FOR YEARS, IT HAS BEEN the same anemic story for a league
struggling to find an identity in the national TV market. The loyal
local television fan base in a city such as St. Louis or Detroit
fails to reach a city with no NHL ties - like Tulsa, where hockey
is about as popular as bowling or drag racing. Meanwhile, the NFL,
NBA, and MLB thrive with their lucrative national television
contracts and are universally popular throughout the nation,
regardless of the market. The NFL, considered the gold standard of
the professional sports television industry, generates nearly twice
as much in television revenue as the NHL does in total revenue.
Shawn Bradley, chief operating officer of the sports marketing firm
the Bonham Group, believes part of the problem is that hockey isn't
nearly as captivating on the small screen as it is in person.
Bradley says the speed of the game entices a live audience but that
on television, the game is actually less appealing than the other
three sports. With pucks traveling at speeds of up to 100 mph and
bouncing all over the rink, the game is difficult to follow within
the confines of a living room.
"What can you do about that?" Bradley asks. "You're talking about
something that's good for attendance and not so good for
television. It's not something that can be changed."
Another part of the problem, according to Neal Pilson, president of
the sports marketing firm Pilson Communications, is that hockey
fans have little experience playing the sport compared with fans of
the other three sports.
"One thing hockey deals with is that a lot of its fans have never
played the game, so many of them aren't as knowledgeable [about]
the game as, say, a basketball fan," he explains.