A few days ago, I sat down in front of my television and tuned into a live broadcast of a video game simulation of a Colorado Avalanche hockey game. I sat there, amazed at how far we had come from what the sports world once was. The COVID-19 pandemic is a severe problem for many more essential reasons, but I’m going to focus on how it affected the NHL, and what that could mean for the future. I began to wonder how the NHL could come back and be better than before it walked right out that door.
This idea came to me, and I immediately recalled how much I enjoyed the UFC’s return to action in front of zero fans. I thoroughly enjoyed these broadcasts. The best part of the new UFC has been catching the conversation between fighters and their respective corners. Dana White’s masterpiece has effectively given fans a glimpse into their game in a way that wasn’t even possible before. He saw a change and saw an opportunity.
With no fans in the arena, everything the coaches and fighters say becomes A LOT clearer pic.twitter.com/DbMxKLfho4— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) May 20, 2020
Meanwhile, while hockey has been away, we have continued to unearth a culture that desperately needs to change - thanks to the Brendan Leipsic saga. Why shouldn’t this postponement serve as an opportunity to retool the toxic pieces of hockey culture while at the same time, trying to revamp the NHL’s entertainment experience?
We could effectively pull the curtain back on hockey culture and show the world hockey for precisely what it is. Lumps and all. How else can we hold a culture accountable? This game won’t be for everyone as long as it can hide behind the veil of exclusivity.
NEW ENTERTAINMENT OPTIONS
I am a season ticket holder, so I know nothing is like being in the can for a Nathan MacKinnon goal, but given the circumstances, let’s do our best John Lennon and imagine a more entertaining and inclusive home hockey experience.
Imagine watching an Avalanche game with zero commercial breaks. Imagine hearing the constant banter between opposing benches during a 24 team Stanley Cup run. This broadcast would be ‘uncut’ and would involve player/coach commentary, different camera angles, more colorful commentators. Who’s the NHL’s, Joe Rogan? That’s what I want.
Landeskog: “Laces!”— NHL (@NHL) November 11, 2017
Karlsson: “Ah, I stink so much. This is the worst ever. I actually think I’ll give up hockey. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Swedish chirping 101. #NHLGlobalSeries pic.twitter.com/r7EGV3lNHW
Now before you tell me you aren’t made of money, remember that there are already plenty of successful and affordable streaming platforms to model after or collaborate with. In fact, the NHL and ESPN+ have already been working together.
The league could sell a subscription-based package for the regular season and then charge for every round of the playoffs. No more need for Xfinity to bring Avs hockey back to Avalanche fans. They could still use the altitude guys if people wanted the local cast. We would be a league of chord cutters and leave out cable providers that don’t really have our best interests in mind anyway. That’s why we PPV now. No more commercials, no more paying for channels that you never watch and more of this audible gold instead.
NHL Refs chirping back at the players is hilarious pic.twitter.com/uf3mI8qevN— Wheeling Problems (@wheelingprobs) January 4, 2018
YOUTH TRAINING AND ENTERTAINMENT EXPERIENCE
This idea might alienate the younger audience. The more important audience. The audience the NHL needs to capture if they’re going to grow. Imagine having the option to watch a broadcast that is more entertaining for your kids and better at teaching them the nuances of the game. This is where you can use that player tracking, puck tracking, light up boards, and all the other nerfed up ideas that have come up. These telecasts would have totally different hosts and would never share the same mics or personalities to ensure a kid-friendly broadcast. For these broadcasts, you can bring on some of the great Youtube creators like Coach Jeremey of How To Hockey.
In tomorrow's live stream we're going over shootout moves. For a chance to be featured you can submit your video on the HowToHockey subreddit or just tag me on Instagram! See you tomorrow at 4pm EThttps://t.co/zXNwomlaU9— Coach Jeremy - How To Hockey (@howtohockey) May 19, 2020
Your kid wants to be the next great NHL goaltender? Let’s have him watch the Carey Price POV cam and shadow some NHL level shooters. Don’t even get me started on integrating VR into these broadcasts. Your kid goalie could effectively play along with a live NHL game. I’m not a kid, and that still sounds awesome.
Then say your kid is a junior-level hockey player, and a professional future actually seems possible for your youngsters. There could be different training tools built-in for different level hockey players. This would effectively give parents another tool for teaching the game from novice to bantam.
PULLING THE CURTAIN BACK
For me, hockey has always had more of an appeal than other sports because, within each game, there is a meritocracy that is unmatched by other leagues. In hockey, if you talk the talk, you must walk the walk. When it’s your time, you answer the bell. This is such a valuable life lesson, and it’s something hockey teaches alongside the fight game. In my opinion, fighting allows players to effectively police the game themselves rather than have refs or rules intervene. I enjoy the fact that fighting in hockey has remained valuable to the higher-ups in the league as well because, to me, it would be a shame for the NHL to go down the path that the NFL has in terms of softening the game. Some of the NFL’s rule changes have effectively promoted player health; others have just given an advantage to the offensive side of the game. That’s another article, though.
The most critical counterpoint to the uncut PPV option involves how the NHL Players Association would react to this level of exposure and just how bad things could get on a PR level. We all know that hockey players are prone to display generally unacceptable behavior on a live broadcast. I’ve been told that this is something the Players Association would never agree to. But why? What players are they protecting? Certainly not the upstanding athletes and coaches that know how to effectively chirp without being a bigot. Certainly not the players who would be heard communicating with teammates as a leader and positive presence.
That’s just what’s bothers me most in light of Akim Aliu’s brave article in the Players Tribune. One of the main contributing factors to these awful things being carried out is that no one (outside of those who had something to lose) knew they happened. If you said something, you might as well pack your bags. You can’t hold a culture accountable when you’ve never been let in the door. Especially when those that are let in are told to fall in line or get lost.
My parents raised me to not be a bigot, homophobe, racist, or misogynist. I’m grateful and lucky. I’m not a perfect man by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve also learned about consequences in my worst moments. That helped me become a better man. Unfortunately, some of hockey’s representatives haven’t been so lucky and haven’t been held accountable throughout their careers. I mentioned earlier that I love hockey because, in this game, you are held responsible by your peers, not always by written rules. The thing about meritocracy is that it and transparency are mutually inclusive. Hockey isn’t for everyone. Hockey should be for the open-minded, brave and the spirited. It should not for bigots, homophobes, racists, or misogynists. Pulling back the curtain and letting the world hear everything that happens on the ice could be a huge step in correcting an issue that continues to plague hockey culture. Guys would be force to change or else they’d be held accountable for their actions - something that hasn’t always happened in the past.