This IS The NHL's Image In The U.S.A
a perspective from Raleigh, North Carolina:
"Hockey's image a joke
National Hockey League officials fail to realize the decline of interest in the sport among Americans
Luke DeCock, Staff Writer
When Chris Simon teed off on Ryan Hollweg's head like a hanging curve, it not only thrust the NHL back onto the national sports agenda for all the wrong reasons but illustrated the NHL's image problem in the United States. For years, hockey's popularity among American sports fans has been sliding, and the lockout -- and the post-lockout national television deal on Versus, a network best known for bull-riding and Babe Winkelman and hardly a stopping place for sports fans -- only reinforced perceptions that no one would really notice if the NHL shut down.
So why doesn't the NHL have a more aggressive, clever, creative plan in place to address the problem?
Because the NHL is more popular in Canada than the NFL and the Tooth Fairy combined, it's easy for the game's power brokers to overlook the game's slide down the American interest scale over the past few decades.
Once a staple of the so-called "big four" sports, hockey has become a punch line for a younger generation's jokes, and the people running the game are so out of touch with the people who aren't becoming fans that they're missing out on the fact that the "Coolest Game on Ice" isn't very "cool" anymore.
If they were paying attention, here's what they'd see:
1. DWINDLING MEDIA INTEREST
For the NHL, the real shame of the Simon stick-swinging incident wasn't that it brought the NHL into disrepute. It was that it brought hockey into the mainstream for the first time all season: Front-page news in the New York Times, a topic of discussion on "Pardon the Interruption," prime-time viewing on SportsCenter.
No matter how many times the league pumps up the meetings between Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, even the two most exciting young players to come along in years have a hard time capturing the interest of the outside world.
2. INSERT NHL JOKE HERE
In a tongue-in-cheek open letter to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, "GQ" offered some helpful advice to improve his image in the United States. Hockey made the recommendations under the heading "Become a better diplomat":
"If you want results, there are other ways to scare us. You can force us to watch the NHL. You can make us read 'The Five People You Meet in Heaven.' You can cancel taco day at the office cafeteria. Actually, please don't cancel taco day. It's all we have left."
This is the same magazine that prominently featured NHLers -- Carolina's Eric Staal among them -- in a photo spread of athletes. But when it comes to being snarky, the NHL is an easy target.
3. SATIRE SPARES LITTLE
Sometimes, "The Onion" is as funny because of its unerring eye for appropriate targets of humor as it is for the humor itself. In this case, its NHL preview was a savage attack on the league's position on the periphery of American sports, a straight-faced story on "Hockey's First Season Following Lockout" that includes a quote from a Raleigh fan who hopes "we can beat the Russians again, at any rate."
(The joke, for those not paying attention, is that hockey came back from its self-destructive lockout a year ago. The Onion also ran a clever bit on the Hurricanes after they won the Stanley Cup, under the headline, "Carolina Residents Confused, Terrified As Victorious Hurricane Players Riot In Streets.")
The Onion's shots at hockey included a story about a Massachusetts man named Robert Orr who "claimed" to be a Hockey Hall-of-Famer, a picture of Mike Modano captioned, "Mike Modano: Is He The Tom Brady Of Whatever It Is He Does?" and a list of NHL players to watch that mixed one real-life player, Teemu Selanne, with made-up NHL stars like Adam Banks, Charlie Conway, Les Averman and Russ Tyler -- a stinging barb at the NHL's anonymity.
4. IRRELEVANT TO 'THE SPORTS GUY'
For better or for worse, ESPN.com's Bill Simmons -- "The Sports Guy" -- remains an influential voice for a generation of young fans, the same generation the NHL is desperately trying to attract. In a December column on the NFL, here's what he had to say about the NHL:
"Anyway, here's a random Pittsburgh note that I'm passing along courtesy of my friend Dave Dameshek, the only person I know who still follows hockey, as well as someone who simply won't stop bothering me about his beloved Penguins. According to Shek, 'not only are Sid the Kid and Geno Malkin for real, Sid the Kid will save the NHL and is in the early stages of doing just that.'
"(Note: I'd tell you more, but I don't know who these people are and still can't find Versus on my cable system. Give me a couple more weeks to investigate.)"
5. RIDICULOUSLY LOW RATINGS
After the NHL's midweek All-Star Game, an experiment unlikely to be repeated, Versus sent out a press release trumpeting the broadcast's great ratings, a 0.7 that "propelled Versus to a top-15 ranked cable network ... among the key male demographics."
A few days later, USA Today offered some perspective on how great those ratings were. Shows that drew more viewers that Wednesday night: American Idol (Fox), Design on a Dime (HGTV), Myth Busters (Discovery), Top Chef (Bravo), Ace of Cakes (Food Network) and The Andy Griffith Show (TV Land)."