The NHL’s Decline

Sports. Either you love them, or you hate them. I really don’t think there’s any other way to put it. But, there is a debate as to why NHL viewer ratings have been on the decline in recent years. So here, I’ve put together some of the top reasons as to why the NHL is losing a following and why. 


NHL to pause season due to coronavirus

Everyone’s favorite topic: the coronavirus. The pandemic and the shutdown of the country put the NHL’s regular season on pause. Oh, did I mention the NHL was weeks away from the playoffs? I think many people saw what the playoff picture looked like, but with the pause on the season and the league being unable to finish out the last games, it forced the NHL to make a plan on how to return to play. Thus, we had a reconstructed playoff bracket. 

Now you might be wondering what the harm of the new bracket was. More teams means more fanbases watch, right? Actually, that wasn’t the case. Sure it may have been fair to give the teams that were still in the playoff race a chance, but a 24-team bracket didn’t make sense. This might’ve turned off some viewers. 

The US Isn’t Known For Hockey 

Mr. Hockey – Vintage Sports Images

In general, the US is not known for the NHL. Unless you’re in Canada, I’d like to say about 80% of people can’t name all 31 teams. Now some of you older fans might go “Wait a minute it’s just as popular as basketball and football.” Well sorry, Uncle Barry, but in today’s day in age without your Gordon Howe’s, Mario Lemiuex’s and Wayne Gretzky’s, there isn’t that legendary feel. Sure there’s Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Nathan McKinnon and guys like Alex Ovechin, but they just don’t seem to carry the legendaryness (I don’t even know if that’s a word) that those guys did. 

When you even go on ESPN’s website, you have to click the three dots (…) to find the NHL’s page. In 2015, roughly 5.6 million people viewed the Stanley Cup games, but dropped dramatically in 2016 to 3.9 million television viewers. From 2017 to 2019, viewership rose from 3.9 million to 5.33 million television viewers. So why did it drop off this year to 2.15 million? Let’s dive into the next reason. 

High Ticket Prices

Madison Square Garden | What's Nearby | New York By Rail
Arguably the most famous arena in sports, Madison Square Garden is known for its high ticket prices.

I’m a college student and I don’t have the money to spend on tickets. In some arenas you can get decent seats for a reasonable price, but for others it feels like you’re selling a leg and kidney to enter. Oh, and that’s even without food and parking and the gift shop. In general, tickets for any sporting event have gone up and probably will continue to as long as fans are willing to pay the astronomical prices. Hopefully someone from the league or some organization will be reading this. So, sir or miss, I would greatly appreciate it if you can take prices down to an affordable price so those on budgets can enjoy games, thank you. 

Expanding The Wrong Way

Seattle Kraken is NHL expansion team name; logo, uniform, colors
The Kraken will be the first professional hockey team in Seattle since the Metropolitans in 1924.

Hockey in Seattle? Las Vegas? Granted these might be good moves for the league, but I think the league should move to cities that might like hockey a little more. I think teams in the Dakota’s would be reasonable. It would be untouched territory because no sports teams are there and it would bring in a market that is hungry for a professional sports team. You could also look into a state like Wisconsin. There’s already a market for sports from 3 other teams, so it wouldn’t hurt to try out a city there like Millawakue or Green Bay. 

Multiple Sports All At Once

Is Tiger's Win The Greatest Comeback In Sports History?
Not a hockey player, but Wood’s reaction was all of us when sports returned after being shutdown for months.

Now you might be thinking to yourself now: why did viewership drop so low in 2020 when everyone was at home? Well, the answer is that there were so many other sports going on at once. Baseball picked back up, the NBA was finishing up their season and going into the postseason and the NFL had so much attention to it on whether or not a season was even possible. When the NHL returned, you didn’t see as much propaganda as the other league’s. It was a rather quiet return. 

2020 Stanley Cup Final Matchup

How Tampa Bay and Dallas stack up to recent Stanley Cup champions – The  Athletic
The 2020 Stanley Cup Final was on of the least watched series since 2007, second to the Anahiem-Ottowa series

Ok, this was out of the league’s control considering the NHL is not scripted (or is it…), but a Tampa Bay – Dallas Final series is not something that is going to bring in millions of viewers. Personally, I didn’t watch the Stanley Cup Final just because of the matchup. Not really much hype to it at all and both teams come from cities that aren’t really known for their hockey teams. 

In conclusion, I think the NHL has a potential to get their viewership back. There needs to be a push from the league more to reach more markets and audiences. For now, it is still considered a major sport in the US, but overtime, it is possible the NHL’s popularity could decrease enough where it is not considered one of the “Big Four”.