Hockey has had waves of popularity in the United States, which often coincide with the national team playing on a big stage. Hockey makes for an exciting product when you put pride in your own country into the mix as well, you get rabid fans.
It’s time for the World Junior Championship to permanently jump into America’s consciousness.
The NCAA basketball tournament has become one of the most exciting products in sports entertainment today. The presence of unknown entities in the tournament is one of the reasons why it so great.
Now imagine that unknown, and attach it to an entire country. You’ll always have some of the top players always in the mix, and you will see certain teams go on runs. It makes for compelling television. Due to the IIHF putting together the tournament though, you see very little NHL marketing done for it. It will help promoting the tournament after having one of the best gold medal games air just last night. The game isn’t an outlier though, as year in and year out, it is a completely entertaining product.
Without missing a beat, multiple players that are in the tournament eventually move onto the NHL and become stars in the process. We don’t know who exactly will make it, but you can start to get a handle on some household names and begin marketing them at an early age. Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews were both players that tore up junior hockey, and were absolutely sensational in their time playing in the World Junior tourney.
Heck, even last year, almost all of the leading candidates for the Calder Trophy (the NHL’s Rookie of the Year award) were playing and performing at a high rate. Names like Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews, and Zach Werenski were skating circles around the competition, but it didn’t get much airtime outside of the normal areas.
It doesn’t even need to be on an ESPN for the world to take notice. The tournament can be aired on an existing home for the NHL like NBCSN and it should do well. If there is one thing Americans love doing, it is watching the USA beat another country in a sport and rubbing it in their damn faces.
Last night was no exception. The game was on NHL Network, a network that many get, but often are unaware of the programming. It is partially the league’s fault, but they also don’t do much to promote organic and unique programming outside of recap shows. Plainly, they need something a bit better.
Broadcasting the tournament wouldn’t be too cumbersome either, as they stagger many of the starts for television already. Not to mention, the games are played in alternating sites each year and this is an annual tournament that a network can go back to year after year. Why wouldn’t you make this a priority with the proper coverage? It has the potential to be a national equivalent of the NCAA tournament (on a smaller scale, of course, given that junior hockey will never eclipse college basketball in popularity in the US), and the villains basically create themselves when they are on a separate country’s team. The US rights can’t cost all that much, considering that they are only being aired on a league-owned network.
It’s time that hockey and the World Junior Championship get their due, but who is going to step up and take notice? Only time will tell.