In the fast-paced world of hockey news, made even faster with the Internet, talking about the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver is pretty much old despite it ending only this past Sunday. However, I want to bring some following facts to your attention about the men's ice hockey tournament. Steve Lepore manages the hockey media blog Puck the Media and here's some ratings from the last four hockey games featuring USA Hockey.
- The United States-Canada preliminary game on Sunday, February 21 drew 8.2 million viewers on MSNBC.
- The USA-Switzerland quarterfinal game on NBC at 3 PM EST on Wednesday, February 24 and on tape-delay on the west coast drew 5.9 million viewers.
- The semifinal between USA-Finland on NBC at 3 PM EST on Friday, February 26 drew 6.0 million viewers.
- The gold medal final live on NBC on Sunday, February 28 was not only a big game on the ice but across the nation as a staggering 27.6 million viewers watched the last game of the tourney.
That's a lot of viewers in the United States who paid attention to an American roster of all-NHL players throughout the Olympics. Sure, it spiked in the gold medal final and the Canada game on the weekend drew additional interest. But I am most impressed that the quarterfinal and semifinal games did this well despite the time of broadcast. That doesn't even include all the people who watched in public places or in groups; so the true number who witnessed an United States national men's team game in the last 2 weeks may be considerably higher. In any case, that's probably a lot of people who aren't necessarily serious hockey fans who watched the Americans play.
And if you're a big fan of hockey like I am, then you should be suggesting and encouraging those people to check out the NHL.
Let's face it: a significant amount of people in the U.S. and around the world watched Team U.S.A. in the Winter Olympics. Some of them are already hockey fans, fans who already support particular teams, and players. But I would assume that within those ratings, there a lot of people that don't normally watch hockey. Because of that, I sense opportunity. I sense a chance to do something ourselves. We complain about the Devils marketing (here, here, and here for example) and perhaps by extension, complain about how hockey/NHL isn't marketed right or isn't as popular as it should be - though with Sidney Crosby they're doing it right per this post by Mike Chen at From the Rink. While I'm sure marketing departments within the NHL and the 30 teams should do something with this and that the NHL should be looking to use the ratings at least for future leverage as Steve Lepore suggested, I believe we can take advantage of this massive opportunity.
In my opinion, the gold medal final and all of the big ratings that Team U.S.A. got in the Olympics planted a lot of seeds into those viewers. Seeds of hockey, if you will. Like any seed, it's only going to grow if someone tries to take care of it.
These metaphorical seeds aren't going to grow if we look at these ratings and say, "We hope more people will get into hockey and/or check out the NHL" (e.g. Brandon Worley's post at ProHockeyTalk); or, worse, take a cynical attitude and state that those who got into the Olympics won't follow into the NHL (e.g. Greg Wyshynski's opinion at Puck Daddy; the opinion of Dave Ogrean as noted in this Puck Daddy article). I'm not picking on Worley or Wyshynski nor do I mean to, but these attitudes does not cultivate any new fans. Will all of these metaphorical seeds grow into metaphorical plants bearing fruit (NHL fans)? No! Some aren't going to grow, some will be hindered by something else, some are going to try but not really get into it, some were only interested because it was America or the gold medal game or it was something to watch on Sunday, and so forth.
That does not mean we shouldn't try. If anything, it means we keep working at it. Because doing nothing but sitting back and complaining, moaning, and groaning about the situation will lead to no new fans. That will lead to the NHL having absolutely no tangible reason to keep participating the Olympics. That will ensure that a big day in recent hockey history will remain as just that - a big day, and not the start of some new growth within the sport.
I'm emphasizing that we should be doing this because I'm pretty confident we all know someone who isn't a hockey fan, but definitely watch the Americans (or some other nation) at the Olympics in ice hockey. It can be our co-workers, our friends, our family, our loved ones, our associates; if you think about it, that's quite a few people implanted with the seed of hockey. Fortunately for us as fans, cultivating those seeds will take a lot less work than an actual plant.
All we have to do is say to someone who enjoyed the hockey games at the Olympics: "You know, the best guys in hockey at Olympics all play in the NHL. Would you like to check out a NHL game sometime in the future?"
That's it. It's broad, it's simple, and it takes less than a minute to say. I should know, I've done it several times since Sunday myself. And I got positive reactions to it, too. You can even change the wording, it's just one way to put it - the point is the same. Perhaps bring up a player - Ryan Miller, Zach Parise, whoever the person might like - in the suggestion. It's open-ended, but it's still easy to say in conversation. In fact, you can start them with something like this.
Just to clarify: You're not asking them to give up whatever sport/passion they love for good. You're not asking for a season ticket package. You're suggesting that someone check out a NHL game. No, the game's not likely to be nearly as intense or exciting as the Olympic gold medal final between the U.S. and Canada; but let's not assume that they won't accept anything less than that. I think that game was pretty clear as a rare and special game, especially noticeable for anyone who follows some kind of sport. So I wouldn't worry about that - I think that's just an excuse to not try. After all, a regular season game in March/April won't be nearly as important (in most cases) as a gold medal final, but it can certainly be entertaining. Especially if they checked out USA-Finland.
You can take someone you know to a hockey game. You can tell someone to watch a game on TV (incidentally: NHL Center Ice is being offered as a free preview on several digital providers from March 2 through March 8.) or via the internet through NHL Gamecenter (which I recommend). Want to go to a public place to check out the game? Check out your local drinking/eating establishment to see if they'll have the game on TV. Or even go to a watch party. I can't speak for other teams, and this one is not fully official, but user Cherno77 has organized one in Hoboken for tomorrow's Calgary-Devils away game at a bar over O'nieals. If you're over 21 and interested, why not check it out?
And if they say, "No," then fine. Don't get discouraged - just respect their opinion and move on to someone else. Just because one or ten or a hundred people say no doesn't mean the next person may not say yes. And chances are, since you (presuming they like you and being around you) are making the suggestion and not some stranger, they may actually say yes just because you brought it up.
I'm not calling for a big campaign or project; I'm not asking that we, as hockey fans, need to shill the league. I'm asking that we just bring it up: ask/encourage someone to check out a NHL game. If they like it, great, there's a new fan right there. If not, then at least the teams got some additional business and you can say you tried. Which is a lot more than sitting around hoping or being cynical about the situation. Which you can do, but in that case, I would highly suggest not whining about the issue of attendence since you didn't help out (At the same time, don't even bring up the "Casual fans want to change what I love" garbage. Come up with a proper argument instead.)
We all like and/or love hockey (and presumably the New Jersey Devils if you're here). Why not take this opportunity not even a week after a wildly popular Olympic men's ice hockey tournament finished to share this with others? Why not take the initiative instead of hoping someone else does it?
Let's get out there and cultivate some new fans. Let's try and get these seeds growing. Otherwise, we will regret missing such a big opportunity to help hockey grow in the U.S. and abroad.