Or Maybe Even Its Own Month
I’ve been thinking about this for a long time now. Most major sports own a specific day or time of year that helps turn all the attention in the sports world to them — but not the NHL.
Opening Day is one of the most exciting times of the year for baseball. It is usually at the tail end of March or early April. Football season is over and the NBA and NHL are at the very end of their regular seasons, right before the playoffs. So, unless one of your teams are in a playoff race, these games usually don’t mean much. The NFL, NBA, and NHL are all off from mid-June to early September, so baseball is king during that stretch.
Christmas Day almost always features five of the best NBA matchups each year. Baseball season is over and the NHL never schedules games for that day. The NFL only schedules regular season games on Christmas Day if they fall on a Sunday. And the NCAA usually doesn’t schedule basketball or football games on Christmas. It also helps that most people are at home with their families on Christmas. If you like sports, basketball is your only option.
It’s no secret that the NFL owns a day of the week. The NFL stole Sundays from God awhile back and the emergence of fantasy football and Red Zone has only made it easier to follow. The NFL also owns Thanksgiving and Super Bowl Sunday (the first Sunday in February). The NBA and NHL do not play on Thanksgiving, so football is your only option. The Super Bowl is the most-watched television program each year, which makes the first Sunday in February married to the NFL.
If you went to a college where football was popular, your Saturdays in the fall belong to college football. New Year’s Day also hosts almost all of the big bowl matchups outside of the National Championship Game. Those games are also staggered so they run all day.
Ever heard of March Madness? The third month of the year belongs to college basketball.
So that leaves me with the NHL. What do they have? The start of their regular season is usually just before the start of the NBA season. But the big opening night games are usually played mid-week without much fanfare. The games are also staggered so they don’t steal anyone away from other sports. The MLB playoffs are also in full swing, which is hard to compete with as there are games almost every night.
What about the Stanley Cup playoffs and Stanley Cups Finals? I would argue that the Stanley Cup playoffs are the best in major sports. There is no other league where it is clear to the average viewer that the level of play is elevated significantly during the postseason. The MLB playoffs would come in second, but a distant second. The Stanley Cup still doesn’t own their time of year. The NBA Finals are usually scheduled a week after, or sometimes both league’s finals take place in the same week. That makes it difficult for the NHL to steal attention away from the NBA.
The Winter Classic? As I explained before, College Football Owns New Year’s Day. The Winter Classic is cool and all, but a regular season game is no match Christmas Day for CFB fans.
Obviously, die-hard hockey fans would prefer to watch the NHL over any other league no matter the occasion. The NHL probably has the strongest group of supporters that don’t follow other leagues. But, for the casual viewer, there is no time of the year where the NHL can steal them away. I think the league office should put their heads together to think of a marketing plan where they can own a time of year. It would no doubt help engage the casual fan who has nothing else to watch but also would also engage die-hard fans too.
The NBA has been smart and has taken advantage of most available holidays like Christmas and MLK Day, and neither league plays on Thanksgiving. I think the NHL has two options: take over an existing US holiday or create their own. Columbus Day would probably be the only viable US holiday because some people get school and work off that day. That would require the NHL to move up their regular season a few weeks. Columbus Day is also rather problematic and isn’t really that important, so I’m not sure if the NHL could leverage it.
I would love to see the NHL create their own pseudo-holiday. A time of year where the league can launch an entire marketing campaign around and steal attention away from the NFL and NBA. I suggest something in late February to early March, after football season ends and before March Madness and Baseball season start — which leads me to my big idea.
The NHL should start its own featured tour that would feature each city and team for one day for 31 days in a row. It would be a traveling festival of sorts. Each city would host its own celebration of hockey and their team would play a nationally-televised home game that night. The festival would consist of a fan fest, player appearances, and efforts to engage with each community. NHL representatives would be in attendance on each date and would help promote the festivities. Imagine how much coverage that would get if they played a game on national television each night, and the amount of content they would get from highlighting each city. It would no doubt increase attention in each individual city, but would also create buzz for the league with the attention of the festival itself.
Could this plan work? I’m not sure. But at least it’s a step in the right direction in trying to get the NHL to take over a spot on the calendar that they can call their own. Until then, they will have to take a back seat to the other major sports leagues. ■
Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.