Mediapost provided a nice summary of the Brand Keys Sports Loyalty Index. The NHL ranked #3 in terms of fan loyalty (with the NFL and MLB tied for 1st and the NBA running 2nd). The study measures fan loyalty based upon four criteria:
entertainment/excitement level of the team
how they play as a team
level of bonding fans have with players (the puckbunny index?)
team history and tradition
So why does the NHL rank so low on the list? I think we all can agree that the games are exciting and most teams are relatively exciting (except those playing the dreaded trap). Hockey is a total team sport that requires the cooperation of all 6 guys on the ice at the same time. While there are individual stars, no one star is responsible for the fortunes of a team (Do you hear me on that one Sabres? Step up and stop relying on Miller to carry your asses.) The NHL players and fans for all intents and purposes have a good relationship…that occasionally is not dependent upon looks, talent or the amount of alcohol consumed. And with few exceptions, NHL teams have a solid history and sense of tradition.
The president of Brand Keys offers the following hypothesis for the low popularity of the NHL:
“…it isn’t TV-friendly, and because of players’ gear, is not amenable to player-fan loyalty. “It’s very hard to set up a situation where you can bond with players. They all look the same.”
I’m sorry, what? All NHL players look the same? Is he implying that hockey is a predominately white sport – which it is, I won’t deny that – and that’s why it doesn’t appeal? Or is he saying that from the cheap seats – both those at the arena and at home – all five skaters look the same and only the goalies really stand out? I beg to differ on both arguments, as really, the first one is just a bunch of crap. And the second one is easily disproven, considering it can become fairly easy to start picking out particular hockey players once you start paying attention to the game. Using the Sabres as an example, you can start differentiating the Myers/Ennis/Gerbe/Roys of the world because of their height. Then you start weeding out the Mair/Gaustad/Ellis types: the muckers and grinders who are all heart and effort, all the time. And you keep going from there.
I’d also call bupkus on not there not being any fan/player loyalty in the NHL. How many player specific jerseys do you see at any given game? And more importantly, how many “special” player specific jerseys do you see? I’m referring here to the Michigan State Miller jerseys or the Minnesota Vanek sweaters that you see sprinkled around the arena. Also, let us not forget the fan uproar when Briere and Drury left town. Those gentlemen still get booed at the arena. Maybe Buffalo is a special case, but the NHL not being conducive to developing player/fan loyalty is bunk.
So who does this study say are the most loyal fans in the NHL?
I’m kind of shocked by the inclusion of San Jose and New Jersey on the list. Maybe it’s just my East Coast “old” team bias, but the Sharks are a relatively new team and yet still rank in the top five…playoff chokes and all. New Jersey is shocking because although they have a team that has won championships and has consistent management, they’re often overlooked for their regional neighbors when it comes to media coverage.
I feel like I wandered around a bit in this post, so thank you for bearing with me. What do you all think?