Photograph by: Dave Chidley , THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Casual Fan In The NHL

Photo courtesy of MIKE BLAKE/ Reuters

Photo courtesy of MIKE BLAKE/ Reuters

Hockey is rapidly changing.

The NHL has this thing with marketing the sport towards certain people. This is perfectly fine because all major sports have a target audience. The only problem is that the NHL is trying to bring back fans who just simply do not care about hockey anymore. The people who were on the verge of becoming a fan of hockey prior to the 2012-2013..or even the 2004-2005  lockout are simply a lost cause. Of course this is more geared toward American fans and even fans in Europe possibly.  The other problem is fans who liked hockey before the first lockout in 2004-2005 actually cared that the sport was being shutdown for a season due to the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) did not come to terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Those same fans who cared are the ones the NHL wants back after the lockout that happened only seven years later and it’s pretty understandable why these fans are upset; they don’t want their time to be wasted caring about a sport that can not seem to be present often. You can also assume fans were upset that the owners and players are “greedy”, but that topic is up for debate on a different day.  This also goes for the die-hard fans. Those fans were in an uproar, but they also said a lot of things that made it seem like they were done with hockey too. They were so much in an uproar that they were willing to even give up their season tickets because of a lockout. They went as far as boycotting NHL products. Let’s not get too off topic though. This is about the “casual fan”.

When I ask people who do not watch hockey often, they tell me two things; they watch for the fights and they only catch highlights. Again, the NHL is trying to make the league safer. They are taking away what fans enjoy seeing. Now, I am not saying don’t make the league safer, but they are in a catch 22 here. Not only that, not too many people know where to catch hockey highlights. The preferred network for these kind of things are, of course, ESPN, but they themselves barely even reference hockey anymore ever since ESPN abandoned the TV contract to show televised games.

You see, the NHL is rapidly changing to bring in the casual fan. That would include changing some rules to increase goal scoring for instance, but what does that do to attract a person? Two other sports have high scoring games that are probably much preferred to for a sports fan in America. Yes, I am looking at you NFL and NBA. Even baseball is preferred in the US. The NHL also tried the “History Will Be Made” campaigns for the playoffs to attract the casual fan. Why? Because they know the “casual fan” only watches hockey toward the end of football season. Why is this not a good marketing idea? Because if you are someone who isn’t up to date with hockey history (A.K.A. the casual fan), why would they care if Mark Messier scored a hat trick on a game he guaranteed a win for the New York Rangers against the New Jersey Devils in game six of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals?  You would have to define “hat trick” for them to even understand the full greatness of this historical event.

Here’s another thing the NHL is marketing towards the casual fan; the Winter Classic games and Game Center Live. The NHL knows the die-hard fan will drop hundreds of dollars to attend one of these games in the frigid cold. The NHL knows those same fans will drop the cash for Game Center Live. So what makes them think a fan who has a little bit of hockey intelligence will spend all this money to watch teams they may never even heard of? Why would they want to watch a team outside their local region? It just does not make sense. Does spending hundreds on a Winter Classic game in the cold seem appealing to a casual fan? I don’t think a few die-hard fans would enjoy that experience let alone.

The NHL loves poster boys. These would be your elite superstars within the league. You know, Sidney Crosby, Henrik Lundqvist, Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Toews and so on. The league is becoming a goal scoring driven league and it is departing from what hockey used to be. Hard hitting, intense, old school hockey. Yes, this includes fights without stupid helmet rules. The casual fan loves your Scott Stevens’ and your Colton Orr’s. Fearless fighters and hard brutal hitters. This is what makes hockey so unique. It’s particular extremely fearless players who play through any kind of injury. These kind of things make a fan say “Wow, he’s tough. I wish other sports players were like this”.

The casual fan should be a fan who watches hockey occasionally all year, and would consider going to a game once in a while and maybe buy some apparel from their favorite team store. However, for me personally, I have yet to meet a fan willing to do any of these ideas. The sport just isn’t appealing or they just don’t care anymore because of the lockout. While the NHL’s new campaign “Because It’s The Cup” is appealing to the casual fan a little because of its marketing towards the playoffs, it still does not draw them for the long haul of a season. To me, I think you are either into hockey or you are not. There is no in between.

So you see, hockey is changing, and we will soon see if it is for the better or worse.


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