Marketing & Hockey: An Inferiority Complex Amongst Fans

July 14, 2017

Written by: Matthew Nafe

Now that all of our favourite and exciting sports have all ended (I’m sorry baseball fans, but just look at that Jays record) it seemed important to put together a musings about Canada’s favourite sport. Hockey is exciting for its mixture of speed, skill, and toughness but when it comes to its marketing , we’ve seen they’ve fallen flat before amongst a positive fanbase. So why is it, when other sports are widely more successful, that the fragile image of hockey is always the one that is taking offence? How many times have you been enjoying your favourite sports memes when you see one centered around hockey, cross comparing injuries from different sports.

My personal favourites being: When Patrice Bergeron (Boston Bruins) played through a cracked rib, a

punctured lung, and a plethora of other injuries comparing him to Lebron James being lifted off the court by his teammates because of leg cramps. Now I know what you’re thinking, these two sets of injuries are on two different seriousness spectrums and I would agree. However when it happened, I couldn’t help but notice the constant and very annoying repetition of NBA player has X injury: out the playoffs, NHL player has Y injury: Played the entire series and won the Stanley Cup. This is not only from the NBA, but MLB, NFL and other major sports. So the question remains: Why is there this overwhelming disdain for other leagues as a hockey player or fan of the NHL that you need to put down other athletes in a last ditch effort to feel important? As a fan of the NHL, I love the compete level of the athletes and what they give night in and night out is incredible, but where does this fragility from fans stem from? Is it because of the elephant in the room that fans don’t like addressing?

That the NHL is the hands down lesser major sports league? Probably-and this stems from it’s marketing. But this is definitely the reason for hockey’s inferiority complex towards other major sports, they can’t insert themselves into markets like the NBA does. This inferiority complex that exists in the NHL amongst it’s fanbase is a direct result of poor and maybe inaccurate marketing. Will there ever be a time that the NHL is on the same level as other major professional sports leagues in terms of success amongst its fanbase?

It’s hard to say, because interest for other sports grows because of the lower cost of league fees for children comparatively to minor hockey leagues. It’s simple, if you get people to play the sport then people will like to watch it. The NBA is an easier league to market because the sport itself is accessible. The NHL isn’t as accessible simply because hockey isn’t an accessible sport amongst a lot of Canadians-brutal reality. This becomes truly problematic as it divides sports fans and creates this inferiority complex or fragility that I had mentioned.

People don’t understand when fans create: crappy meme pages, awful twitter accounts, and uneducated social media comments (just to name a few), and they get picked up like gospel from other fragile hockey fans. Its good to look up to these athletes and appreciate that they want to put out the best product for their fans, but it is 2017 and there aren’t WWE wrestling matches happening on the ice anymore. Its not explicitly advertised as such, but lets just take a look at the Google search results for “hockey is a tough man’s sport ad”. This is a direct correlation of terrible marketing that the NHL does. Inadvertently, the NHL presents itself as the “toughest sports league” or “fastest sports league”, and this causes fans to believe it.  We don’t need a reason to set our sport apart from the others, because the product on the ice does that enough.

Matthew Nafe is currently attending Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario and aspiring marketing professional. When Matt isn’t writing articles, he is a coach for the Carleton Raven’s Ball hockey team, Stopping pucks, singing songs, or making poorly timed jokes. Find him and his humour on Twitter and enjoy his artistry on Instagram.

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