Getting to Know Hockey Players

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.

Similarities:

  • 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

Differences:

  • 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.

6 thoughts on “Getting to Know Hockey Players

  • July 6, 2011 at 9:04 am
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    I think it’s a great idea! Maybe at first, they could just leave the names up for the first five seconds after each line change. Either way, it’s a positive innovation. It’s hard to imagine turning on a baseball game and not knowing the score & game situation immediately. But this was always the case until somebody had the idea to put it on the screen.

  • July 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm
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    Interesting idea but I’d hate to be the graphics operator with that job! Not only do line changes happen quickly (approx every :30) but there are often changes made to lines on the fly so it would be hard to get into a flow and be accurate.

    I think the NHL has to focus more grass roots, they have long been labeled as a bunch of European (or Canadians) who we, the US fan base, will never feel attached to. In truth, Hockey players are the most accommodating of all the professional athletes. If the NHL got their players out amongst the fans as often as possible fan bases would start to feel attached to these guys and be more apt to watch/participate.

    Oh and try not to have Sidney Crosby go out for the year again…

  • July 7, 2011 at 8:25 am
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    Steve – thanks for the kind words!

    Brian – I agree the grassroots is very important, and this idea is by no means a substitute for long-term, local, youth-focused programs. However, I think one way to overcome the disconnect with European players, especially those with “unfamiliar” names is to see those names more often and connect with what they do on the ice outside of when a goal is scored. Then when those players do reach out to communities, there is a stronger base to work from.

    And while there is some technical challenge, if all the names are preloaded into a computer system, you only need one person to monitor player changes, click the name of the person coming off and click the name of the person coming on. I think this type of system could be designed fairly quickly and with ease of use in mind.

  • July 7, 2011 at 11:10 am
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    In the off-season of every sport we would have production seminars where we would try out new technologies and set-up practices using “clean” game tapes. We’d try out new analysts, play by play guys, new graphic elements etc.

    Your idea would be great for this format – it could be tested over and over again to see if it is possible to make “game ready”. More often than not new technologies would sound great and we’d love the concept, but if they couldn’t be implemented with accuracy they’d would never make it on the broadcast.

    Also if it took too many bodies to implement you’d have to do further budget analysis. For example if you found out the only way to do it accurately was to have 4 people doing this job (spotter for each team and graphics op for each team) it would probably become cost-prohibitive.

    I think it’s a good idea – just wonder if it would be practical in application and visual (10 names is a lot of space). Again not trying to shoot it down just talking it through. The concept of the NHL doing more to connect players with fans is the right one for sure.

  • July 7, 2011 at 11:17 am
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    Brian – thanks for the great insights from your background. It definitely provides a feel for what has to happen to make this, or any new media-technology initiative possible.

    I’m hoping to pass this idea and some of the feedback I’ve gotten to a couple of folks I know at the NHL and Versus.

  • July 7, 2011 at 11:54 am
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    Good Luck! I would absolutely love to see the idea gain steam and make it on air. I think we are of the same mindset, I wrote just yesterday (on the fantastic website sportstvjobs.com wink wink) about how the NBA lockout is a huge opportunity for the NHL to embrace a whole new audience, and they need to take advantage of it.

    One thought I had was on the announcers booth side of things. Best in the biz play by play guy Mike Emrick acknowledged that for the Stanley Cup playoffs he had to talk less x’s and o’s strategy and explain things a little more i.e. embrace the casual fan who might not normally watch, but tuned in to see the best of the best.

    I think the NHL should “suggest” that all broadcast teams adapt a more embracing style next year – less hardcore hockey. Make sense of the game for the casual fan so they feel like they are a part of it, not an outsider borrowing the sport for a while. You of course don’t want to exile the hardcore fan by using the “haley’s comet” tail on the puck like fox did in the 90s, but there is a mix to be had that embraces the new without upsetting the old.

    Having a few fan parties with Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin probably wouldn’t hurt either, after the Stanley cup those guys threw down!

    Great discussion Russell – enjoying it.

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