NHL Gets What It Wants But Fanbase Stays The Same
An article on espn.com discusses the possible reasons for the increase in scoring this season. Scoring is up slightly from 5.6 to 5.9 average goals per game this season so far over last, and is almost 20% higher than the 5.0 goals per game the season before the lockout (where many rule changes were hatched).
This year’s rule change, where the face-off following a penalty is placed in the penalized team’s zone, is credited as part of this year’s scoring increase. Another reason is may be officiating, that the referees are calling penalties “properly”. Another proposed rule change we discussed here is during a delayed penalty, if the guilty team is defending in it’s own zone they have to clear the puck – simply touching the puck won’t be sufficient to stop the play.
In retrospect the NHL got what it wanted - a faster paced, higher scoring game where coming back from a 3 goal deficit is more of a possibility than ever before. The ESPN article feels the quality of the product, and NHL game, is better and more polished than it has ever been.
Here’s the problem – the underlying NHL theory is that if you increase scoring you’ll in turn increase your fan base – that new fans will be attracted to an offense-emphasized game. Unfortunately when you take out exchange rate issue of the Canadian Dollar, the NHL’s revenue is basically flat year to year, with the revenue increases simply matching ticket price increases, meaning your existing fan base is still your only support. My experience has been it doesn’t matter how many goals you score or how fast the game is, the casual viewer still doesn’t ‘get it’ until you take them to a game. Perhaps having teams play regular season games at neutral sites IN THE US would help expose potential fans to the live NHL experience. It frustrates me that the NHL continually rebuffs Canada by saying they need to expand the US market yet they hold neutral site games IN EUROPE! Have games in Seattle, New Orleans, Houston or Indianapolis – areas where there’s either no hockey and you can generate new interest or areas where hockey is ‘close by’ and fans can piggy back on their nearby teams.
If you can’t get to the game the other issue, brought up by the guys on NHL Home Ice, is the inconsistency in the camera angles and camera work at various NHL games. Everyone knows it can be difficult to follow the puck on TV, especially for the new viewer. I myself have to watch a few games at the start of each season before I’m back into “game viewing” shape. All other major sports have a consistently packaged television product. In the NHL, sometimes the camera is in the lower deck where the fans fill up the bottom of the screen and in other cases the cameras are behind each goalie where you can’t see the puck at all (read the ridiculous argument in favor of rink side cameras by FSN Executive Producer Tom Feuer). Americans watch sports so they can relax (relatively speaking), and not knowing what to expect every time you turn on the TV does not feed that need. On a very unconscious level sports fans expect consistency and when it comes to television the NHL is not very good at delivering that experience.