On the Hilarious Insecurity of Hockey Fans
Over on the NHL side of the 'House, Eric McErlain did a little dance today because recent data has shown that attendance numbers for the NHL have surpassed those of the NBA. I have no interest in disputing this fact; the data seems to be accurate enough. But incredibly, Mr. McErlain jumps to the conclusion that the NBA's fan base is somehow disappearing, when even a half-hearted look at some data other than attendance figures would clearly show otherwise.
There's a very simple reason that attendance has declined in the NBA, and it has nothing to do with the sport's fans losing interest. It's because the NBA is available on a wide variety of television networks that people have actually heard of and have access to. The NBA is on ESPN Wednesdays and Fridays, TNT on Thursdays, and on ABC every Sunday beginning in January. Oh, and the late stages of the playoffs and Finals are also nationally televised on ABC. The NHL? They have that big network contract with ... Versus, which can be found on channel five-hundred-and-something on your local cable or satellite provider. Maybe.
A little deeper look into the television thing shows that when the NBA is on, people definitely are watching.
The 2008 Finals regularly allowed ABC to "win the night" in the ratings, with Game 3 registering a rating of 9.2. What happens when the NHL does get a shot to be televised on a major network? Not much. On New Year's Day, when nobody works and the NHL went to the (admittedly cool) gimmick of the outdoor game, it was shown live on NBC. In what was called a "ratings bonanza" for the sport, the game drew a whopping overnight number of ... 2.6.
The bottom line is this: gloating about attendance numbers in your favorite sport surpassing one that you aren't that into just shows how insecure hockey fans truly are. Seriously. You're beating your chests about something that isn't even close to a true indicator of a sport's popularity, in the hopes that someone, anyone will notice. The reality is that millions more people care about the NBA than the NHL. If television ratings don't do it for you, how about franchise values? I've maintained for a long time that there aren't that many hockey fans around; it's just that the ones that do exist all go to the games.
Based on the lack of availability of the sport on television, that's completely understandable.