Move over NASCAR, those brawling bullies from the NHL are back

Xy81552Just when it seemed like all the unbelievable and irresponsible fisticuffs being carried on ESPN were limited to one NASCAR driver’s rage at another for cutting him off, we have the return of the National Hockey League.

And, sure enough, there were enough brawls and one-on-one slugfests on "opening night" to even make a Daytona 500 fan blush with pride.

The fighting is absurd, and both "sports" should do something to tone it down, if not abolish it outright. Brawling has always been a sleazy and, in my opinion, totally unnecessary part of ice hockey. But, it sells tickets and the fans have come to love and expect it. Ditto, I guess, for the race car crowd.

But, I have two questions:

1.) In both sports, especially hockey, the marketing goal should be to build the core fan base. But, how can they attract someone like me when I find the fighting absurd and irresponsible? Don’t get me wrong, I love boxing and often go to live events. But, the notion of race car drivers and ice hockey players moonlighting as pugilists is bogus.

2.) If one of the marketing goals for both brands is to grow the bottom line, then why not publicize the hell out of the fisticuffs to the core fan base and sell "bloodiest fights" videos, peddle boxing gloves, trunks, etc., at the arenas and racetracks and, maybe, even stage live boxing matches between drivers and players after the events?

Both sports face a bit of a conundrum: while their core audience adores the fighting, potential audience members, like me, are probably turned off by the nonsense. But, instead of making a bold and decisive move to either ban the boxing or market the living daylights out of it, both sports remain in neutral.

NASCAR is growing faster than the weeds on Ed Moed’s backyard patio, so they really don’t have to fret about alienating future fans. Hockey, though, is struggling and really needs to decide how to reach more mainstream audiences. So, if the NHL commissioner is paying attention, here’s a promise: ban the boxing and maybe I’ll tune in your games.

7 thoughts on “Move over NASCAR, those brawling bullies from the NHL are back

  1. I watch soccer (or futbol for those of you across the pond). I watch women’s golf. Heck, my wife said I’d “watch under-water kick boxing if it was close.” But the only time I watch hockey is during the last two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Why? Because the players can’t afford to get into a hook, because penalty box time might cost their team a goal via a power play. And when the game is played without fighting, it’s maybe the most beautiful sport on earth… The NHL flat doesn’t get it. I’m not taking my kids to watch thugs whack each other; but I’d sure take them to watch The Great One in his prime. (By the way, for my money — just to show I’m not anti-hockey — Wayne was the greatest athelete of the 20th Century… Sorry to break that to you Ruth, Ali and Jordan fans. But The Great One has something like 1,000 points more than anyone who ever played the game. Think about that…)
    Now, quickly, back to my real point. From my standpoint, it’s easy: Make fighting a 10-game suspension. Kill it off by making the penalty too stiff to endure in the wallet and standings. Soon thereafter, fighting goes away…and guys like me and Cody show up. Why does the NHL think it’s “core” fan base will leave if we attend? I’m not sure. Maybe we should ask the guy in the organization who negotiated the TV contract with NBC to show the games for FREE.

  2. Growing up in California my entire life, you wouldn’t think I would have fallin into that group of avid hockey fans, but I did. However, I did grow up playing hockey. With that said, I have seen enormous growth in youth hockey here in California in the past 15 years. As new NHL teams expand and settle into new markets, hockey will experience more growth/fan-base. Look what “The Great One” did for hockey in the late 80s to early 90s. His arrival to Los Angeles brought huge geographical expansion in terms of fans. As I said, it may be hard to imagine, but give it some time. Who would have ever thought a movie like “Matrix” would have translated into the mind of millions Americans.

  3. Brendan, I love you but….you’re dead wrong if you think ice hockey will one day be a major, mainstream sport in the U.S. Too few people grew up playing it and the speed and small puck translate poorly to TV.

  4. After reading all of these comments along with blog, I can’t help but think, “What would Barry Melrose say?”
    I am sure he would mention the first thing that comes to mind when anyone mentions fighting in the NHL. The league polices itself. Fighting will never be eliminated in hockey and shouldn’t. Fighting isn’t to blame for the lack of fan following, player union contracts and other financial disagrements are. Prior to two years ago, hockey was healthy, aired on ESPN, and vastly growing. I have no doubt that it will follow in the NFL’s shoes, just 20 years behind. Give it some time and hockey will be mentioned alongside the NBA, NFL, and MLB. Americans need some time to adjust.

  5. I agree. As an ice hockey player and fan, I hate the fighting. It’s not necessary. And, think Wayne Gretsky. He was one of the best, if not the best, hockey player ever, and he avoided fights all the time, mainly because of his size. He single-handedly showed the NHL that hockey can be great by focusing on the finesse of the game, not the fighting. I really believe, for a time, that the fights calmed down, and he was a big part of it. Now, without him, the fighting has increased again. I think fighting should be banned from hockey. If you fight, you are thrown out. There’s no reason for it…period. It gives hockey a bad name. Hockey is a great sport when you think of the fast skating, passing, and amazing plays.
    The NHL needs to demand that the fighting stop. It’s horrible for kids to see this and they are the next generation that the NHL depends on. And, as an adult, I hate seeing it as well.
    It’s an ice hockey rink, not the Roman Coliseum.

  6. Fighting or not, the problem with hockey is that it’s a niche sport. Unless you live in the ice belt (MN, MI, WI, etc) you’re not exposed to hockey growing up. As a result, the majority of Americans don’t have an emotional connection to the sport, which is why it will never appeal to a mainstream audience.

  7. I don’t think the NHL’s fan base is in support of fighting. The core fan base that come back year after year, watch the game for the love of the sport, not the brawls.
    Hard hitting, great passing, stellar goaltending and speed are what make the game great. In fact, just last year the NHL made some controversial rule changes which cater to and foster speed and finesse. The result has been more scoring and more exciting action.
    Hockey has a long way to go especially after the devastating strike but they’re moving in the right direction.