NHL viewership and why the entertainment value has never been a bigger problem for the league

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Barden
1 year ago
The NHL needs to be more entertaining. Period.
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s felt like the NHL hasn’t been as exciting. It seems like, with every new year, the regular season has become less and less important.
Now, that might be because the Maple Leafs are a sure shot for the playoffs. But even then, shouldn’t there still be value to watching a game, even in the regular season?
I wanted to highlight the tweet above for this article. The NHL’s national viewership in the United States is down 22% to 373,000 average viewers on ESPN and TNT. The NHL averaged 478,000 viewers to this point of the season last year.
The United States numbers are important for many reasons. I want to start by saying there’s room to grow the game there, even though it might not seem like it. These numbers are clear warning signs of it.
Nearly 332 million people live in the United States, and you mean to tell me only 373,000 of that population watch hockey on a given night? That’s 0.11% of America watching a hockey game.
Not good.
There might be a number of reasons behind it, such as possible burnout from the pandemic. I’ve seen a lot of people change since 2020, that includes the sports or entertainment they consume on a day-to-day basis.
But I believe the biggest reason is that the regular season just isn’t as entertaining as it used to be. Aside from watching Connor McDavid blow by everyone, and seeing who wins the Rocket Richard, what else is there to look forward to during that time?
It has no meaning anymore.
It seems like rivalries have fizzled out, including the Maple Leafs and Bruins’ friction that we’ve had for many years. It appears as though Toronto has more of a rivalry with the referees on the ice than the team they’re playing against on any given night.
NHL All-Star Weekend is approaching and I’ve never seen fans talk about it less than this year. It’s supposed to be an event that showcases the talent of players, but I’m sure a lot of them would rather take the break to heal wounds from the regular season.
The trade deadline is just over a month away and the rumours that come with it seem to be at an all-time low. A lot of that has to do with the NHL’s salary cap and teams not being able to do anything because they’re nearly at the cap ceiling.

What needs to change?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again to start, hockey needs more movement of its players. Whether that be trades or more players moving from team to team in the off-season, something has to happen.
That’ll come eventually if the NHL heightens the salary cap, and if they create a luxury tax system like the NBA. There’s a reason why the trade deadline and free agency day are such a big events and it’s because fans find it entertaining.
Another change that needs to come from both the league and its teams is the dress code. No more suits unless a player wants to wear one. Allow everyone to show off their personality through clothing if they so choose to.
It’s fun and NHL fans need something to look forward to before the game begins. I believe player walk-in photos are the cure for that.
Start times are another aspect of the game that the NHL needs to look at. In soccer, if a match is starting at 7 p.m., the ball is kicked off at that time. National Anthems are done and there’s no screwing around.
If the league or team wants to have a ceremony, make it so it’s before the scheduled start time of the game. That will help the viewer at home know when the game is actually starting, and it’ll also get more fans in their seats before puck drop.
A win-win for both sides of the equation.
I was going to add, too, that the NHL needs to have a new playoff format but that’s more of an opinion than anything. The league seems to be generating enough viewership at that point of the year anyways. They always could have more viewers, though.
All in all, it feels like the NHL has come to a screeching halt when it comes to making the game more exciting. They have their work cut out for them, clearly, to find new ways of creating entertainment.
Hopefully it can be changed sooner rather than later.

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