I was asked to provide some editorial on a piece by Down Goes Spezza, and it sparked a nice idea that I thought I would expand on here.
As has been the case for years now, there’s been a lot of buzz word bingo this year about teams in financial trouble, possible relocation, expansion, so on and so forth. As has also been the case for years now, most of it has been hastily suggested, exaggerated rubbish. All that aside, perhaps the biggest focus has been on extending the game’s fan reach.
It seems to me that the NHL has never taken a systematic approach to developing new fans, seemingly throwing darts and experimenting, especially this year with some of the random locations chosen to host preseason games. With this in mind, let’s develop a preseason model that does something crazy: makes sense.
First things first, let’s extend the preseason to at least eight to ten games for every team (the Lightning have six this season, one at home). Then, let’s play at least half of those in neutral locations. By doing this, not only could we ignite new fan bases, but also get an idea of what markets could potentially handle an expansion or relocation role.
I would start with the large college hockey markets that do not have an NHL team in them as well. Maine, North Dakota, Wisconsin, etc.
The next logical set of places? Areas the NHL has already looked at, cities that have cited a desire to have an NHL team, and even places looking to bring their team back. Winnipeg, Quebec, Hartford, Las Vegas, Kansas City, Indianapolis, etc.
Then, instead of picking teams at random (Chicago vs. Tampa Bay in Winnipeg? Really?), set up some matchups between teams that make geographical sense. Boston vs. Philly in Maine, Detroit vs. Calgary in North Dakota, and Chicago vs. Minnesota in Milwaukee would all be a start in the collegiate markets.
San Jose vs. Colorado in Las Vegas, St. Louis vs. Chicago in Kansas City, Toronto vs.Ottawa in Hamilton, Columbus vs. Nashville in Indy, Montreal vs. Buffalo in Quebec. All of these games would feature rivals (at least divisionally), and are close geographically to where the games would be played.
What am I getting at? Let’s look at some of the potential benefits:
- Potentially huge revenue for colleges, and college hockey programs.
- Midway travel points in between ‘normal’ preseason games. This could cut down on travel costs and fatigue. Cutting down on fatigue could lend itself towards highly touted draft picks having a better breakout, or avoiding the typical late season let down.
- A gauge on the interest and feasibility or potential markets.
- Increase in sales of NHL Center Ice package, souvenirs, out of town ticket purchases, etc.
Who knows, there could even be extended autograph sessions after the games, advanced promotions, and even TV coverage. The sky’s the limit.
The potential benefits are endless, and the added hype could prepare younger players for the typical pressure seen when the gloves are off, and the"real" games begin.
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