On my drive home last night, I was thinking about the differences between the visibility and marketability of NBA vs. NHL players. At first, I thought there were enough similarities between them that NHL players should get more name recognition about casual fans than they currently do, especially compared to the recognition that NBA players have. Let’s take a look at some of those similarities, then I’d like to highlight one particular item that I think the NHL’s media partners can help with.
- Time of year – both start in the fall and finish in late spring
- Season length – both have around 80 games per season with similar playoff structures
- Venue – both have similar capacities and most arenas are designed to host both sports
- Markets – the NHL has more Canadian presence, but most major U.S. markets are represented
- Players in action – both sports are 5 on 5 (plus goalies for hockey), which should be an advantage compared to baseball (9 on 9) and football (11 on 11)
- Uniforms – both feature the players’ last names and numbers prominently across the back
- Action – both games feature a constant flow of action for about the same length of time
- TV Coverage – while the NHL’s coverage is increasing, the NBA has more network and cable coverage
- Grassroots – there are many more basketball courts across the country than hockey rinks, leading to more familiarity and interest
- Scoring – there’s a big difference between a 3-2 final score and a 104-96 final score
- Roster size – hockey rosters are about double the size of basketball
If I keep drilling into more details, I can list out more similarities and differences, but there’s one more difference that I want to focus us…line changes. Unlike basketball, where you have a lot of continuity with the players on the court, hockey has a constant stream of player changes that makes it very difficult for a casual fan to know who exactly is on the ice at any given time. Combine that with the lack of scoring (in basketball, every basket provides a chance to share the name of the player that scored), and the amount of exposure that the players gets throughout the course of a game is limited.
With this in mind, I have a simple suggestion for the NHL’s media partners that can help… an “on-the-ice” bar at the bottom of the screen that lets the viewers know what players are currently on the ice. I know the idea of putting more things on the screen takes away the amount of space available for the game, but with the popularity of widescreen televisions, I feel that two thin bars at the bottom of the screen could easily be added in the same place you’d see a score ticker. Seeing the names of the players involved in the action and updating them with each line change could have a huge impact in building awareness for these athletes, which will benefit both the players and the league.