Photo of an American flag above a hockey rink. 

Image Credit: S.yume - Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The National Hockey League is popular in the United States. Don't get us wrong. But after reading for days on the topic of hockey's popularity in Canada, the answer is complex and seems to lie in the geography and climate. The two hockey powerhouses internationally are clearly Canada and Russia; both of those countries have chilly climates most of the calendar year and produce most the NHL's talent.

Additionally, the big market NHL teams are all located in the Northern United States where it does get very cold most months. Such teams include the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins. Who are some of the small market teams that struggle to fill their arenas every night? The Arizona Coyotes, Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers. Atlanta, Georgia is the only city in the United States to lose two NHL teams. The Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg, Manitoba to become the Winnipeg Jets in 2011. It is very hard to get in the mood for a sports played on ice when you live in a tropical or subtropical climate. Word is, Gary Bettman is even exploring adding a team in Las Vegas, Nevada

Another reason for the NHL's lack of popularity compared to other sports is the lack of American-born players. The two top players today are Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Crosby hails from Canada and Ovechkin is a native of Russia. Internationalization is the exact reason the NBA has seen a decline in their ratings and fan base as well. Popular players in the NBA now have names like Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Andrea Bargnani and Luol Deng. Some American fans are naturally turned off by Internationalization.

Some people argue that there is a lack of hockey coverage in the United States, so it is nearly impossible to gain an interest in hockey. But media coverage will follow interest. If the people of Houston, Texas were genuinely interested in hockey, Houston would have a hockey team. Hockey appeals to many fans because it doesn't have all of the stoppages that baseball, football and basketball have. That can also be unappealing to other fans.The game is very fluid and fans must pay attention to the action for an extended period of time which is hard for a lot of people to do. Spectators of the other three sports know when to expect an intermission or delay so that they could attend to something else such as a bathroom break, run for food, etc.

While ice hockey has been played for more than 100 years now, it is unpredictable as to whether or not there will be a surge in popularity in the United States any time soon. The NHL Winter Classic has proven to be a winner and sparks a lot of interest among those that do not typically follow the NHL. At the moment, the National Football League is the most popular sport in the United States and has shown no signs of slowing down.


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