News, Notes and Hockey Insights - 8/14/2012
I grew up a huge fan of the Detroit Tigers and all of major league baseball. The highlight of most summers was the 1 or 2 games my Dad would take us to. Attending those games brought the game to life. Back in the pre Internet and HD satellite days fans connected with their team primarily by the newspaper, radio and baseball cards. In the late 60’s the Tigers only broadcast 40 games. So you could go weeks without ‘seeing’ them play. Like many have said before, it was simply intoxicating for a 10-year-old to visit Tiger Stadium.
Later we saw some live Red Wings games. As the years ticked by, my friends and I got our driver’s license and went to games on our own. Older still I supported local teams where I lived. Baseball has a lot going for it. It is living Americana. Strategically it can be interesting, But maybe best of all it’s a nice day in the sun with friends or family.
In recent years my love affair with baseball has chilled. I now attend one or two games a year. I rarely watch games on TV until playoff time. There are games where I feel I get little or no entertainment value. The DH, trips to the mound and never-ending pitching changes have soured me. Baseball is the least expensive live sports experience. Not cheap, less expensive. I’ve spent more than a few dollars when I’ve felt there was little or no action in exchange. One last thing…why does the manager wear a uniform? Only lacrosse goalies make me laugh more.
The NFL is by far the most popular sports league in North America. It’s a game that translates on TV to tenth power. It’s an exciting game; lots of action. The players are huge and fantastic athletes. It’s one game a week so you can be a well-informed fan by investing just 2 or 3 hours a week. On the flip side the live NFL experience is incredibly slow-paced. There are an insane amount of time outs whether for TV, possession changes or for injury. The pace of the game can be challenging to watch. There will be 3 or 4 seconds of spine-tingling play with 30 seconds to break and discuss the next play. To this day if someone offers me tickets to an NFL game I will politely decline.
The NBA has a huge fan-base. Basketball is a game Americans know. We’ve all shot baskets in the driveway and it’s a game we can understand. It can be a very creative game. To their credit the NBA has done a great job in building an international audience. For freakishly big men the players are incredibly skilled. The NBA has also been able to market a few select Superstars. We all know, Magic, Bird, Kobe, Dirk et al. It’s a game where the best player on the court can routinely win the game for his side. But way too often the game holds no real meaningful moments until the final minute with the score 100-100. I offer that that they should play 10 games a night, each deadlocked at 100 with 2 minutes left. That might get me interested.
In person the NBA is a hit or miss evening of entertainment. At times I wonder if the players are just going through the motions. My pet peeve is loud never-ending music that is played over the action. It too is very expensive for an evening that can last less than 2 hours.
For decades now soccer has been billed as ‘the next big thing’. But the world’s game, the beautiful game, has had a hard time find roots in the U.S. In a strange way it’s like baseball in the fact that you must fully understand the rules and the possibilities. In recent years I’ve run into more and more fans of the international game. England’s Premier League is arguably the strongest sports league in the world. With satellite TV and the Internet you can follow Aston Villa and Newcastle as easily as the San Diego Chargers or the Brooklyn Nets.
While few scoring chances are cited as a reason to ignore ‘football’, it’s the setting up of plays and using momentum swings to test the opponent. The World Cup staged every four years is rivaled only by the Olympics.
While it’s nice to have the MLS, the level-of-play is rarely at a AAA level. The live product is decent and the tickets prices are reasonable for a night of entertainment. I’ll go out on a limb and say that 20 years from now, soccer will be on the same level as baseball and basketball.
There are other choices to spend your sports entertainment dollar most notably college football and basketball. Minor league sports too are an opportunity to see players on the rise without breaking the budget.
With the London Summer Games just concluded, I’m interested to see if the incredible success of U.S. woman can jump-start any women’s pro leagues. I really believe professional beach volleyball in the structure of a true team league could work. Have a 10-team league to start with a men’s and women’s squad on each club. Each team would represent a city as in other pro leagues. I’d watch.
Other sports with huge upsides for the future are the sports of the X-games, MMA etc.
I’m sure you know where I am going with this…
I believe if you want action and value for your sports dollar the NHL is the best place to be. Played in a contained ice surface with blades strapped to their feet, player reach speeds up to almost 25 MPH. The puck routinely reaches speeds up to 100 MPH. With 10 skaters on the ice at any given time it can be controlled chaos. Player shifts average around 40 seconds because they are playing at 100% effort. Player changes during action, maintains flow and pace of the game. All 10 skaters are constantly on the move. It is a beautiful game to watch. Hockey has it all, balance, speed, skill and body contact. There is a great culture built around the game. The players are down-to-earth and accessible. Fans share their game with cult-like passion. It’s a very creative game. Teams have styles but in many ways it is an ad-lib game. Chemistry is important. Best of all, for me, it’s a game where ‘will’ can beat ‘skill’. I think that is true sporting justice. It too is the ultimate team game. Offensive player must back-check, defensemen can spring forward to join the attack. There is the credo of sacrificing for the greater good.
Take a non-fan to a live game and there is a fair chance they will enjoy their evening.
Come Stanley Cup playoff time, it only gets better. Each shift can be a deciding moment. Players must face their opponent as well as their bumps and bruises. There are no tougher athletes than those in hockey.
Attending a game in person changes everything. I tell many people that it’s hard to learn the game on TV, but go to a game live makes it possible to follow on TV.
For me…it is and always will be the best game.