Does everyone here remember the “Hockey is for everyone” ads on TV, particularly on the NHL Network and Versus? The commercials showcased the NHL’s “efforts” to reach out to inner-city youth, and how this was being spearheaded by players like Jerome Iginla, and Dustin Byfuglien. I was thinking about those commercials today and it got me thinking… Has the NHL really proved that hockey is indeed for everyone?
I applaud the stewardship of players like Iginla and Byfuglien in their community service; we all know that they are not the only ones. Players tend to take on the ambassador role of the NHL, but what about the teams? Do teams do everything in their power to expand the game of hockey? I would say no… while inner-city youth hockey programs are good at developing an appreciation of the game it doesn’t provide much in the way of inspiration if those same kids can’t go home and watch their favorite hometown NHL team because their parents can’t afford the cable or the satellite package to get it.
The NHL lacks visibility… especially when it comes to television and broadcasting rights. Why are NASCAR, NFL, MLB, and NBA so popular? Simple, they are broadcast more frequently on the network channels (i.e. NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, CW, and UPN). U.S. Hockey fans already know this and have come to accept that the NHL is what it is. While the NHL scratches their heads about the failure of teams in the southern United States; they need only to look as far as how each team operated their broadcasts; as most of those teams were on cable and cable only.
So would it hurt the Avalanche and the other 29 NHL teams to simulcast some games on a network channel like (My20, CW etc.)? No, especially when those games are one of the dozen or so divisional matchups throughout the 82 game season. It may be hard to believe but the Avalanche once used to simulcast FSN Rocky Mountain games on UPN 20 in Denver from the ’95 season until Kroenke launched Altitude Sports and Entertainment.
I just think that it is hypocritical to say that “Hockey is for everyone” if only the middle-class and above can afford to watch the games on T.V. never mind actually going to a game where each seat ranges from $20-$200. What’s the point in teams sending their players to develop inner-city youth programs if those kids will never have the opportunity to see those players actually play the game themselves? Those teams might as well just send random volunteers and trainers to show them the game of hockey. A lot of people especially in this economy have had to choose between many luxuries like Cable TV, hockey games, and entertainment and food… food always wins, luxury loses.
When we hear and read about sad stories like the banana that was thrown at Wayne Simmonds while he was about to make a shootout attempt in London, ON, we begin to see that there are some who don’t think that hockey is for everyone. But we as true hockey fans know that hockey is indeed for everyone. Former Avalanche forward Chris Stewart said himself that he was inspired by inner-city programs sponsored by the NHL in Toronto. The one difference with his story… Hockey is on the network channels in Canada. My message to the NHL is this… If you want your plant to grow you have to water it. But no amount of water will ever make a plant grow if it never sees the sun. If hockey is truly for everyone, then everyone should be allowed play it AND see it. Until then, hockey is only for the privileged… at least in the United States.