Well, now that the Winter Olympics are over, sports fans can go back to their regular scheduled programs. Older fans won't be watching Shaun White throwing huge tricks in the snowboard halfpipe. Younger fans won't be watching figure skating for three hours a day. And most fans won't care about the NHL or hockey anymore now that the Olympics are over.
And that's not because Team USA lost to Team Canada in both gold medal games, which by the way, were both great games. That's because the NHL is harder to find on Versus than it was to find Olympic hockey on MSNBC. That's because Gary Bettman, the worst commissioner in sports and hasn't committed NHL players for the 2014 games in Russia. That's because hockey isn't a mainstream sport in the USA.
Why is that? Well, it could be that the minority of players happen to be American born. Most NHLers are Canadian or other international players from Europe. It could be the lack of a national TV deal. Heck, even MLS (Soccer) and NASCAR are on ESPN once a week. Earlier this decade the NHL didn't play for an entire year and alienated the general fan in the USA. To be fair, MLS is having their own labor problems, but that's not the point.
I like hockey. Over the past couple of years, I've probably watched more hockey than I have in the previous twenty years of my life. I want to keep watching it and get excited for regular season games that don't involve rivalries. I want to get excited for hockey that doesn't involve the words Winter Olympics and Stanley Cup Playoffs. I want to watch Chris Drury and the Rangers and live and die with every goal for and against them.
Now there was a lot of good that came out of Team USA making it to the gold medal game against Canada. Ratings for the gold medal game were over 17 on the ratings scale, which is probably one of the highest rated hockey games in the country. Makes you wonder why all the hockey games weren't on NBC to begin with, but I digress. Team USA was devastated when they lost. They cared about winning. Canada probably would have been worse if they had lost. The average fan learned that Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin (from Russia) is a world-class jerk since he didn't speak to any reporters other than Russia's and shoved away a fan's camera. And the average fan can now hate the Pittsburgh Penguins and refer to that kid as Sidney F. Crosby for the rest of his career.
I want to get over the one sports scar of my life, the Hartford Whalers being bought out by scumbag owner Peter F. Karmanos and moving to the hockey hotbed of Raleigh, NC. That won't happen until the Whalers return to Hartford, but until then, I'd like to actually watch Rangers or Isles games and actually care about what happens. Because right now, I don't. I care more about Sprint Cup results and MLS/EPL scores because the NHL just doesn't appeal to me right now.
But that’s my problem. I have a personal grudge against hockey. Most fans don’t hate hockey, they just don’t care to watch it that often. The NHL is currently behind the NFL, MLB, NBA, NCAAF/B and probably NASCAR in ratings. That’s a problem for hockey, because clearly fans watched the Olympics and loved it. It proves that the NHL isn’t doing something right to appeal to national fans.
People will say the same thing about MLS and the World Cup and that somehow wearing your nation’s colors appeals to more people and fans. I wouldn’t deny this, but if front office people and league officials think that it will translate into ratings or revenue, they’re insane. Does this mean I hate Ryan Miller, Team USA and Buffalo Sabres goalie? Absolutely not, but I’m not going to buy his jersey or order NHL Center Ice.
I will continue to watch the NHL and hockey because I like the sport. But the sport is never going to convert average fans in the USA if it doesn’t get its act together. Does that mean more NHL teams in Canada? Maybe. Does that mean contracting teams? Possibly. Does that mean lowering ticket prices? Absolutely.
America wants to care about hockey Mr. Bettman, they really do. Figure out how to turn that into a positive for your league.
And if you want my hard-earned money, that positive had better include the Hartford Whalers.