With the 24-hour sports news cycle leaning heavily on the NFL draft, NBA playoffs and the topsy-turvy start to the baseball season, it’s interesting that almost everyone I talk to about sports wants to talk about hockey. Since its creation, sports have been dissected, replayed and talked about constantly on ESPN. Think about the growth of the NFL and NBA since ESPN’s sports coverage began. The NFL draft has become a 2-night, prime-time event. And now, for the first time in 30 years, a sport doesn’t need a constant presence on ESPN to educate, inform and grow its fan base.
I think it’s fair to say the NHL has seen more growth in the years since the lockout than at any time in its history. In the Washington, DC area the last few years, hockey has found a fan base unlike any this town has seen before. It has grown by word of mouth, local news and newspaper coverage but mostly, it has grown due to the explosion of the internet as the main way the NHL is reported to the world. There is there no other major professional sport whose image, status and appeal have been more greatly aided by the rise of social networking, blogging and internet-based video than hockey.
The NHL has everything: the world’s fastest players (whose remarkable feats are practically designed to be watched over and over again on YouTube), crushing hits and fights (again, destined to make the rounds on blogs, Tweets and Facebook), and a new-found sense of celebrity among the truly great players (and Mike Comrie). NHL players are just as controversial, quotable and dedicate as other athletes and it’s fun to watch and read about their thoughts.
Millions of new hockey fans sat slack-jawed at their computers a few years ago, watching Alex Ovechkin score ‘The Goal’ over and over and over again on YouTube. They watch montages of every goal Ilya Kovalchuk has ever scored, the hit that sent Marc Savard into a daze and the coach that threw every stick in Canada over the boards over a disputed call.
Still more, like me, have begun to think of ourselves as amateur journalists, writing about our observations of our favorite teams in the many NHL blogs out there. Mainstream bloggers, like Yahoo! ‘s Puckdaddy, have become a place mainstream media envies: a blog that scoops the traditional news outlets on big stories and does so in a highly respectable, highly journalistic way (hiring a Russian-speaking journalist to get the highly-illusive Russian Superstar Interviews: brilliant!).
Now you have professional hockey writers opening up in blogs, offering their opinions and little tidbits that were missing from their printed pieces. NHL.com has streaming video of game highlights, and team sites have interviews, pre-game shows and other insightful material up for everyone to read, free of charge.
I used to watch ESPN all the time. John Buccigross and Barry Melrose offered up great insight on the game and Buccigross’ weekly column on ESPN.com was one of my must-reads. Now, I find myself watching Sports Center for everything but hockey coverage, as I’ve already gotten my hockey info elsewhere, and in a more complete form than anything ESPN has ever dedicated to hockey. It doesn’t matter that the NHL’s network, VS. , isn’t hugely popular, as fans go elsewhere for highlights and interviews.
It’s a great time to be a hockey fan.