How To Fix The NHL: What To Do To Make The NHL More Popular

Kevin YorkeContributor IMarch 3, 2009

To many, hockey is one of the most exciting sports to watch in the world. Its end-to-end style of play can entertain and mesmerize, and its physical nature and the lightening-quick reflexes needed to react to certain situations can astound several thousand spectators.

Recently, however, the league has received harsh criticism across the nation.  Several players have been severely injured or even killed as the result of fights or crushing hits.  Loudmouthed players have said disrespectful things that have no business being said.

Even after the recent rule changes, meant to appeal to a more general audience,  that have left loyal fans feeling alienated and bewildered, the league is still being watched on television by six combined people. What is a league to do?

Firstly, the league needs to head north.  The newer franchises of the league, such as the Phoenix Coyotes, Atlanta Thrashers, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, are losing money hand over fist. 

One could point to these teams lack of all stars or exciting players, but this is not relevant.  Hockey is so popular in Canada that the mere mention of a new franchise in a professionally barren town is enough to send it into a frenzy.

Although these Southern American towns technically have large markets, they don’t have “hockey markets,” or people interested in hockey. It is an obscure sport down South, so it needs to be treated as such. 

Move more teams up to towns that would pack buildings every night.  You won’t achieve high viewership on Television, but the league only makes money off of their ticket sales anyway. The national network deal with NBC was reported to be around $10 million a year. 

This is a pathetically small percentage compared to the monolith of the NFL, and even the NBA. 

Moving up North would generate larger interest, turn more turnstiles, and produce more rivalries, not just amongst the team’s players, but the cities themselves.  This might be similar to the fierce combatants of Montreal and Toronto. 

Cities up North in Canada and the United States that might be ready for a franchise or another shot at a franchise would be Quebec City, Winnipeg, Hamilton (Canada), Hartford, Kansas City, Sudbury (Canada), and possibly Portland. 

More importantly, the league needs to trim down the number of teams, and create larger rivalries.  This might be accomplished by increasing the amount of Canadian teams to eight or ten (there is currently six) and reducing the amount of American teams (there is currently 24). 

Then, you might be able to create a Canadian Conference and an American Conference.  This would be an ideal way to generate more interest in current rivalries as well as generating new ones as well.

The most important thing to do in the game is to adjust the way officials call the game.  This might be the hardest thing to regulate, due to the increasing speeds at which players conduct play. 

However, as long as upper management stresses consistency, loyal fans will not be frustrated with the lack of good officiating.

This would be in reference to calls like obstruction. When a player gains the zone of the opposing team, if he is met with a defenseman and forward, that player with the puck will usually dump it into the back of the zone. 

This player is then allowed an unobstructed path to retrieve the puck, meaning no player can get in his way or hold him while he is trying to get to that puck. 

In the new NHL, sometimes this rule is called, and sometimes it is not, and thus, frustrating fans new and old alike. There needs to be a consistency regained by the officials in these games, or both types of fans will cease to exist.

By increasing the amount of Northern cities, the NHL can increase interest in the league and the sport.  By taking out cities that people are generally disinterested in the sport as well, it would take some of the weaker, more money draining franchises out of the league. 

As far as officiating is concerned, this is typically common sense.  Get more sensible, reliable, and consistent referees and the product will excel to heights previously thought unattainable.