What Does Everyone Have Against Hockey?
We're in the middle of the first NHL Playoffs since 2004 and there seems to be a common theme. No it's not Ilja Bryzgalov shut-outs (although those seem to be happening quite often), it's NHL bashing.
It's no surprise that the NHL is not as popular as the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA, or NCAA Football and Basketball for that matter - but it gets treated by major media like it is a joke of a sport. Shows like Around the Horn on ESPN constantly make fun of anyone who actually watches hockey. They don't pick on NASCAR, they don't pick on soccer, and they don't pick on tennis or golf. They pick on hockey.
Earlier this week, Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel wrote an article entitled "Hockey: The cold, hard, truth" in which he claims that no one wants to read about hockey, and pleads sports sections and media outlets to stop covering it. He cites low NHL ratings as the reason to stop covering it, and claims that "sports editors are from an era when hockey still mattered." He states that "the WNBA and Major League Soccer" are in the same category as the NHL.
That's funny, last time I checked, the NHL drew 16,955 fans per game - barely less than the 17,558 that the NBA averaged this season and just a little more than the 8,174 that the WNBA drew in 2005. Last time I checked the NHL revised the rules for a more exciting game, had two of the most exhilarating rookies in sports history in Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, and was in the middle of an exciting playoff run.
We all know that the NHL isn't the NFL, but it does deserve the respect for what it is - an immensely popular sport that has an extremely loyal following. Haters will point to the fact that hockey doesn't get the ratings of Golf or even Arena Football, but fail to realize that much of the reason for the lack of interest is their incessant nagging about how uninteresting it is. What would happen if the media promoted it like they promote golf or boxing? I know that I don't particularly like those sports but when ESPN hypes up a fight for a week, it tends to peak my interest and I tend to watch. Don't you think the NHL bashing has the reverse effect?
The NHL bears some responsibility for this, but they don't get any help from the national media. The NHL shouldn't have allowed a work stoppage and they shouldn't have allowed their game to be showcased on mediocre sports networks like NBC and OLN. However, they don't deserve the treatment they are getting. They managed to evolve the quality of play this year and have given their fans everything and more that they could have asked for coming off of the work stoppage.
I'm fairly certain that hockey would be better off getting no attention from the media than the negative tail-whipping they've been getting lately. Someone wise once told me that if I didn't have anything nice to say, I shouldn't say anything at all. When it comes to covering the NHL, the media should contact their local elementary school so that they can sit in on a kindergarten class. It obviously didn't sink in the first time around.