Time to play a little Devil’s advocate, in part to speculate on how to attract a few more Devils advocates…and Red Wings advocates…and Bruins advocates, etc.
Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp opined recently on why the hometown team was drawing well below its typical average when the club is so darned good on the ice.
Among his conclusions is the Wings need to reach out to their “traditional” fan base by constructing a roster with more spit and vinegar – the Darren McCartys of the world. While he isn’t suggesting a return to a goon era, it’s ostensibly a recommendation of increased violence. And it makes some sense, from a marketing perspective.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not stumping for more mayhem, but I do see the logic in the argument. At The Hockey News, while we’re on opposite sides of the editorial fence from the NHL, we share some business commonalities. One of them is finding hockey fans in the United States.
In Canada, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. We can take a mass market approach because the game is in our blood. But in the U.S., we have to target our energies more narrowly, try to find and reach the four or five or six percent of Americans who consider themselves real puck fans.
The same principle should hold true for the NHL. At this point of the league’s existence, it must realize its popularity potential in the U.S. is limited. Even if the league eradicated fighting, headshots, stick work, cheap shots and thuggery, the fan base wouldn’t swell its banks. Maybe a few more parents would register their kids for hockey if its image were cleaner (or maybe not), but the game would retain its place in the pecking order – No. 4 or 5 or 6.
Re-introduce a few more violent behaviorists, guys willing to get their noses bloody, take some stitches and some punches, and there is a known fan element who, perhaps turned off or driven to apathy by the lockout, would be re-attracted. Heck, it worked in Anaheim where Brian Burke built a team that not only knows how to score, it knows how to entertain with its muscles and knuckles. It’s a logical tack.
It’s also a dangerous one. More violence may be more compelling in a primal sort of way, but it also widens the aperture for more serious injuries and tragedy. It impacts the mindset, the code, and threatens to undermine positive strides the league has taken on the headshot issue.
Perhaps you feel it’s a risk worth taking if you’re operating an NHL franchise. But like any gamble, you’ve got to be prepared to deal with the consequences.
Jason Kay is the editor of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend.
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