What An Opportunity

Pegulaville.

In Sports on January 15, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Pegulaville: Home of the Buffalo Sabres.

Population: Not as much as you would think.

What is the sport that most Americans watch today? I would give you three guesses but you probably only need one: football. Not a game where the ball is kicked with the foot (unless you’re a kicker or punter) but rather is thrown, caught, handled between the chest and forearm, and thrown ruthlessly into the ground to exhibit dominance and emotion. Football is the most watched sport in the United States and has been for some time now. For some people, it is the execution of well-laid plans and precise details being performed at humanity’s physical and mental peak that draws them. However, even the most contemplative of viewers lets out the complimentary, “Ohhh!!” when a player is “laid out” at any given point in the game. One of the biggest reasons people watch football is for the big hits. Keep that in mind as you read on.

What is the sport that most people in the world watch today? I would give you three guess but you probably only need one: football. A game where the ball is kicked with the foot and can be touched by the head, heel, knee, chest, shoulder, back, etc. but no hands…or lower forearm really; unless you’re a goalie or Diego Maradona. For almost everyone watching football, it is the execution of extricate passes, exemplary form, and extraordinary talent that drives viewership. While the pace may not be everyone’s cup of tea, most fans appreciate the build-up of play that leads to “that one moment” that produces a goal. MLS has seen a substantial uptick in its viewership and TV deals with NBC Sports Network and ESPN speak to its growing popularity in these United States. Scoring is at an absolute premium and that is one the biggest reasons people watch football. Keep that on the back-burner next to that other oblong-shaped thing.

Then’s there’s basketball. Basketball is unique that in while it was created in the United States, there was a purposeful effort to expand the game globally. The growth of the NBA, as a brand, is a credit to David Stern and an emphasis on an open-door policy that allows for the many international citizens in the Association today. As for the popularity of the sport of basketball, it is the pace of the game that draws people; to contend that basketball is dull due to game speed is a tough argument to rationalize.

So let’s take a look at what we have here: American football is popular, for many reasons, but one of those reasons is the physicality of the sport. Football is the most popular sport on the planet and the most important reason might be how hard it is to score. Finally, basketball is popular in the U.S. and the rest of the world because of the pace of play.

Which brings us to hockey. Born in Canada and played around the world and in the U.S. Hockey has the physicality of American football (with fighting, mind you), the scoring premium of football, and the pace of basketball and yet, is routinely ignored. TV ratings for hockey, especially in championships, seem to be consistently jockeying baseball for third behind the NFL and the NBA. Why is that?

One reason could be weather. In the U.S, there are just not enough places that are cold enough. In many European countries, a dominantly cold climate allows for the prominence of ice; the same can be said for our neighbors to the North. As for the U.S., many of the states are in warm climates that are not conducive to ice. While it is obvious that there are indoor rinks, if individuals do not grow up around ice, can they appreciate it as much?

Secondly, there is the economics of it all. The NBA has been able to incorporate corporate sponsorship in media timeouts that help “pay the bills” as they say. MLS has it a bit tougher but sponsors on jerseys help to remind the viewer of products to be consumed. As for the NFL , they have done the best job of infusing commercialism into every facet of the game. The pre-game show is sponsored by companies, there is a media timeout after the first kickoff, media timeouts after punts, and media timeouts after touchdowns and extra points and the ensuing kickoff. There are even sponsors for the post-game show and the highlight shows after the post-game show.

The NHL? There are really no issues there. Miscellaneous media timeouts throughout the game are congruent with the other sports leagues.

There is also the idea of hockey as a foreign entity. Is that the answer? American football, derived from rugby, has been the symbol of the U.S. when it comes to sports. American football is not played in any other country at a level that rivals the United States. There are countless heroes, stories, moments, etc. that are so ingrained in the fabric of the stars and stripes that you must separate football from soccer.

Basketball was created in the United States and diversified its investment to the rest of the world. As for soccer, its popularity worldwide, along with the performance of the United States National Teams in competitions, has assisted in an increased importance in our sports climate.

The NHL? Not as lucky. Hockey is tied to international entities who seem to define its growth. Hockey consistently has low ratings in the U.S. and much higher ratings in Canada. Why is it that the NHL cannot find a foothold? The majority of its season is after the NFL season is over. Yes, it does compete with the NBA but shouldn’t that be a fair fight?

Finally, you have the appearance of a sports league that is woefully out-of-touch with its players and fan base. Three lockouts in one commissioner’s tenure? A revenue stream that is fifth in the world as of 2011 behind the NFL, NBA, MLB, and the Barclays Premier League? That is not a business model that exactly screams efficiency.

No doubt, it is some combination of these factors and possibly, other confounding variables. Still, the question has to be asked: Why does a sport that combines the physicality of football, the scoring premium of soccer, and the pace of basketball not have a lot of viewers? Then again, maybe that is the wrong question. Maybe that is the wrong thought process. Maybe the question is: Why does a business, that has the best hockey players, not have many viewers?

Pegulaville.: Home of the Buffalo Sabres

Population: Not as much as it should be.

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  1. Believe it or not, hockey has actually grown a ton since the 2004 lockout, which was the main reason for the 2012 lockout. Last time, the owners didn’t count on the NHL growing so much in such a short time, and they offered the players too large of a cut of the revenue. They tried to backtrack on that deal this year, and the players weren’t too happy about it. If anything, hockey is in better shape in the US than it has ever been, but you’re right: it’s still not enough. The sport continues to be the least popular of the four major American sports leagues, and it even ranks below the WNBA in ratings. You’re correct in suggesting that the problem could be one of location; in the ’90s, the NHL expanded to a ton of Sun Belt markets that really didn’t want or need hockey teams, and a lot of those franchises are bleeding money today because despite the fact that they’re all actually good teams, no one gives a crap about them. Florida is on life support, and Phoenix has lost $300 million so far because no one in the Arizona desert cares about a sport played on ice. Atlanta was already sold to a Canadian company and moved to Winnipeg two years ago. Bettman has this insane desire to prove that his Sun Belt expansion was a success, so he’s kept the Phoenix Coyotes pathetically clinging to life for the last couple years in hopes that they’ll suddenly become popular, but it’s not going to happen. There’s a group in Quebec City that desperately wants to have a team to replace the Nordiques, and there’s no chance a team would fail in that rabid market. Let them have it, I say, and put the poor Coyotes out of their misery.

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