Oh, the good ol’ hockey game. Back in 1973, Stompin Tom Connors released the gem that every Canadian (and hardcore Puckhead) hums along to when it’s played. But over 30 years later, is it still the best game you can name? The state of the NHL, the sport’s leading professional league, has diminished so much over the decades that some even question its belonging in the “big four” club of North American sporting leagues. While Commissioner Bettman and the rest of the NHL’s senior management continue on their path of American expansion with hopes of one day selling the game in markets like Tampa Bay and Phoenix, we take a look at three practical ideas the NHL could employ to recapture its former glory. While last week we discussed how the skewed use of resources towards the NHL’s young superstars could provide a solid vault, in part two of this three-part series, we explore everyone’s favorite topic these days, the media.
Charles Barkley is the Real MVP
Now that sub-header might have you thinking you’ve stumbled upon a crazed NBA insider looking to start a debate on whether the Round Mound of Rebound could survive in this era. We’ll save that for another discussion. The idea of the post-game has traditionally been looked at as a peripheral arm of the sports media machine. It was meant to supplement the main event, the game itself, and provide fans with either some extra time to bask in the glory of victory, or attempt to find some reasoning for their latest defeat. However, things have changed as time has progressed. Fans no longer need to rely on the post-game to check out the latest highlights. Social media has made supplementary game content readily available and it’s faster and cheaper than any traditional media source. With that said, though, certain shows have elevated to a new status. No longer are these groups of former players and studio hosts just meant to sit on the sideline and add notes where needed. They are now taking the lead role, often being the creator of the highlights that dominate the headlines on the major sports websites and radio shows the next morning.
While many have started the transition into this new style of post-game entertainment, only one is truly king. Inside the NBA, Turner Sports’ Emmy Award winning show, has provided fans with memes, GIFs, and Vines for over 25 years. The host, Ernie Johnson, brings decades of sports broadcast experience to keep the flow of the show in check. Surrounding the long-time host are a team of three former NBA players, all of whom communicate effectively and have strong opinions. The trio is led by the outspoken and hilarious Charles Barkley. Chuck, as he’s often referred to, combines a player’s perspective of the game of basketball with a willingness to “tell it like it is”. His opinions even reach as far as social and political awareness territory. Partnered with the more subdued and often pragmatic Kenny Smith, as well as the equally outspoken yet very different Shaq, the show has gone on to produce some of the greatest memories of the basketball season.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 12, 2016
It’s easy to say that the NHL needs to replicate the environment that the NBA has created with TNT. It’s a lot easier to actually do when you have the personalities to go along with your show. There are a few options that the league could choose from. Don Cherry, for one, has many parallels to Sir Charles. Outspoken, check. Opinionated, check. Political, double-check.
Current Calgary Flames president Brian Burke has a few things going for him as well. For one, he’s American, which will immediately appeal to the larger NBC market. He’s also not afraid to be controversial. Also, like his basketball counterparts, he HATES analytics.
Roberto Luongo, albeit still in the league, would also be perfect for the type of on-camera humor that the social media feeds love. He regularly spits out gems on a regular basis from his Twitter account, injecting humor into often bleak assessments of his performance or team.
If anybody finds my jock kindly return it thanks https://t.co/6Rt9S2if4g
— Strombone (@strombone1) November 30, 2016
Maybe NBC needs to go with a similar format to TNT. How’s a Saturday night prime-time matchup followed by an hour of ‘Inside the NHL’ with Roberto Luongo, Brian Burke, and Don Cherry sound? All that’s needed is the serious, yet willing to laugh, host. Ron McLean, the current CBC host of Hockey Night in Canada, paired with Cherry during their well-known segment “Coaches Corner” would be a good fit. Or maybe an American household name like Bob Costas or Al Michaels. Or, why not go the celebrity route and take advantage of a hockey-loving pop culture star like Matthew Perry or Howie Mandel? I know I would be watching that. If a few viral videos start coming out, the NHL may start to see its fanbase grow faster than any Southern California team’s playoff run can accomplish. The NHL has the personality at hand. The key is for them to leverage that talent and convert it into a form that’s easily digestible by its base, shareable by modern social platforms, and sustainable for years to come.