Now to business: as my Blackhawks have progressed this year in the playoffs, I have kept in touch with hockey. I read articles on NHL.com and on Yahoo's Puck Daddy. As long as my team is in it, striving for the Cup, I'm invested. I'm watching, reading, listening.
But last year, when the LA Kings got a lucky bounce in overtime and eliminated the Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final, I stopped watching, reading and listening. I couldn't bear to watch the Kings beat up the Rangers. It should have been us beating up the Rangers! My hatred for the Kings outweighed my desire to watch playoff hockey, especially with such fine summer weather outside.
On Puck Daddy, there was an article lamenting the fact that hockey playoffs simply don't draw the kind of national audiences that even the least watched basketball or baseball playoffs do. The author suggests that the NHL needs to cultivate its star players in such a way that hockey fans are interested in them the way basketball fans are interested in LeBron James. Hockey interest in neutral markets could be raised by such a star player.
But I think the more important point in the article is the "tribalism" of hockey fans.
Internal research from the NHL suggests that hockey fans are “the most tribal” when it comes to postseason viewership. Hockey fans aren’t as engaged in the championship round as the “Big Four” if their team isn’t involved, or if they don’t have a rooting interest.And I get it. I checked out when my team was defeated last year, not because I'm not interested in watching playoff hockey, but because I was bitter. I didn't want to hear calm, unbiased sports broadcasting about how the damn Kings were doing. I didn't want to hear the excitement of a goal by that team. Or even their opponents.
Petty, yes. Childish, yes. True, hell yes.
And it's really all the fault of the handshake line. Hockey players must be good sportsmen after the end of the series, unlike other sports teams that may slink away after a devastating loss and only face the press rather than their triumphant opponents. Because of this, we, the fans, must bear the bitterness for our teams by turning away from the playoffs themselves to honor the petty, childish behavior that our players cannot openly embody.
But I'm here to offer a solution. It is rare for an NHL game to be broadcast in Spanish (no matter how awesomely they call the goals). That means the SAP is wide open for NBC to hire some funny broadcasters or comedians who like hockey to call the game in a way that the fans of the teams that have been eliminated, or never made it to the post-season, can appreciate without feeling that we've betrayed our teams.
I mean, when you're team loses, you kind of owe it to them not to rejoice when some other (clearly less worthy) team hoists the cup. You turn your back on the entire sport, because you love your team and you hate the other teams.
So, give us a mock-filled hatecast NBC. One that would allow the fans of the unlucky and the almost-rans a chance to embrace the hate-watch that the playoffs must become when your team is gone. One that plays up every mistake and hardly notices a goal. One that would have spent the entire intermission talking about Hedman and Bishop running into each other - but without mentioning Sharp's goal.
Start by getting the rest of hockey fandom on board with watching the playoffs after their teams have been eliminated and the neutral markets will come.