SportsProf

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What Kind Of Shape Is Hockey In?

The conventional wisdom is that the NHL re-vamped its style of play, recovered nicely from its strike and had a good Stanley Cup final.

The bigger question, though, is whether it was able to expand its fan base?

And, based upon this, I would submit that it has not.

If you click the link and read it casually, you won't notice anything other than that it's an article that appeared in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer. So what, you'll say, the Philadelphia paper had an article on the first page of its sports section about Game 7 between Edmonton and Carolina.

But look at the by-line. It was written by an Associated Press reporter (and not one of the reporters who covers NHL hockey for the paper on a regular basis). Many would concede that Philadelphia is a "good" hockey town (in fact, there's a billboard on I-95 coming into the city that touts Philadelphia as the #1 hockey town in America). The franchise is a cornerstone of the league, and it has spent money routinely to field a winning team.

Fair enough. But its hometown morning newspaper didn't even send a beat reporter to cover the most important game of the year (its sister paper, the Daily News, did, but its subscription rate is far less than that of the morning paper). What does that say about the appeal of the NHL? Would the Inqy fail to send a reporter to cover the World Series? The NBA finals? The Super Bowl? They send reporters to cover Philadelphia-bred horses at thoroughbred races and to NASCAR events in the area. They even sent a reporter to cover the World Cup, and it's hard to argue that soccer is that much more popular in Philadelphia than professional ice hockey.

Sure, you can argue that it's not a statistically significant sampling to suggest that a cost-cutting Philadelphia paper's decision (and the Phila. dailies were just sold because the seller thinks that the fifth-largest media market in the country is weak) about which events to cover is bad for hockey. But then I'd like to find out how many papers sent reporters to Edmonton and Carolina to cover this series and how many dailies used the AP story?

Unfortunately, I don't have the time to run this down, and I don't want to trample on the NHL's good season. That said, it is troubling when the morning paper from one of your bastion's fails to cover the Finals in person.

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