the first 15 minutes of sports broadcast. As a hockey fan I hate to admit it but the research was indisputable, the majority of the national audience would rather see a third tier NBA game vs. a first tier NHL game.
But what if there is no NBA season? Sports broadcasts still need to be filled with content, newspapers still need to have sports sections and sports bloggers still need to have something to complain about. The NFL is still king, but it won’t fill the entire sports media world. So…
During an interview on Boston sports station WEEI, veteran NHL play-by-play announcer Mike Emrick admitted that during the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs he simplified his announcing style to embrace the casual fan. Announcers like Emrick didn’t go overboard on strategy and dare I say they had to explain icing here and there. For regular hockey fans this can be maddening, but in my eyes the league should “suggest” that style of broadcast for the upcoming season.
Sports fans enjoy the ritual of watching live sports, if there is no NBA to watch fans will turn over to hockey for a test drive and if the game “makes sense” to them they are more likely to stick long-term.
Some teams have an even greater opportunity to take advantage of the NBA labor strife:
1: Dallas Stars – After the wild success of the Mavericks in 2011, the Dallas area sports fan is more energized than they have been since Troy Aikman was leading the Cowboys to three Super Bowl victories in the 90s. It’s been a while since the Dallas area has tasted a professional sports championship and now their appetite for more is real. The Stars just missed the playoffs this year, if they can put together a winning team they have a great opportunity to fill the sports vacuum left behind by the Mavericks.
2: Chicago Blackhawks – The Blackhawks are still top-of-mind in Chicago after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, but without one of the NBA’s best young teams to take audience share the Blackhawks have a huge opportunity to grow their fan base. Chicago isn’t exactly a college basketball hotbed either, (sorry Northwestern and DePaul) so the Blackhawks can really establish an even stronger foothold in Chitown.
3: Boston Bruins – Boston area fans came out in record numbers to celebrate the Bruins Stanley Cup victory in 2012 and a whole host of new fans were created. In a normal year many of those fans would migrate back to the Celtic green, but in 2012 look for more Black and Gold uni’s around town.
One thing that separates Hockey players from every other professional athlete is their accessibility; they want to be amongst the fans. Don’t believe me, check this Google image search for Brad Marchand or Tyler Seguin after the Stanley Cup victory. These guys were partying with the fans, not behind velvet ropes or in private rooms. They were amongst the people – just two of the guys.
The NHL motto for 2012 – bring us your bandwagon fans, your NBA sick and your NFL poor…we, the NHL are here for you.