Is The Popularity Of The NHL Growing Or Shrinking?

NHL Steve O Speak

Ice hockey is one of the top professional sports in the US, ranking alongside football, basketball and baseball as an activity that attracts millions of viewers and has some of the best fans around.

Of course every sport is subject to the ebb and flow of media attention, viewing figures and attendance numbers at matches. So is the NHL falling out of favor in an age of digital distractions, or is it actually managing to grow in spite of all the alternatives which are available?


Positive signs

It is relatively difficult to gauge the popularity of an entire sport, since a range of different factors come into play when looking at raw stats like ticket sales for games. However, one sign that could indicate growth in the popularity of the NHL is that the salary cap for players has climbed higher in the past year.

If teams are able to pay their top players as much as $81.5 million for a season’s work, it is apparent that there is plenty of money pouring into the sport from advertising and sponsorship deals, as well as the sale of the broadcasting rights for big games.

None of this would be possible if there were not large audiences at home who were willing to tune in to see their favorite hockey teams face off against one another.

Of course when you look at attendance figures, with the Chicago Blackhawks leading the way by averaging almost 23,000 ticket sales per game in the 2018/19 season, you can see that there is a lot of fan interest.


Unavoidable issues

The NHL may still be a big money league, but there could be troubled times ahead for it unless it is able to convince more young people to get interested in ice hockey.

A recent study found that while the average age of an NHL fan was 33 back in the year 2000, today that average sits at 49. The fanbase of the sport is ageing and the new generation of fans coming through at the moment is much smaller than in the past.

There are a number of different reasons for this, not least of which is the fact that there are so many other entertainment options available to youngsters today that it might be hard for parents to convince them to put down their smartphones to watch hockey instead.

Another complication that the NHL will have trouble overcoming if it wants to secure fan growth in the long term is that it is still one of the more expensive sports to get involved with. While playing basketball and baseball is straightforward enough without the need for much specialist equipment, this is an aspect of ice hockey that is impossible to ignore.

All of this means that for the time being, the NHL is effectively treading water; it has plenty of existing fans and has proven that new franchises can be opened successfully in fresh locations, but if it is to grow in the coming decade it must appeal to younger people.



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