Tuesday, June 9, 2009

NHL vs. NBA

The National Hockey League obviously are students of Lamar Hunt, the founder of the American Football League. Hunt felt that if he put the best athletes on the field, thus putting the best show in front of a sports-hungry American public, that he could compete with the big boy, the National Football League. The AFL did well for awhile, with the Jets and the Chiefs beating the NFL's best head-to-head, but financially they were no match, and eventually had to merge. Same with the American Basketball Association and the Women's Professional Basketball League.

However, never before have we had a sport deliberately making a move to challenge another sport altogether. The NHL moved their Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals to compete head-to-head with Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Good luck with that.

So why would the NHL make a move to challenge the NBA? To show that they are still the fourth major professional sport in America, especially to get TV time and the big advertisers. They have the stars, especially the young phenom Sidney Crosby, that are marketable. Let's face it, if Roger Federer is marketable, Alex Ovechkin is marketable.

But they have to have the numbers. Strong TV numbers against the NBA would send a message that professional hockey is here to stay and that advertisers should take notice. The Versus Network has made a major coup in securing the contract to broadcast NHL games, especially when ESPN let hockey go. Now to parlay that into a financial success, they have to get the major advertisements and their players have to get the endorsements like Wayne Gretzky use to get.

That is why the numbers are important. The only point I would make is that playoff hockey is much better than regular season hockey and the NHL All-Star Game sucks. I don't know what it would take to improve the All-Star Game other than to keep it simple, but that is a shortcoming they must address.

Look, there are hockey fans, there are basketball fans. The casual fan will be able to name the NBA players better than the NHL players. Nevertheless, hockey is one of the world's greatest, exciting and most athletic sports. For its sake, I hope this gambit pays off tonight, because hockey needs to be back in the limelight again.

BTW, the game starts at 8 pm EDT on NBC.