Ice Hockey In The United States
Ice hockey is nowhere near as popular in the U. S. as it is around the world. Although, this fact-paced, contact sport keeps invested fans on the edge of their seats nightly. Among American sports fans, why is ice hockey so unpopular?
When it comes to American sports, there has been a lot of competition. The NFL (National Football League), NBA (National Basketball Association), and the MLB (Major League Baseball) have been the three most-watched American sports for the last several decades, while the MLS (Major League Soccer) has been on the rise in popularity in the U. S. this decade. When I watch sports, I watch the sports that I connect with the most, like most sports fans. When I was a kid, I played baseball and hockey, so I feel a much larger connection to them. Most children have connections with baseball and basketball due to how easy it is to play them. All it takes to get introduced to baseball is a plastic bat and ball. Most towns and cities have public basketball courts that only require a basketball to play. To play hockey, an athlete must have access to ice, have ice skates, and must be able to afford all other equipment such as pads, and sticks. Overall, the costs of learning hockey can itself be the difference between a kid learning the sport or not.
Another factor limiting ice hockey’s popularity is its schedule. The NBA and NHL (National Hockey League) have virtually the same schedule; both starting in October, both ending in April, both have playoffs in May, and have nightly games. The NFL season starts in September, ends in February, but mostly contains Sunday games. Lastly, the MLB season starts in April and lasts through October. The NHL season never has a period of the year where it isn’t being overshadowed by another sport. Most of ice hockey’s biggest matchups, games played between popular teams or rivals, are played on weekends, but get overshadowed by college football and NFL games. The weekday night games often will get overshadowed by NBA and MLB games, depending on the time of year.
What can we learn from ice hockey fans of other countries? Canada, the country that ice hockey originates from, has seven NHL teams of the 31 in total. Those seven teams have arguably the most dedicated fanbases. It’s not as if Canadians have no other sports to watch. Canada has a large market for the CFL (Canadian Football League), and also still has a few markets in American sports such as baseball and basketball. Why is it that Canadians have more interest in ice hockey? It all comes down to how much easier it is to pick up the sport as a kid or teenager. Canadian towns and cities have a countless amount of public skating rinks and ponds that people have access to. Plus, many towns give funding to rinks that supply equipment to players who can’t afford it.
Many American cities have large hockey markets, such as Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and Minneapolis. A few markets are on the rise due to new teams include Las Vegas and Seattle. Unfortunately, most other hockey teams are in cities that have little to no market for hockey. The biggest example of this would be the City of Atlanta. Back in the 1970’s Atlanta had a hockey team named the Flames. The team struggled with having enough fans show up to games and general team interest. The team later moved to Calgary, Canada in 1980. Nearly twenty years later, the league tried to bring a new team to Atlanta called the Thrashers. This team only lasted 13 years when in 2012, the team moved to Winnipeg, Canada after the same game attendance issues. Many cities that house NHL hockey teams have small or nonexistent markets that are negatively impacting the popularity of the sport.
How can cities improve upon their ice hockey market? Of course, team success has some effect on how big an ice hockey team’s market is, but there have been plenty of talented and winning teams that are part of small or nonexistent markets. Many suggest that teams with small hockey markets should get moved to other cities that may or may not have a larger market, but I believe that makes the problem worse. I would personally suggest focusing on the city itself and trying to grow as a hockey city. The Carolina Hurricanes team has had a history for the last decade or so for being a team with a nonsexist hockey market even after winning a championship years ago. This past year, the team focused on growing its brand and market. Not only has the fan attendance and TV rating improved, but the team performed much better than expected.
Many ways that cities can get ice hockey to be a more attractive option for kids trying out sports would include making the game more accessible and cheaper. Cities would have to create more public ice rinks where kids can learn to skate at younger ages. Cities would have to work with those new rinks and those that already exist to make equipment cheaper to purchase or rent. The amount of effort and dedication it takes to not only learn to skate well, but also play well with equipment is hard for most kids to handle. Once ice hockey becomes more popular, kids will become more interested in hockey which will only make the sport more popular. Ice hockey is waiting for that spark that can drive the sport to new levels.
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