Hyping Sidney Crosby won't help the NHL win over new fans.

The stadium scene.
May 8 2008 1:56 PM

87 Is the Loneliest Number

Hyping Sidney Crosby won't fix hockey's problems. Here's how the NHL will win over new fans.

Sidney Crosby. Click image to expand.
Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins

After three straight seasons of warm-weather cities greeting a hard-won Stanley Cup with a yawn, the 2008 NHL playoffs have been a boon for old-fashioned hockey fans. Original Six franchises have locked horns. Three-fourths of the remaining teams are from cities that actually experience winter. And I'm particularly happy, because my hometown Pittsburgh Penguins have won eight of nine games to reach the Eastern Conference finals against the archrival, cross-state Philadelphia Flyers.

Lest hockey fans think the rest of the sports  world shares this enthusiasm, there are always people like my friend Elizabeth—a native New Yorker and avid baseball fan—to remind us otherwise. On the day of Game 4 between the Penguins and the New York Rangers, with Pittsburgh up 3-0 in the best-of-seven series, she asked me if I thought the Pens were going to triumph. I answered enthusiastically that they would, prompting her to respond: "So, when's the first game?"

Advertisement

There's nothing new about the American public's lack of interest in hockey: The amount of media space given to the NHL's unpopularity rivals that devoted to coverage of the sport itself. Glowing pucks, teams in the desert, and national television coverage have all failed to budge the sport's popularity needle upward. The only way the league has been able to get any traction in the States outside of the insular hockey-fan community is to shoehorn a few individual superstars into the national consciousness: Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux, and most of all Wayne Gretzky. (I've provided helpful links for each player in case you don't even know who those guys are.)

The NHL has now pinned its hopes on Sidney Crosby. The Pittsburgh captain's youthfulness, leadership skills, and "aw shucks, eh" attitude are reminiscent of Gretzky's makeup in his early years. With Crosby's hockey talent apparent from an early age, the NHL has eyed him as the Great One's successor since the now-Penguin's early teens. If you've seen a hockey player in a commercial, it's probably Crosby skating around on behalf of Gatorade and Reebok. The Penguins are regulars on Versus and NBC hockey broadcasts—great for Pittsburgh expats like me—most notably during the NHL's heavily hyped Winter Classic in Buffalo, N.Y. The New Year's Day outdoor game at Ralph Wilson Stadium drew the league's highest regular-season ratings since 1996; league executives had to be particularly thrilled when Crosby won the game in an overtime shootout.

Marketing Sid the Kid seems to be working for the NHL on at least a superficial level. Elizabeth later told me that hearing about Crosby made her want to attend a hockey game for the first time. Still, the NHL's one-great-player marketing strategy is doomed to failure. Promoting individual stars just doesn't work for hockey for three simple reasons.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 10:25 AM An Alaskan Nationalist on the Scottish Independence Movement
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 9:03 AM My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. And Then I Found Myself With Someone Like Dad.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 8:27 AM Only Science Fiction Can Save Us! What sci-fi gets wrong about income inequality.
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 17 2014 10:20 AM White People Are Fine With Laws That Harm Blacks The futility of fighting criminal justice racism with statistics.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.