Sunday, December 07, 2008

NHL Flaws

Join The Debate

This article I stumbled across on BallHype takes some digs at the NHL – claiming it is not major league.

The list is a bit half-baked and it makes one wonder why the author opted for the top twelve over the more traditional top ten list – when he only had 6 good ideas... But as I contemplated response, I had to admit it made some good points:
11. By the numbers, NASCAR, the XFL, professional poker, bowling, test patterns and "Rosie Live!" all had better ratings


7. The league is currently being shown on a network that seems to exist only to show an eternal churn of "Rocky" movies

You can't underestimate the effect that not being on network TV has on the league's image in the States. After all, consider that they do air. The fact that the league can't then find a place on a sports-only cable network is another PR hit.

3. Tie games are resolved through shootouts, which is roughly akin to having a tied baseball game determined by home run derby, a tied basketball game determined by a free throw contest, a tied football game determined by extra point kicking, or a boxing match determined by chair shots

We all know that the football tie resolution is a bigger joke (the coin toss), but that doesn't take away from the fact that a shootout is a very odd way to settle something in sports. Playoff hockey provides the perfect solution of course – fight to the death (or first goal).

I also think there are other arguments not examined there that could be used to demean the NHL, but I think that's enough credit for a position I don't really believe.

World Sport
When you slight a league for not being “Major League”, it would be first a good idea to define what you mean by “Major League”. As this was an American-sourced link, I think I can safely make some assumptions about what was meant by the term: Baseball, Basketball, Football. In those terms, you can see how it would be hard for hockey to make it. You have the game of American Dream mythology, the hippest sport and the best marketed by far. An incontrovertible trio really.

In fairness the post hits out at the NHL and not hockey in general, but I get the feeling the

But is that Major League, sealed and delivered – decided by the Americans. It’s not in Canada, here hockey is the only Major League. It’s certainly not in the rest of the world, where soccer, cricket and motor racing boast raw popularity to make the US leagues blush.

According to a few sources (and to no one’s surprise), football is number one – not the type where only one guy uses his foot. Cricket is undisputed number two thanks to huge popularity in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh who outstrip American pop’n by a clean billion. Not hockey, not any of the “Major League” sports look very major next to these two giants.

But it is interesting to look at hockey from a world perspective, particularly because it does have appeal in other countries, unlike American football, say. In addition to full support from Canada, and middling support in the US, ice hockey is very popular in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Czech and Slovakia, Sweden, Finland and the Baltic states (Canada + those countries = 270 million people). Throw in it’s growing popularity in Germany, Austria and Switzerland (who add close to another 100 million citizens). From that perspective, it seems that hockey is major league, even if the NHL is not.

Now that it is more and more possible to follow the NHL from around the world, one could imagine some kind of following growing in Europe for the beleaguered NHL, in the same way that Thailand is hopping mad about the Premiership...

The point, I suppose is that hockey goes well beyond the NHL. In fact, the better players going to Russia for money, while it hurts the NHL will probably help to bolster popularity in the Eastern hemisphere – where growth potential is high.

I have not responded to the original NHL bash myself as I was half-way there and lost steam. As I said, if the argument is North American major status, and the cut is made at three, hockey doesn't make it. I took up this piece because: a) I thought some of you might be able to better articulate a response and b) to shoehorn in another debate:

"If the NHL is barking up the wrong tree in the US, would more effort put towards formal competition in Europe be useful?"

Just some food for comment...

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