Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Does NHL Lockout Open the Door for MLS to Become the 4th Most Popular Sport?

There was a time in the mid 1970's when the NHL had only 18 teams.  By the late 1970's, the league had 22 teams.  It was partly due to Wayne Gretzsky's influence that the NHL was able to increase expansion and form over time to the league it is now with 30 teams.

Hockey has been considered by sports pundits to be the fourth most important pro sport in the U.S.  Hockey cards were popular in the 70's, sports reporters rattled off scores during their sports broadcasts for decades and fighting has always been an attraction for fans.

Even though Soccer has been the most played sport by youth for decades, hockey has seemingly always fallen in line behind football, basketball and baseball in popularity as a spectator sport.

The NHL was able to shake the sport's reputation as a Northern or Northeastern sport and spread its image to warm weather areas in the U.S. where either frozen ponds don't exist or they exist with ice so thin-birds can fall in the water.

NHL Moves Out; MLS Moves In

Baseball, Hockey Will Trend Down More and More As Years Pass By

This lockout doesn't help hockey's reputation as a spectator sport at all.  If the lockout continues and can't get settled, any momentum hockey had built up over the years, could all be wiped away with one failed season.

Obviously, there are torrents of fans who do care about this lockout and want it to end, but the mainstream media is not really covering their point of view or any other aspect of the lockout.  In some ways, the Lockout is proving to be a non-story.  Hockey's relevance has always been a little shaky with the mainstream U.S. press.

Meanwhile, goals in Soccer are being broadcast all the time on sports highlight shows.  And, in Canada, the NHL's most passionate base of fans, MLS expansion talk are part of the sports rumor mill and the comings and goings of teams are heated discussions.  There are already teams in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto and there are Division 2 teams in Edmonton and Ottawa.

The unfortunate mess of the NHL's labor talks and owner frustrations are bringing the sport of hockey and its mark, profile and traditions down in two countries.  MLS would never admit it, but the timing could never have been better.

Originally posted early November 2012


  1. With ESPN hyping MLS the way it has been, MLS could make a push for that 4th spot, but MLS is still missing a few things. ESPN will be playing more MLS highlights surely if the NHL lockout persists. But I'm concerned about the brand of US soccer that is around MLS. Watching games in Seattle in HD on ESPN is amazing, but I, even as a soccer fan, find it hard to watch MLS games sometimes because the crowd is unenthusiastic and that translates to the field. Also, NHL has history in the minds of sports fans and it seems like MLS has been a rapidly changing brand of late. The aura of the Stanley Cup trophy compared to that of MLS Cup is not a comparison at all. Finally, the NHL is the PREMIER Hockey league in the world, which MLS will never be for soccer. For me, the best MLS can do for American viewers is provide exciting young AMERICAN players that go on to Europe's top teams. MLS is inching closer to that goal, but the direct move from MLS club to top team is practically non-existent.

    1. good overall comment, Roger. well thought out and hard to argue against. the one thing we can say is that hockey's reputation is best as a live sport, not televised. this is how MLS can pass the NHL. Soccer is better to watch on Tv than hockey.