Over the last decade, the NHL’s increase in popularity is both surprising and impressive. The most noticeable growth is in the United States market. As a League struggling for identity and a foothold competing against the more popular leagues of the NFL, NBA, and the MLB, drastic changes have had to be undertaken. Below are details on the surprisingly-fast NHL expansion over the past decade.
Changes to Rules and Equipment
The biggest change over the last decade has been a flurry of rule changes. These modifications have made the game more spectator-friendly. For example, there have been changes to icing rules and tightening up penalty calling to make the games higher scoring. In the eyes of many, more goals equals more excitement which then translates into higher viewership and better revenues. NHL players have also made changes to their hockey training programs, making them faster and in better shape, on average, than the players of 10 years ago.
Equipment technology and statistics used to play and analyze the game have also changed along with the NHL expansion. The advanced sabermetrics have uncovered a different way to analyze player skills and made hockey more fun. It also requires a lot of skill.
The newly designed one piece hockey sticks have improved goal scoring and both the quickness and power of a player’s shot. Goalie equipment has also changed, making hockey goalie pad sizes skinnier and shorter to give the players more of an advantage and increase scoring in the league.
Less Fighting with the National Hockey League Expansion
Fighting has also been trending down over the last decade. That’s a surprise considering that it used to be a huge draw for fans. The one positive is this has made the game more family-friendly and attracted a new audience. While it still serves an important purpose in the game, the decline of fighting has certainly help the NHL’s brand among many new to the sport and not liking the brutality that fighting brings.
The game today has a reputation as one of the best spectator sports. That’s because of its fast pace, high physicality, and high skill caliber. If you watch a game from 10 years ago, the slow speed and different way it is played, as compared to today, will likely surprise you. This has driven a 100% increase in league revenues over the past 10 years, from 2.5 billion to over 4.5 billion!
What Still Needs Work: Showcasing NHL Personalities
The NHL has also done a better job of marketing the personalities in the league than before. However, it still has a ways to go compared to other major sports.
The NHL has a massive player pool with some great personalities that could help the sport gain lifelong fans. The National Hockey League can continue to improve in this department. With the NHL expansion, the League can highlight star players more than before. They can let fans in on more details of their personal life, something that the NFL does well.
The excitement of the playoffs was felt in some non-hockey cities like Nashville. The NHL playoffs are like no other. It is an epic grind of 4 rounds of 7 game series, which creates long-lasting rivalries among teams.
When Las Vegas made it to the Stanley Cup finals in their inaugural season, the city of Las Vegas embraced the team as its own. You couldn’t find a harder ticket to get when they were in the heat of the series against the Washington Capitals.
Series like these ones will entrench the love of the NHL in a city. Plus, lesser-known teams becoming competitive is a key reason the NHL has continued to gain popularity in the United States.
COVID-19 and the NHL Expansion
The NHL was on its way to shattering attendance records before COVID-19 struck and essentially scarred the season forever. This hasn’t tempered enthusiasm for the sport, though. Indeed, hockey-starved fans are begging for the NHL playoffs to return and give them something to cheer about soon. This is the one year that the NHL will be competing against the main sports leagues in the United States and will be a true test to see the popularity when the TV ratings come out.
One advantage they have is that teams are much more dynamic. They can combat players getting the coronavirus compared to the NBA. If an NBA team loses one of its star players in a playoff series (say James Harden), the team will almost essentially stand no chance. In the NHL, losing a star player for a series will hurt, but the team depth can carry them through it. A skilled goaltender doesn’t hurt either.
Final Words on the National Hockey League Expansion
The NHL has had a resurgence among fans old and new in the past decade. There is no indication this growth in popularity is going to slow down.
With rule changes improving the spectator ratings, and the league marketing doing a better job of engaging fans in “non-hockey markets,” the NHL will continue to grow and improve further. It is starting to compete with prime-time TV slots with the big three sports in the US. It will continue to gain ground following the COVID-19 pandemic.