2005-07-15 / Sports

NHL Returns But Why Should The Fans Cheer?

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

By Joe McDonald
Sports Columnist

And on day 301, the NHL lockout was settled. Now the hard work begins.

After its one year sabbatical, the National Hockey League needs to now win the fans back over, because the whole agreement would be moot, if they league damaged itself to a point they can’t sustain league revenues.

So, hockey now needs to endear itself back to the fans. To put the fannies in the seats, the owners and commissioner Gary Bettman need to come out with creative and, as Omar Minaya would say, ‘outside the box’ ideas.

First and foremost, the league needs to lower ticket prices. Yes, the Broadway crowd will pay the high prices at Madison Square Garden, but that’s expected.

The Islanders can’t expect its Long Island fan base to keep paying upwards of $70 dollars to see their team in the Coliseum. And the same can be said about most every other venue throughout the league.

If the NHL wants to survive, they need to lower ticket prices and even try and give tickets away to younger fans. If the league starts to give away a reduced rate to families of four, they will more than ensure creating new fans, which are the life-blood for any sport.

The NHL should also dip some money into marketing. There is a lack of name recognition throughout the league. In Major League Baseball, the average fan knows Derek Jeter, Barry Bonds and Pedro Martinez. Tom Brady and Ray Lewis are household names in the NFL and Shaq and Tim Duncan are synonymous with the NBA. But in hockey, it’s hard to name the stars. And the names people know are well past their prime, such as Mark Messier and Mario Lemieux. The NHL needs to start marketing the Jerome Iginla’s and Joe Thornton’s to have superstars of the future fuel the league today.

Also the league should not pin all its hopes on soon to be first overall pick Sidney Crosby. He is only 18 years-old and making him into a league messiah would just be unfair.

One plan that will probably go into action is the rule changes, which took place in the AHL this past season. The automatic icing, no-touch offsides and wider blue lines do help, but the goalie rules and shootout are gimmicks. The NHL needs to pick and chose what rules speed up the flow of the game.

The league should go back to letting the players police themselves. By putting in rules against retaliation, the NHL risks more situations like the Todd Bertuzzi hit on Steve Moore and that will lead to more black eyes.

Television is another way for them to draw the crowds back, but a good product will be the best way to keep fans tuned in.

One can go on and on, but the NHL does have a lot of work cut out for them. Getting the players on the ice is only step one now it needs to get the fans back in the seats and give them reason to cheer.

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