Recently, I had a conversation with my uncle where he claimed that “hockey is a dying sport.” I was aghast by the comment, considering hockey has been a lifelong passion of mine, but that also got me thinking… was he right? In simple case: no, and it’s an easy explanation as to why a layperson might feel that it’s dying, while a fanatic like me knows it’s still going strong.
Although recent Stanley Cup Playoffs have been some of the most exciting in history, with a debut team making the Finals and another winning their first cup in history, plenty of people watch the playoffs. How about the regular season? A big factor could be that there’s little to no promotion of the sport. The NHL rarely has advertisements shown on TV, except for playoffs, and the only time those advertisements are shown is during a game, in that case, of course, a hockey fan would be watching it! Commercials featuring players such as David Pastrnak, Martin Brodeur, and my personal favorite from a few years ago: Nicklas Backstrom; only hockey fans get to enjoy the advertisements featuring the life of NHL players. Meanwhile, sports such as football and baseball have advertisements throughout the year. Football is always on TV, making it seem bigger than it really is. The same thing can be said for baseball, with players often featured in Gatorade and sports equipment commercials.
Another huge difference between hockey and other sports is that hockey is rarely featured on main cable network channels. In the NHL each team has its own network that broadcasts the majority of their home games, with NBC broadcasting a couple of games a month on weekends. Even the first couple of rounds of the playoffs don’t air many games nationally, as they are broadcasted on NBCSN that not everyone has access too. This is unlike football, which has a constant bombardment of games throughout the season. Between college and NFL games, it seems like Thursdays through Mondays during football season is completely dedicated to the rough sport. National channels such as CBS, NBC, and FOX are a constant loop of football games during those days. Although the NBA isn’t like that, college basketball is popular as well during the March Madness tournament. Everyone knows the championship competition is the biggest time in all of college sports with people making brackets and placing bets with TV stations constantly airing games. From the start to the end of March Madness there seems to always be at least two games aired on national TV, it’s unavoidable. As for baseball, it too follows the same suit as basketball and hockey, however, it’s almost impossible to flick through national channels and not find at least 1 game of America’s pastime per night on TV. Also, since many of these sports overlap each other during their seasons, hockey will always take second fiddle to the more advertised sports and be forced to air on their own channels.
However, just because to the average person it may seem like hockey is dying or falling out of popularity, almost any given hockey arena can be found sold out, or nearly sold out throughout the season, with tickets going for nearly 500 dollars in some arenas for glass side seats. Hockey arenas are almost always filled to the brim with the most loyal and loudest fanbases you can find out of all four of the major sports leagues. Why? Because it’s up to us fans to teach and introduce the new generation of hockey fans to the amazing sport. Many times it’s quite difficult for people to get into the sport of hockey at an older age, it’s something a person needs to be a part of throughout their lives. A person trying to become a fan in their late teens or 20’s or up is pretty uncommon. Most fans I talk to at games say that they’ve been fans since early, early childhood growing up and into the sport that they’re so passionate about now. Hockey may not receive the advertisements and the promotions that it so rightfully deserves, but we the fans are the ones who promote and are practically walking advertisements for the sport we so rightfully love.
So with that, it’s up to us fans of hockey to keep this niche sport that we so rightfully love and adore going. If you have children raise the next Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Rocket Richard or Wayne Gretzky. If you have a girl raise the next Hillary Knight, Amanda Kessel or Kendall Coyne. And even if they can’t play hockey raise them to love to watch the sport, to lose their voice when their favorite team wins a playoff round, or chant “THE REFS SUCK” because we all know the refs are never going to get better at this sport. But no matter what, let’s teach the next generation to love this amazing sport that is hockey.