NHL: ‘Wait. Baseball Isn’t Over? Are You Sure?’

The Times has an interesting story this morning about the NHL leaning on its stars to market itself.

The article quotes Bob Stellick, the president of a Toronto-based marketing company:

Stellick says that the N.H.L. would be wise to augment its reliance on Crosby by trying to promote players born in the United States to appeal to a wider audience. Crosby grew up in Nova Scotia, in a country that does not have to be sold on hockey.

“There are more American kids playing hockey than there were 20 or 30 years ago, so there needs to be more American stars,” Stellick said. “Patrick Kane is really important to the N.H.L. If he’s successful, he’s in a great market and he’s an American.”

Is that really the case? I grew up a baseball fan in New York City, an ethnically diverse place, and I still don’t ever remember being aware of where players were born. I’m sure I assumed everyone was born in the United States like myself. I don’t think younger fans are checking passports before they root for a player.

Another marketing aspect I found troubling is that the NHL is relying on proven stars. But if Sidney Crosby is already popular, why market him? Why not give exposure to other NHLers and make them stars? I’ve said this a few times, but how can the league not show more of Calgary’s Jarome Iginla? How can anyone watch him barrel into the offensive zone like some kind of running back on skates, slow up just long enough to execute a precision pass, and then be waiting at the net for a rebound, and not fall in love with hockey?

I’m glad the NHL is getting proactive in marketing itself, but it could really do a better job. All week long, all any kind of mainstream sports fan heard about the NHL was that Sean Avery was back in the northeast. Meanwhile, the NHL is having all 30 teams play today and I don’t think I heard anything about that until yesterday. Obviously, Avery makes for great copy, but the NHL could still buy some ads promoting its huge day. And better yet, they could have had all 30 teams play on a day that doesn’t also have the World Series. Little things like that are how you grow the game.