"Fighting" to Save the NHL
Is the NHL on track to lose its dwindling fan base?
Originally Aired: Monday, April 6, 2009. This is a part of the 93-Second Sports Shot series. 93-Second Sports Shots air weekday evenings at 6pm.
This year, the race for the NHL Playoffs is one of the tightest in recent memory. As it stands today, only six points separate 4th place from 9th place in the Eastern Conference, as the Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes are tied with 95 points in 4th and 5th, and the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers are tied up for the 8th and final playoff spot with 89 points each. In the west, only four points stand between the 6th place Columbus Blue Jackets and the 8th and 9th place Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues, respectively. And with most teams only having between 3 and 5 games left, every point matters.
But would you have known that if I didn’t just tell you? The fact that the season is almost over, coupled with the fact that it’s such a tight race and there’s virtually no media coverage of it points to an even greater problem with the NHL – advertisement. Studies have shows that the NHL has the most passionate fans of any of the “Big 4” Sports – Baseball, Football, Basketball, and Hockey. But despite this fact, the NHL has had a well-documented problem getting their product out there. As a die-hard hockey fan, it saddens me to see such a graceful and powerful sport fall by the wayside.
But why does Pro Hockey have this problem? Personally, I think it’s a combination of bad decision-making by top management and a deviation from the roots of the game. The introduction of all of the obstruction penalties a few years ago led to WAY too many seemingly-arbitrary penalties, which made games slower and sometimes boring to watch. And now there’s a strong push to ban one of the most unique things about hockey – fighting. The argument is that they want to focus more on skills and old-time hockey. But what everyone seems to forget is that “old-time hockey” consisted of bench-clearing brawls almost every game. And even if the benches didn’t empty, fans were guaranteed at least one fight per game.
I understand that NHL management doesn’t want its league to seem like it’s full of a bunch of goons, but they have to recognize that fighting is not only one of the most exciting parts of the game, but also a necessary component. The skill players need to be protected, and without fighting and the NHL’s “tough guys,” there’s really nothing stopping a team from peppering these players with monster hits. So my thought to this most recent push by the NHL is this – you already have the lowest number of fans next to the other major sports in America; don’t lose them, along with prospective new fans, by taking out one of the most exciting and unique parts of the game. Remember your roots. If fans wanted to watch hockey with no fighting, they’d watch the European Elite Leagues or the Olympics. But that’s just my opinion.