Chicago,Il — Only the NFL has a fan base that is lock scoped during the regular season, partially because there are only 16 regular season games which makes every game that much more important. It is a smaller time commitment and has buit in demand. The NFL creates demand by diminished supply. Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder at least for football.
The NHL has 82 regular season games that takes place from October thru April that’s a long time to commit for the casual fan which is why there are some fans that only tune into post season games. The NHL attendance and broadcast numbers are improving but there is still a disconnect between the regular season tv viewership and the playoffs in some markets.
Now the NHL is not the only league that has this problem The NBA & MLB also share in this issue. In fact MLB has double the amount of games that the NHL & NBA do and the average baseball game is now running 3 1/2 to 4 hours which is way too long and could explain why young people are not interested in baseball the way they used to be couple with the slower pace of the game. Now hockey does not have that problem and the length of the games and pace is good. Since I am a hockey fan I will only be addressing what the NHL can do.
Now the NHL does have some incredibly passionate fans that just love hockey and can never get enough of it. For those of us we are probably the only people on the planet that dread summers. Those are not the fans I’m referring to. I’m talking the casual fan or the fans that only watch their own teams and don’t follow other teams in their own division let alone conference or league.
Ideally you first want fans to like a team then you want them to watch and pay attention to other teams in their own division and conference. The last step is to have these fans then simply want to watch hockey and show interest in the entire league.
So what can the NHL do & why don’t certain fans only tune in during the post season?
There are multiple reasons why people watch playoffs vs regular season hockey. One is that the intensity of games is heightened due to the games in themselves mean more. The level of competition is better. Now every league has bad teams and there really is nothing that can be done about that but maybe there is something that can be done about amping up the intensity in regular season and having those games mean more in the end.
One way to get more people to tune into the regular season is the games have to have more bearing on the playoffs. This will also get not only more fans buy in but players as well if there was some pay off for them in the playoffs. As the NHL is now, the regular season performance has very little to do with the post season.
The President trophy winner rarely end up winning the Stanley Cup. In recent history only the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings have won both. The Hawks in 2013 which mind you, was shortened by the lock out and the Wings in both 2002 & 2008.
So inherently there is no added advantage for teams to do well in the regular season just play well enough to get to the playoffs. An eighth seed has just as much opportunity as a division leader. Now something seems wrong with that especially since out of all the major sports hockey already has built-in variables with puck luck.
In theory the LA Kings won both of their Stanley Cups and probably were not the best team in the league the years they won the Cup. They just got hot at the right time or it could be argued since they didn’t play that well in the regular season they were more rested. Now I’m not saying the Kings are not a good hockey team and that they might not have won anyway, they are, but with the way the current system is it is unfair to division leaders and conference leaders.
In the regular season last year the Boston Bruins were the Presidents Trophy winners and the best team in the NHL. In the West it was the Anaheim Ducks yet when the playoffs rolled around they really got no distinct advantages other than they got to play the supposedly weaker wild card teams but this advantage was only in the 1st round.
And that crazy divisional thing in the playoffs that the league went to, I’m just not so sure makes sense in post season but that’s another subject and there needs to be more than a 1 year sampling to give full judgement on this format.
The league needs to expand especially in the west where they are two teams shorter than the east. This way they could have two more teams per conference make playoffs and have the wild cards and teams other than divisional leaders play each other while the division leaders get a bye to the next round and some additional rest.
If the players got an extra weeks rest & automatic bye to the next round that would be incentive to try to win their divisions. Each game during the regular season would have more meaning especially against one’s own division and conference which the NHL and NBC are promoting anyway with their Wednesday Night Rivalry Night which is geared to divisional match ups supposedly.
The other thing I’m not sure makes sense is the whole OT and shoot out point system. I’m not sure professionals should get treated like little leaguers where you get a point for losing. If there was more of a separation of points like if you win you get points if you don’t you get nothing I guarantee that you would be seeing some pretty intense last 10 minutes of the 3rd periods of games and some battle royales to get those points.
I understand that the league is trying to sell parity to keep fan bases of bad teams stay interested. I’m just not so sure that it isn’t also diluting the product as well in the regular season. To get me wrong the NHL product is great I just want to help make it even better. I’m also not sure it makes any difference. The Buffalo Sabres are not a good team and have not been for a while but that doesn’t stop Sabres fans from watching their team or other teams.
The regular season games would gain both more meaning because of the games increased impact on the post season and would gain intensity in more games if the point system was revisited. It will be interesting to see how the AHL does with scrapping the dreaded shootout and what impact it has. Is this a guarantee of converting those fans that only tune in to the post season to make them want to tune in or go to regular season games – no but it should be looked at by the league.
Admittedly I don’t really understand fans that only tune into the playoffs, isn’t that like coming in 2/3rds of the way through a good book or movie? Then again maybe not since the regular season has little to do with the post season. I do understand time commitments but tune in on a Wednesday. The regular season does set up divisional enemies and with how the league is set up now you will understand certain carry over dislikes that were fostered if you tune in to the regular season.
For those fans though that only watch the playoffs, I would encourage you to tune in sometimes during the regular season. This year NBC and NBCSN will feature 31 games that will highlight rematches of teams that were in the 2013-14 playoffs so you might want to check that out. Who doesn’t want to see the Chicago Blackhawks take on the Kings or Boston take on Detroit?
Whatever market you are in there is also probably a game or two that your team will play against an opponent that you will want to catch as well. The regular season is not as intense as the playoffs but that doesn’t mean that there is not some great hockey that is being played or do you think the battle between Jonathan Toews and David Backes is only worth watching in playoffs? Who doesn’t want to see P.K. Subban go toe to toe Milan Lucic? How can you not appreciate the skills of Patrick Kane, Pavel Datsyuk or Steven Stamkos? Give it a whirl I’m betting you will be entertained.
Next up — must see games for the casual fan in the regular season