There are four major sports leagues in the U.S. market, with everyone realizing which sport has been at the bottom for many years. The NFL is the king of U.S. sports, with leagues like the NBA and MLB making big jumps in popularity after some dark years for both.
A recent report from Statista showed that only 12% of sports fans in the country consider themselves avid NHL fans, while another 29% say they are “casual” fans of the game. This means the recent surge in sports wagering at U.S. sportsbooks isn’t finding many bettors interested in today’s NHL picks when they go online to wager. Although it is one of the four major sports in the country, it’s still considered by many U.S. fans to be a “niche” sport.
Not surprisingly, 60% of all U.S. sports fans polled said they are not a fan of the NHL. Despite its massive popularity north of the border in Canada, where it’s the number-one spectator sport, the NHL remains the country’s least popular major sports league. Many fans wonder if there is a way to make the game more appealing or if it will stay at the bottom of the list of professional sports in the country.
Hockey Interest Is Increasing Worldwide
Despite its limited U.S. fan base, the largest demographic of fans is between the ages of 18 to 34. This has caused organizers to shift mainly to digital means to connect with this market to promote the game. Internationally, hockey is played in many countries in the northern and western hemispheres with cold winter conditions, such as Finland, Russia, Germany, Sweden, and the Czech Republic. Players from these countries make up a large percentage of players in the NHL in 2022.
As former hosts of the Winter Olympics, countries such as Japan and Korea have helped to raise awareness and appreciation for hockey and increase the number of kids taking up the sport. China is also doing the same after winning the bid to host next year’s Winter Olympics. The NHL also has many players of Asian ancestry, such as Nick Suzuki and Kailer Yamamoto, who are Japanese, and Jett Woo and Austin Wong, who is of Chinese descent.
The Future Looks Bright
Recent NHL expansion has caused a huge boost in the league’s U.S. popularity. When the company expanded to Las Vegas recently, it helped propel the popular vacation destination into a legitimate professional sports market. The NFL’s Oakland Raiders soon followed by relocating to the city in 2020.
The gamble paid off for the NHL, especially after the Golden Knights advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals in its inaugural season. They have remained a perennial contender in each season since.
The league’s expansion into Seattle was an easy choice. The city has a loyal fan base and needed another sports franchise after losing the NBA’s Seattle Supersonics when they moved to Oklahoma City.
The sports-hungry fans of Seattle give the league a chance to follow the success of the previous expansion into Las Vegas. Given how close the city is to Canada, the Seattle Kraken has already established a rivalry with the Canucks, who are just over 100 miles away in Vancouver, BC.
The NHL can certainly increase its popularity for many different reasons. NHL hockey is one of the most exciting sports to watch due to its fast pace, big hits, and rowdy fans in arenas throughout the country. The main reason it has been ignored in the U.S. is that it wasn’t covered enough by major TV networks.
The NHL currently has a recent seven-year deal to air games nationally, which includes 25 regular season games each season and one conference finals. This is in addition to the more than 1,000 games that can be streamed on demand.
These recent deals won’t help the NHL move ahead of the other three major sports leagues but will help it continue to trend in the right direction.