Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The NHL Versus Itself


Everyone is asking, will the NHL capitalize on the the popularity of USA vs Canada? And everyone is answering with a resounding "No!". I tend to agree. But the problem is that nobody is asking the right question. We all know nothing will change. The big question is: how does the NHL capitalize on the popularity of USA vs Canada?

I was excited to find out that the first game back for both Sidney Crosby (the game winner) and Ryan Miller (the MVP) would be - wait for it - against EACH OTHER. Imagine if during the Summer Olympics, LeBron James blocked Dirk Nowitzki's game winning layup during the gold medal game of USA vs Germany, and then two days later the Mavericks played the Cavs. I would be more excited for that than the actual Olympic game. But then I found out what I should've already known; the Crosby/Miller rematch was not going to be televised.

This is why the NHL will never make the jump. You cannot be a fan of that which you cannot see. It's why college basketball and football make billions but college baseball is a niche sport. The only time you see college baseball is during the College World Series, much like the Stanley Cup. It's time to get hockey on TV.

Of course, ESPN doesn't want it. Fox Sports probably doesn't either. But Versus shows NHL games. Why not make Versus just a hockey channel? Wouldn't a 24/7 NHL station get better ratings than reruns of "Wild and Wacky Sports" or whatever hunting program is on at ten in the morning?

All the NHL would need to do is request very little money from the channel itself. Let Versus keep all the profits. Why would Gary Bettman agree to this? Because the money he doesn't get from Versus would be made back tenfold from the increased fanbase. All you needed to do was by up a bunch of advertising on ESPN the day after, market the Crosby/Miller rematch, and watch the ratings soar. Have Canadian/American panels discuss the game for weeks. Bank on it.

Instead, the NHL is just going to hope that the game was good enough to get you hooked. It wasn't. You need big plans to become a big sport, and while baseball is begging someone to take them over, Bettman refuses to spend the money necessary to make the money hockey needs. He has to force-feed hockey into America's mouth. If left to choose, we'll take the NFL Combine over NHL playoffs every time. You know why?

Because the Combine is on television.

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