Shocking as it is to hear after last years success with only one American based team in the Stanley Cup finals, this years ratings are lower than last years. There is a reason for this. Just one reason. The solution, is not so easy because it would require a long term change to the way the NHL does business.
The cause of the ratings faltering this year isn’t the style of hockey, it isn’t even that the two teams are expansion teams no one knows about. The ratings have slipped because the National Hockey League can’t market at the same level as a fifth rate used car salesman in some backwater where he’s the only game in town. When your advertisements contain egregious factual errors and you continue to air them (much to the disgust of your hard core fans) you just can’t be taken seriously as an organization.
When you only market two or at most three players across a thirty team league, you can’t expect the bandwagon to fill up when no one knows who any of the players are except those guys and their teammates. Both of these teams have more than enough talent, personality and human interest angles to fill a 24 hour infomercial network. But what does the casual fan from outside those two markets know about them? Almost nothing.
The “redemption” angle on Mike Richards and Jeff Carter alone should be a license to print money. They were the keystones of a Stanley Cup run for the Flyers not long ago, both were jettisoned just last summer, and here they are again right at the cusp of greatness. Dustin Brown is while far younger built very much in the mode of Gordie Howe. He does everything for his team, conducts himself in a flawless manner off the ice and is likely to spend the next ten years running opponents over. Even Dustin Penner is great marketing material, he’s one of the most engaging personalities in the entire NHL, and does it with the sort of humble bearing that can be appreciated by all ages.
On the other coast you’ve got the sensational story of Adam Henrique who could capture the Calder trophy and the Stanley Cup. He’s personable, he’s versatile, and like Jonathan Toews, Ryan Kesler or Patrice Bergeron he contributes on every inch of the ice. Ilya Kovalchuk signed one the longest and most controversial contracts in North America. Love it or hate it he’s going to be with the Devils for years to come. It’s time to make hay. The litany of ways to market this guy is as long as his goals scored video and is being fleshed out by his gutsy one legged performence of the last few weeks.
But the time to start marketing players isn’t when the chips are down in late May and early June. It needs to happen in July, and September, and November, like the players taking care of their bodies, and the teams taking care of their rosters for the present and future it has to be a year round commitment. Zach Parise is a pending UFA. Dangling the “where will he play next season?” carrot over the league and its fans is a sure fire way to get him, his current team, and if he moves on from New Jersey his new team more attention.
If anyone has to explain how to market players like Drew Doughty who has been compared to Bourque and Lidstrom and Leetch since before he laced up the skates in the NHL for the first time, my advice to them is: McDonald’s is hiring. If the marketing department can’t come up with ways to draw attention to Brodeur: Walmart needs greeters.
The NHL has no one to blame but itself if they are disappointed in the ratings. The marketing is bad enough, but when the veteran broadcasters start tossing random letters into the names of players and do it four games running in the Stanley Cup Final, that’s just unacceptable and off putting to the full gamut of fans.
It’s certainly too late to save this years numbers. But to borrow the tag line from another popular enterprise Winter is coming, one should prepare now.