When talking about the National Hockey League (NHL) to anyone outside of their core base, you realize how tough it is for others to become fans. There is a barrier for new fandom that shouldn't exist.
One of the fastest growing and most innovative sports in regard to increasing fans is the National Basketball Association (NBA). They are always on the minds of their fans and sports fans alike.
Why is that?
It begins with them taking advantage of social media and using it as a tool. The fans, players, management are all involved. While I get zero pleasure from social media, you cannot deny the growth that basketball has received from the multiple conversations that have been had about dunks, trades and other controversial moments throughout the league. On top of it all, their commissioner Adam Silver has discussed multiple times how he believes that allowing for social media to be used as a playground, the league is seeing net positives.
Hockey needs to pivot and allow for innovation to take the wheel. Additionally, the NBA has the summer league where the young players that they just drafted or brought in as an undrafted free agent get to play. Players become folk heroes, they meet in a central location, and it gives scouts and fans a reason to tune in. Basketball is dominating the airwaves even out of season.
The NHL has a chance to do the same thing; the Blue Jackets play in Traverse City before training camp against multiple other teams' prospects. While it is fun and gives people an excuse to go up to golf, the lack of vision is frankly startling. Hardcore hockey fans are watching and doing anything they can to get meaning out of the game.
Why not centralize all of the teams? Why not make it into a bigger deal? Why not try to make it into a showcase of the best young players? You can quickly sell and package it. You then get interest in the summer that would've never had before. Allow stat-niks in and let it be a chance to try out different rules. You have a block of clay, and you can mold it into anything you want, instead, it is being tossed aside like old gym shoes.
Not to mention on top of all of this, many pro NHL players are now playing in "beauty" leagues in Minnesota. OHL, NCAA and pro players are taking part yet no one knows much more than preliminary info. It is easy to see why it isn't monetized considering all of the leagues at play but how the league doesn't try to have a presence is asinine.
Add in the fact that nothing is being done in the southern states during these months is a missed opportunity as well. Everyone is throwing a baseball or shooting a basketball. They should have pop up tents where street hockey can be played, and even in-line players can ply their trade.
While everyone needs and deserves a break, hockey is too niche to rest on its laurels. They have an opportunity to do so much more and haven't even tried. Take advantage of inefficiency and grow the game.
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