Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fantasy hockey is key to NHL success

The NHL makes fantasy hockey possible. But does fantasy hockey make the NHL possible?

Commissioner Gary Bettman has a vision for his NHL. To bring it from Canada and North eastern United States and make the sport of hockey a national sport of relevance. To compete with the NFL, NBA, and MLBA. By adding teams to the sun belt region from Florida to California and attempting  to land a lucrative national television contract. The southern teams have had a lot of success as well with Tampa Bay, Anaheim, Dallas, and Carolina all winning the Stanley Cup. As Bettman was awarding the cup in Anaheim to thunderous applause I remember him stating "looks like hockey is alive and well in California!" While Carolina was on their two appearances in the Stanley cup finals the fans were tail gating at the arena during game day all day and into the night the way they do for Nascar and football. While this makes it clear there are hockey fans in southern cities and all across North America they are fair weather fans. Where are these fans when times are tough for their team?

In the Northern or "traditional" hockey markets the fans are much more committed. Fans there are loyal fans of their team but more significantly are fans of hockey. So how can the NHL breed fans of "hockey" and not just casual fans who only follow their local team? The answer is fantasy hockey. If you are reading this blog chances are you belong to a hockey pool. Even if your team sucks and is enduring a rebuild or awful season you still check the box scores daily and have a vested interest in the NHL. The best example I have ever seen for this is my father. A long time Leaf fan would watch if the Leafs were doing well, if not his interest was gone. Over the last two years he has joined my hockey pool. Since then he has joined two more and plays weekly free pools on CBC and other sites. Now he watches a game almost every night. Now he may even watch a game on T.V. and follow box scores on his lap top. Now he owns a jersey and shares season tickets. Now he is a "hockey" fan, more than just a leaf fan. And it is all because of fantasy hockey.

The most successful pro sport league in North America is the NFL . The main reason why is gambling. Fans love to be in NFL pools and suicide pools etc. Because of this the NFL enjoys major National television broadcasting revenues because fans love to watch games, even if their home team is not playing!

While the NHL makes fantasy hockey possible, fantasy hockey can fulfill Bettman's vision of the NHL. How can the NHL leverage fantasy hockey to be even as close to successful as the NFL?  Perhaps a team in Las Vegas. If this is the formula how would you suggest the NHL executes? What would you do to grow fantasy hockey?

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