It is almost an ideal matchup for the NHL in the Stanley Cup Finals. A team from the top media market in the U.S. is facing a team from the second biggest media market. Sure, the team from the top market is the Devils and they don’t have the following the Rangers do, but it is still a “New York” team playing a LA team.
People who are younger than 30 laugh at me when I say that in 1994 hockey was hotter than basketball, but it was. Michael Jordan had retired from basketball for the first time and there was no one who could take his place. Hockey on the other hand had seen Wayne Gretzky take LA to the Cup Finals in 1993 and had Mark Messier and the Rangers winning it all in a thrilling seven-game series. FOX, which was considered the young, hip network had signed a deal to start broadcasting games in 1995. Glowing pucks were on the way and you saw hockey “jerseys” everywhere. (Pet peeve, it’s not a jersey, in hockey it’s a sweater.)
And then the NHL shot off it’s own foot. The players and the owners couldn’t agree to a new labor deal and a lockout took affect before the start of the 1994-95 season. It lasted into January of 1995 and in the interim, the hockey buzz cooled off.
To be fair, the NHL had some bad luck in their timing because 1994 was also the year that baseball flushed away the World Series due to a labor dispute. Baseball locked out their players in August and news of that action and the subsequent negotiations dominated the headlines. It wasn’t that the NHL lockout wasn’t reported, but it wasn’t the big story it might have been. And, when the NHL finally did come back with a 48-game season they were upstaged again by baseball settling their dispute and starting their season in late April, right before the NHL playoffs were scheduled to begin.
Why do I bring all of this up right now? Because the NHL is in a very similar position. They have a chance to capture a lot of eyeballs between LA and NY with this Stanley Cup and they also have an expiring labor deal. I expect some very good ratings and I expect the NHL will have some momentum heading into the 2012-13 season. Let’s hope they don’t blow it.