The NHL Turns 100: What Lies Ahead?
By Danny Tyree
Let’s start with a disclaimer, just so I’m not skating on thin ice.
My credentials for writing about the National Hockey League can be summed up as: circa 1982 I attended one game featuring Nashville’s old Central Hockey League team the South Stars; I recognize superstar names such as Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Hull; I always enjoyed hearing Don Rickles dismiss some self-important celebrity as a “hockey puck”; I’m familiar with the old joke “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.”
Where were we? Ah, yes, November 26 marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the NHL. According to Wikipedia, while it is considered one of the four major sports leagues in North America (along with Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA), overall it has the smallest total fan base of the four leagues, the smallest revenue from TV and the least sponsorship.
I have been approached by a think tank of NHL fans who are proud of the league’s storied past but who will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that the sport survives and thrives in the next century.
Demographic shifts being so important, certainly the NHL will want to cater to the aging population. With a nod to those Sunday-magazine ads for senior-friendly Jitterbug telephones, the league might experiment with easier-to-follow MANHOLE-COVER pucks.
Another way of commanding the loyalty of mature fans: instead of filling the TV screen with boring statistics about “assists” and “icing,” stats could announce how often the players call their mothers or how much more they make than that bum who stole their childhood sweetheart.
Why stop there? NHL teams could run a promotion in which fans bring in their &%$#@ pill bottles with “childproof” caps and let all the players direct their slap shots at the bottles.
According to Wikipedia, the NHL does have the distinction of holding one of the most AFFLUENT fan bases. But instead of resting on their laurels, they should brainstorm ways to attract more rural/blue collar/lower-earning fans. Terminology should be more relevant to people’s lives. “Body check” could be redefined to mean inspecting for ticks and chiggers. “Face off” would involve agitating the Rottweiler at the neighbor’s double-wide. “Breakout” is what your belly does after the church social. (“Can I get an ‘amen’ for replacing ‘goaltenders’ with ‘soultenders’?”)
The think tank is on a roll. They recommended that the Anaheim Ducks could revert to being the Mighty (Fine Eatin’) Ducks. Instead of referees and penalty boxes, there could be Mounties delivering restraining orders. Goalies could adopt a more stringent, NRA-approved “stand your ground” policy.
Perhaps teams could give away bags of player teeth, with the slogan, “Hey, show your kids it’s a BUYER’S MARKET for teeth, and that they’d better not expect much from the Tooth Fairy.”
China is particularly promising for hockey. The country plans to build hundreds of arenas and set up grassroots programs, ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics. Just beware how they define terms such as “hat trick.” (“Of COURSE the 10-year-old workers used lead paint on exported hats. How else could hijinks ensue?”)
Yes, the NHL should really prosper in the coming century if it can command the respect of every nation. The think tank finds the greatest potential in three little words: “Intercontinental Ballistic Zamboni.”
Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at email@example.com and visits to his Facebook fan page.