Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why isn’t hockey more popular?

Aimless Rambler

So I went the Blackhawks Rangers game on Monday and came away with three very distinct impressions, which I shall share with you now.
First:  Jonathan Toews actually bears a striking resemblance to Johnny Downtown
For starters neither of them can actually grow any real facial hair.  Second, let’s just say that the foreheads are um…well…..pronounced.  And lastly they both look about ten years younger than they actually are.

Everything is not actually the same, though, there are some differences.  Mainly, one is the multi- millionaire captain on a Stanley Cup winning team, and the other is not.
My second observation was that Rangers fans were quite frankly a little lame. 
Now I am willing to cut them a little bit of slack here; it was a Monday game early in the season against a team in the Norris Division, who they’ll only play once, and there were a lot of suits at the game, most likely entertaining their clients or whatever - so it may not have been a true representation of the Rangers fan.  But still.  I was walking around with my STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS shirt on and the only comment I heard all night was “at least you guys beat the f’ing Flyers”
That’s it?  An original six match-up against the defending champs and I’m not catching any grief?  WTF?  My buddy who is a Flyer fan who was with me summed it up nicely.  “I don’t care if we were playing the Tampa Bay Lighting, if someone came to Philly wearing a visitors jersey he’s going to catch a ton of crap.” I happen to agree with him.  I went to game three last year, and I got a ton of abuse.  Most of it was good natured enough, I guess, couple of meatheads got a little more worked up after the game, but I heard it all game.  Anyway, I know the Rangers have a pretty decent fan base so the indifference was surprising.

My last thought is that I can’t figure out why hockey isn’t more popular, because it is flippin awesome.  Sure Bettman is single handedly trying to destroy the league, the expansion into the South is a disaster,  they have no real TV contract, and it’s expensive as hell to go to a game – but hockey is an absolutely beautiful sport. 
Being at the game is an amazing experience.  First off you appreciate just how huge these guys are, but they are also wicked fast, strong, and flying up a sheet of ice on these blades a centimeter thick – so they also have to be agile and graceful.  And they have to do all this the whole time someone is trying to knock them on their ass.  It’s crazy faced paced, which should appeal to the ADHD crowd, but you can also see the plays develop with guys skating without the puck move into passing lanes.  There’s almost as much action off the puck as there is on it.  And lastly, it has the single greatest sporting moment EVER in the history of any sport. I mean this sport has everything. 
So outside of some small loyal pockets, why does nobody care?  While I can’t figure it out, and I do enjoy developing theories, so here goes. 
First, I think it’s the only sport where the fan experience significantly decreases when you go from live to TV.  Football, NASCAR, and soccer all have improved game experiences on TV (especially in HD).  Yeah, you lose out on the atmosphere by not being there, but you are actually able to follow the game itself much closer.  Not the case in hockey, you lose out on both the fan experience and the game itself by not being able to see the whole rink and watch the plays develop. So the casual fan, can’t just pick it up by watching it on TV – one really needs to go to a game to really appreciate it.
In addition to that – the TV timeouts they currently have totally kill the flow of the game.  I noticed that the most when I was watching Olympic hockey to the NHL playoffs last year.  In the Olympics there were only commercials between periods, and I couldn’t tear myself away from the game because there was always something going on.  With the TV timeouts, you can get distracted; flip channels, get up, whatever.  And hockey is such a momentum sport I think it needs that continuity.  What the hell NHL, you don’t have a real TV contract anyway – fix this.   Commercial breaks only between periods.
Last, it’s pretty damn expensive to play.  I have three brothers, and we all played hockey. Between equipment, renting ice time, and driving all over Chicago – I can’t imagine the amount of money my parents spent on hockey.  And it isn’t really a sport that lends itself to pick up play.  Baseball, football, basketball – you just need a couple of things and enough people and you can get a game started,  and it’s going to basically be the same sport you see on TV.  Not the case with hockey.  First it needs to be cold, which limits where and when it can be played casually – and it takes a bit of coordination to organize, as well as more stuff.  I dunno.  I think without that sort of personal relatibility (I think I just made up a word) it never will be able to generate the attention the sport itself deserves.
That's what I got.

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