NBA and NHL Starts Lost in the Dense October Sports Jungle

The World Series is finishing up with the Yanks up 3 games to 1. The NFL season is about halfway through and just about every team still has a shot at the playoffs. The college football season has just a few weeks over, meaning it is time for the BCS standings to screw a deserving team over and start the annual clamor for a playoff system. In the midst of all this the NHL and NBA seasons have started.

Did you notice? The hockey season is already 15 games in for some teams. The basketball season is just finishing its first week. My point is not that the latter half of October is the greatest two-week period for sports fans, but that there are simply too many sporting events and the NHL and the NBA (the two sports leagues fighting for an audience) are voluntarily beginning their seasons at a time when they can easily be tuned out.

The NHL might be doing the least amount of damage to the league. A hockey fan is a special kind of fan. The NHL is almost like a fringe sport and the fan base for fringe sports are among the most dedicated/mentally disturbed people out there. They will cry to the rooftops that nobody appreciates the beauty of their sport. They will paint their faces. They will wear jerseys at inappropriate times.

The NBA does not have this kind of a fan base so the league is going to be slaughtered by other leagues as they complete or approach the postseason. This sounds like a gross overstatement, but I know because I used to be one of those fans.

The greatest factor damning basketball right now is time. Not the time between games or the length of the season (which I agree should be much shorter). Rather the amount of time the average sports fan has to watch and worship a sport.

I should really clarify here. There are sports fans of all ages and men will seemingly always like sports. It so happens that simply because of the population trends right now, the average age of a sports fan is between 45 and 54 according to Media Life Magazine. What does this mean?

This means that this age group accounts for 20 percent of the adult population and roughly 20 percent of the comprehensive sports fan base. There is a group above and below this age and the groups above and below those. However, with the average age so high, this means that most of the sports fans in this country have a lot going on in their life. They have a wife, children, a mortgage, and a job that requires many more than the traditional 40-hour work week. There is simply less time to devote to an innate love pf sports.

I can attest to this. I am not in my 40s and am not quite yet in my 30s, but I do have a life that limits the amount of time I can spend watching sports. Several years ago when I was in college I used to devour just about any televised sport. I had the time because I was in college and needed to pass the time before I got drunk and pathetically tried to hit on girls.

I did not understand why so few people watched basketball. I heard friends call it boring, but every sport has its naysayers. Now, I realize that while David Stern and company may see this as the perfect time to begin the season, just when baseball is ending and leaving a huge sports hole in the middle of the week, I simply cannot keep up.

This is not the summer when everybody has time off and things move at a slower pace. The holidays are fast approaching, kids are beginning school and after school activities, and companies are trying to look good in the final fiscal quarter. Life is moving faster now and the NBA is trying to hook viewers for an 82-game season when most sports fans are still using their extra time to fix their fantasy football team.

With the price of NBA tickets skyrocketing along with every other amenity, professional basketball is missing out on capturing the attention of the age group that can actually afford the seats to a game.

Yes, Lakers tickets and I suppose Knicks tickets (at least in the early season) will sell well simply because they are in such large metropolitan areas, but the early season start cannot aid a team like the Dallas Mavericks or the Minnesota Timberwolves. Fans there are still involved in insanity surrounding the Cowboys and Vikings.

Sports media superstars like Bill Simmons may champion the cause of the NBA while he uses the early Celtics season to wean himself off baseball on those slow weekday nights as Jack-O’s Yankees win another World Series and his beloved Red Sox sit by the wayside. Still, one man’s insanely influential Page 2 blog and podcast on ESPN are not enough to make people fall in love with basketball again.

I think David Stern needs to re-evaluate his marketing plan. He helped make the NBA the envy if just about every sports league in the 1990s, so he has the ability. The league has incredible stars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Dwayne Wade, so everything is in place for the NBA to return to prominence. The league just needs better timing.

NHL, Saturday Morning Cartoons and a Broken Image

The NHL has become the forgotten child of the sports world. Once the world was in love with a superstar named Wayne Gretzky. He was even part of a Saturday morning cartoon show with Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan called ProStars.

If the he was the representation of the entire NHL for millions of children, that portrayal has held true. He was the comic relief. The NHL is so far from the average sports fan mind that it might as well be comic relief. The league is worth nothing more than a few slap shots on Sportscenter and a few fights reminiscent of Slap Shot on YouTube.

The sport is trying to make a comeback, but that probably comes partly from the fact that the best team in the league might be the San Jose Sharks. If you do not know them, they are in the Pacific division with the Anaheim Ducks, the Phoenix Coyotes, the Los Angeles Kings, and the Dallas Stars.

The league might be on its way back though, the return of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, and New York Rangers (three of the vaunted Original Six) to the top of the class could work wonders for the league.

Just like the Celtics-Lakers final helped the NBA with ratings, a return of teams fans associate with hockey and cities people associate with ice is good for business. After fans get the teams straight, then maybe they could look at the superstar players and find a face for the sport.

Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins has emerged as the best player point wise in the league. Alexander Semin of the Capitals is right behind him. These names might not roll off the American tongue, but they are the future of the sport. Perhaps the league could starts marketing its own little cold war between these Russian players and talented North American players like Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane.

The NHL has a long way to making it back to the fourth major sport. NASCAR seems to have replaced it, but then again when you can fit a 100,000 people in the seats it helps. Still, the return of the traditional powers to the top is perhaps the first step in reclaiming that place in the hearts of sports fans The leagues needs to sell those Rangers tickets, those Red Wings seats, and those Bruins tickets to bring the league back into sports relevancy.