By Jake Moore—Asst. Sports Editor
Despite the recent increased intrigue toward hockey in the U.S., the game still has yet to achieve mass nationwide appeal.
There are several possible factors as to why hockey has failed to meet the levels that leagues like the NBA, NFL or MLB have reached. The historical explanation of this could be that the NHL did not have its origins in the United States but in Canada. The first American team did not appear in the league until 1924 with the emergence of the Boston Bruins.
The following year, the league expanded to add teams in Pittsburgh and New York City. While the league continued to grow throughout the 1930s, the NHL went through a twenty-year period with only six teams, all based in Canada and the northern United States. But in 1967, the league nearly doubled in size, adding more northern teams and expanding to the west with teams in Minnesota, St. Louis and Los Angeles.
However, the American south (one of the country’s major sports markets) did not receive a team until 1972 with the Atlanta Flames. The team relocated to Calgary just eight years later, and the south did not get another team until 1992 when the Lightning moved into Tampa Bay. Within the next ten years, the NHL began expanding into more southern markets like Dallas, Miami, Phoenix, Charlotte and eventually Nashville.
A common misconception is that southern fans are generally uninterested in hockey due to how their teams underperform, but all the southern expansion teams (with the exception of the Coyotes) have gone on to appear in the Stanley Cup. In Tennessee, the Nashville Predators have dominated the sports media spotlight, as they have become the highest performing team in the state.
Another issue hockey has is what I like to call “Helmet Sports Syndrome.” Essentially, this means that in the age of social media, people have a tough time connecting to hockey players because they are barely able to see them during the game and learn more about them. The NFL has been steamrolled by the NBA in this department, and the NHL has it even worse because the players are not as entertaining as those in other sports. The NHL is a sport that has significant player movement which makes a beginner feel very out of place between each new season.
Hockey also has the issue of being a difficult sport to follow due to the seemingly jagged nature of their television broadcasts. If someone tuned into an NHL game with no context of the game, they would immediately feel left out because the broadcasters have no time to explain the majority of what is unfolding because of the game’s inherently fast pace.
The NHL is going to be introducing new technology during broadcasts this year to try to combat this problem. By implementing advanced tracking data and new camera angles, the NHL hopes that this will make the sport more accessible and increase their television ratings, as the NHL has the second-lowest amount of viewers in the nation, just behind the MLS.