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N.Y.C.-L.A. matchup will boost NHL's long-term growth

What the NHL stands to gain from a Stanley Cup Final featuring its two largest markets could help bring hockey to new heights.

(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

In a little less than two weeks, players from either the New York Rangers or the Los Angeles Kings will take turns hoisting the Stanley Cup in a triumphant culmination of what was a storybook playoff run. But the biggest winner of this finals matchup may prove to be the National Hockey League.

The NHL has recently seen its popularity increase, while receiving national recognition as a financially thriving organization that knows how to develop fans and put on a great in-game experience.

The combination of a new Canadian national broadcast deal, expanding its popular Winter Classic to include the “Stadium Series” — with outdoor games in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Vancouver  — and an overall $3.6 billion in annual revenue have some calling this an opportune time to expand from 30 to 32 teams.

At this crossroads in the league’s development, what the NHL stands to gain from a Stanley Cup Final featuring its two largest markets could help bring hockey in the United States to new heights.

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Ticket Sales

Driven by Los Angeles and New York, the secondary market ticket prices for the Stanley Cup Finals are sky high. According to TiqIq.com, with less than 24 hours before the series’ opening face-off, the lowest average price for a ticket was $806 for Game 1 in Los Angeles, while the highest was $3,372 for a potential Game 6 in New York.

Perhaps the single best illustration of how inflated the market is, was pointed out Tuesday — that the total price for a flight from New York to Los Angeles, a hotel room, and a ticket to Game 1 combined is less than the price of a single ticket for Game 3 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Secondary ticket prices at this late stage of any sport’s playoffs are driven by many factors. The level of fan enthusiasm is  influenced by the amount of bandwagon fans who join in supporting a team during its playoff run. The heightened ticket demand could be created by those consumers who wouldn’t ordinarily be in the market for these teams’ tickets. The extent of this bandwagon effect may be determined by the market the team plays in, as well as the franchise’s recent success.

Since the Kings won their first Stanley Cup Championship in 2012, interest in the team has risen and the ticket market has developed to a point where it sometimes challenges the Lakers for the most expensive sports ticket in the city. For New York fans, this series marks the Rangers’ first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1994. The dedication of longtime Rangers fans combined with a Big Apple-sized bandwagon, full of New York sports fans who can and will pay top dollar to experience a big game atmosphere, have consumers paying more to see the Rangers play for the Cup.

The secondary ticket market could be seen as an indicator — albeit, an important one — of the success of a league’s efforts to draw fans.

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

TV Ratings

Similar to ticket sales, the television ratings for the series will be determined to an extent by the fan base and the bandwagon.

Traditionally, the NHL produces its highest ratings when teams in large, traditional hockey markets such as the league’s Original Six franchises — Detroit, Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, New York, and Boston — are involved. Low ratings during the Kings vs. Ducks second-round series had some second-guessing whether hockey is thriving in Southern California as much as the Kings, Ducks, and the NHL like to say it is. Past numbers suggested that an all-original six matchup in the Stanley Cup Final would produce a bigger TV audience because of the higher number of dedicated hockey fans.

Despite not being a traditional hockey town, Los Angeles still boasts the second highest population in the country, and  it is a city that loves success stories. Nothing in Los Angeles is screaming success story quite like the Kings are at the moment. The Kings are the biggest thing happening in Los Angeles sports right now, and the Blackhawks/Kings Game 7 set ratings records for NBCSN.

(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

The Rest of the Country

Overlooked in all the New York versus L.A. talk has been the draw that these teams will have on the rest of the country. Sure, the two markets make up a relatively large portion of the country’s population, but the big audience generated by these big cities will be joined by many Americans who are intrigued when New York and Los Angeles go head to head. Just hearing the names of the two cities may be enough to entice people around the country to keep tabs on the series.

Every die-hard fan had a moment that got him or her hooked. This series could be that moment for a record number of people. If any significant portion of these casual observers like what they see and come back for more next season, the NHL will come out of this series a winner.

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