Hockey is a popular sport; the NHL is one of the four major sports leagues in the United States, but why is it not more popular? When it comes to the four major leagues, there is no debating that the NHL is at the bottom of the American sports totem pole. Why exactly is that?
It is a question that I have found myself asking more and more over the past several years as I myself attempt to dive deeper into the world of hockey.
One thing people all across the world know about Americans is love our for violence. It can be seen in our sports, video games, TV shows, movies and more.
In fact there is probably a small percentage of the world that thinks the United States actually operates like a game of Grand Theft Auto. Thankfully it does not.
So if Americans love the violence, where is the love for the NHL? Men in the NHL are constantly being trucked into glass boards, poked with sticks and even fighting one another.
The NHL is the literally the only one of the four major leagues that actually lets it’s players box it out with their fists when they get mad.
Over the past several years, NFL fans have been irate because they feel the game they love is being twisted and changed. They feel it is now too soft. While the league attempts to make the sport of football safer, this also means limiting the big hits and violence, two of the things NFL fans love about the game.
One big complaint of casual baseball fans is that the MLB has too many games. Meanwhile, the NHL is setup almost identically to the NBA. Both leagues play an 82 game regular season and even have a similar playoff systems.
This allows the NHL to cater to fans for a good portion of the year without the feeling of over saturation. The league also has an abundance of games to watch from October all the way until June.
And after the regular season ends in April, the playoffs begin! Fans are glued to their TVs for two months filled with intense playoff hockey.
Similar to the NBA, the NHL playoffs consist of 4 rounds where teams battle in a best of a seven game series to compete for a chance to win the Stanley Cup Finals.
Speaking of the the NHL playoffs, the first round of the 2019 playoffs started with a bang. Three of the best teams during the NHL regular season were all knocked out in the first round.
- The league’s best team this season, Tampa Bay Lightning, were swept in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
- The Calgary Flames, the leagues second best team and number one in the Western Conference, lost in a gentlemen’s sweep (five games) to the Colorado Avalanche.
- The league’s third best team and the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Washington Capitals, lost in a thrilling seven game series to Carolina Hurricanes.
That is box office level material in only the first round of the playoffs! Yet there was very little coverage on the topic. Tons of people across the United States were most likely unaware this even happened.
If the NBA’s Golden State Warriors or the NFL’s New England Patriots lost in the first round of the playoffs it would be talked about for months, maybe even a year, until the teams saw postseason action again.
So what is the issue? How is the NHL still at the bottom of the American sports totem pole?
The league has a ton of exposure, there are plenty of teams for potential fans to choose from. The Vegas Golden Knights, a team that entered its inaugural season just last year, made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. The league even has a 32nd team debuting in Seattle during the 2021-2022 season.
This will tie the NHL with the NFL for most teams in a league with each having 32 different franchises.
Not only are there a multitude of teams but the league has star power as well. Names like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin are household names at this point.
Could it possibly be marketability? It is a lot easier for a company like Nike to sell a sneaker with LeBron James’s name on it than it would be to sell a pair of ice skates or a hockey stick.
Is it because the NHL struggles with its perception of being a “white man’s sport”?
It is not secret that this has been a problem for the NHL for decades. The league has constantly struggled integrating people of different cultures and backgrounds – not only in its fan base but players and front office personnel as well.
Is it possible that die hard hockey fans themselves could be what deters newcomers away? Hockey fans have a bad reputation for being “whiners.” Hockey fans have been known to make note of how much “tougher” the athletes of their favorite sport are in contrast to others such as the NFL.
The NHL is trending up but it is still not where fans or the league would want it to be in the American sports landscape.
Life is hard for the NHL. It always has been, but here’s hoping as the league continues to expand, so does its place in hearts and minds of sports fans all across the country.
Why do you think the NHL’s status hasn’t reached the top yet? Let us know! Tweet at us @789mediaco!