It’s been a slow few weeks in the world of sports. The Warriors are attempting to set records, but the rest of the NBA is just fighting for playoff seeding that may not matter. Golf is just ramping up its season. Spring training just started. The NCAA isn’t in tournament mode yet. Big news isn’t that plentiful. That’s why the NHL made a great decision to to take over the spotlight yesterday with World Cup of Hockey team announcements. The announcement and upcoming tournament could be a great driver of fan acquisition and engagement.
Hockey is still the fourth sport of the big four in the United States. The game fans are generally die-hard fans. They are always engaged, and that is extremely important for the game. However, the casual fan is few and far between. There are a few reasons for this — and a lot traces back to the NHL’s lockouts and subsequent TV deals — but that doesn’t mean the NHL should stop targeting growth as its number one goal.
Anyone who has watched playoff hockey knows it is one of the most tense, engaging, and exciting sports products in the world. It’s simply amazing. Well with the World Cup of Hockey, the NHL is combining international competition with a playoff feel that will surely drive fans to the television. The tournament will be played in Canada so it will be sold out. Don’t even try to get tickets.
Most every international sport — sorry football — has done these World Cup style tournaments and it seems like each one has been a success. Soccer is the most famous, but the NBA is pushing the World Cup of Basketball, MLB has the World Baseball Classic, and now the NHL is returning its World Cup after a 12-year hiatus. The international competition is a draw itself. When the preliminary rosters are making news and blowing up social media, it’s proof positive that something like this is a great idea.
Now the NHL must focus on providing great content during the match-ups and they must figure out a way to transition casual fans into more regular fans once the next NHL season begins. It helps that ESPN has the rights to the games since it can bring in a different viewing audience than the fans who currently watch the NHL on NBCSN. The league is expanding its properties with a goal to expand the visibility of the NHL. Right now, the league is off to a good start.
Michael Colangelo is Managing Editor of The Fields of Green and Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.