The NBA Finals storyline for the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs focused on the Big Three (LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade) trying to repeat against the most dominant three players of the last decade (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli). The NHL Stanley Cup Finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins in plainly stated terms features two original six teams from big cities trying to win the best trophy in the world.
Which one would you like to watch?
The NHL playoffs are hands down better than the NBA playoffs. In the NBA, the most exciting moment is the last two minutes where there are likely to be at least five commercial breaks. The most exciting moment in the NHL is sudden death overtime hockey, where there are no commercial breaks. The refs do not have nearly the effect on the outcome in the NHL, the game is faster and more physical. Instead of watching individuals complain, you watch team players limp across the ice to kill a power play.
And yet, the NBA Finals still has more of a following than the Stanley Cup Finals. Game five for the NBA drew 16.1 million viewers, which was down two million from last year. The Stanley Cup Finals game five drew 5.4 million viewers, in the leagues most viewed series in over a decade.
And yet even with all the hype of the NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup Finals, along with the rest of the playoffs has been better on the hockey side. Two overtime games, scrappy play and close games, trumps an often-lopsided set of contests between the two teams. Why can’t casual sports fans catch onto this craze?
The NHL does not market itself well.
While the NBA playoffs featured compelling storylines and icons in every series that were easy to discuss, the only NHL player the league cares to market, Sidney Crosby, lost in the semis. The NHL refuses to put in the time and money needed to compel the average sports fan. If people watch golf, NASCAR, tennis and horse racing, then why will they not tune in to hockey?
A couple disadvantages do also exist in the NHL. It takes a few games for fans to be able to follow the puck, unlike the bouncing orange basketball. Additionally, players faces are covered in masks (although the NHL could market them as superheroes…again) and they are hard to distinguish. However, there are ways to make fans follow players; think videogame player tracker.
As for this series marketability? The two teams have plenty of high profile players within hockey circles. The NHL needs to push this advertising angle and promote its storied history like basketball and baseball. If I’m the NHL, I’m putting ads for this series on every park bench and Internet website. Treat this like a circus. Come see the seven foot tall hockey player (Zdeno Chara), witness the incredible reflexes of Patrick Kane and watch two acrobat goalies fight to the sudden death (Tuuka Rask and Corey Crawford).
The NHL has the best playoff experience in sports; it’s time to use the format to its advantage. Many hockey purists may enjoy their martyrdom, but hockey is a sport everyone can enjoy. All commissioner Gary Bettman needs to do is fire his marketing
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