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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Minnesota Wild: Do They Get the Attention That They Deserve?

I came across this article in the Minnesota Star Tribune recently, complaining about the lack of national attention the Wild get. They didn't get to make an appearance on NBC this season. In fact, there weren't even any Wild games on the match-up list (which is pre-determined by the NHL) that NBC gets to pick from, as part of their flex-scheduling deal. The NHL apparently says they were in consideration for two games, but due to their start times not being in sync with NBC's start time, they couldn't be chosen.

Personally, I think that's just a corporate line. I don't think they ever considered broadcasting the Wild, nor should they. Minnesota is a tremendous hockey market, maybe the best in the country, but the Wild are not a team that has a national following. Being a fairly new franchise doesn't help in a sport where history is venerated. The bigger problem though, is their coach, and the style of hockey he insists on playing. The neutral zone trap is not going to get people across the US stampeding towards their TV sets to watch a Wild game. It may help them win, (well.... at least in the regular season!) but it puts people to sleep. What many people in hockey still don't realize, is that in the 21st century, people don't watch sport for sport. They watch it for entertainment. You can't just rack up the wins, you got to do it in style.

The Wild are already a team that is constricted by the market they play in. Minneapolis-St. Paul is the 16th largest city in the United States based on its metropolitan population, with barely 3.2 million people. Despite this, there are many teams in the NHL which play "bigger than their market." Like a tiny player who "plays big" on the ice, there are teams that are able to draw crowds that are much larger than their market. The Detroit Red Wings are the prime example of this. Metro Detroit has only about 4.4 million people, not much bigger than Minneapolis-St. Paul, but they consistently draw high ratings in the Stanley Cup Finals, plus opponents buildings regularly sell out when the Wings come to town. A lot of this has to do with the Wings history, there are generations of Detroit expats who grew up Red Wings fans, who've moved out all across America, but they also play an exciting style of game, and are never short on star power.

An even better example may be the Colorado Avalanche in the pre-lockout era. Denver-Aurora is the 21st largest metro area in the US, with 2.4 million people. Smaller than even Tampa Bay, which has 2.7 million. Yet the Avalanche never drew less than a 3.3 in their Stanley Cup Finals appearances, compared to the 2.6 Tampa Bay got in theirs. The Lightning weren't helped by the fact that they faced a Canadian team, but their rating was .7 below Colorado, suggesting that even if they faced a US based team, unless it was a large market team, they wouldn't have drawn as well. That's not even touching the 3.6 rating the Avs got when facing a fairly new franchise in the Florida Panthers.

So, if the Wild want national attention, they ought to start playing like it. Until they do, things should just roll on, the way they are.

What Are Your Thoughts?

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