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Paul Nicholson
Nashvegas TN
Digital Marketing guy for Captain D's. Hockey fan, photographer, and father of 2 awesome boys.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

ok...here it goes

This is something i've thought about for a long time, but never posted, mostly out of fear of a 'sensitive' issue. Very few people do talk about it. But Kukla's Korner just linked to someone else talking about it, so i figured i'd chime in:

I have often wondered about the lack of minority players playing at least a partial role in hockey not being as quickly adopted in the southern (particularly south-east) US. When i go to games in Nashville, the vast majority of fans in the stands are all white. Like 98.5%. Meanwhile Titans games and other sports in town draw just about equally from the black and white communities. In cities where there is a large minority population (in some cases they are the vast majority, in fact) it makes an "all-white" sport a tough draw, economics aside. I wish it didn't, but i think it does. I've often wondered if the Preds would start drawing better if they traded for Ray Emery, Anson Carter, or maybe even Mike Grier (i'd love to have Jarome Iginla, but i don't think that's going to happen).

Outside of just the local team draw, i think the lack of diversity impacts the overall appeal nationwide. Many sports right now are heavily promoted/influenced/marketed with "black culture".

A friend of mine (who is black) told me he just got season tickets for the Preds. He was amazed. He'd never seen hockey live before and has absolutely fallen in love. He said he grew up watching nothing but football and basketball. He'd just never been exposed to it. I don't think that much is unique to him being black, just growing up in Nashville. But what i think is more unique is that, for those little kids who are 9 or 10 growing up...they look for role models. People they can relate to but want to emulate. Right now, as much as he may enjoy watching a game, there aren't a whole lot players for a 9-year old black kid growing up in Nashville or Atlanta to relate to.

I'm not saying hockey is doing it on purpose. I'm not saying that hockey can't succeed as it is now. But i really think that hockey would have a huge boost, especially in the southern US, if they could increase the minority presence. Many teams (the Preds included) are starting to run hockey programs for kids that can't afford it. The more accessible they can make it, the better. How might things look different if someone like Lebron James had decided he wanted to be the next Wayne Gretzky, not the next Michael Jordan.

Ok. There. I said it.
Let the flame wars begin...


jc said...

there's nothing to flame. You were intelligent in your observation. It is true, hockey is a majority white sport. It always has been, since the very begining. I am not sure why, perhaps it was a Canadian sport first? I dont think it will change. We do see more and more "black" players in the league as time goes on and the game gains more popularity, but I dont think the crowd we will get anywhere near football or basketball.

I love this sport, more than any other and I am a huge Cowboys fan. To me I dont care who enjoys the sport or not, if you do cool if not so what. Color of your skin means nothing to me.

James Mirtle said...

Since the majority of players are Canadian and European, and come from countries where the percentage of black (and/or visible minorities) is relatively small, I think that's as much a part of it as anything.

Hockey does have some terrific minority ambassadors like Jarome Iginla and Jonathan Cheechoo, and I think as more players come from the U.S. we may see more black players in the league.

On the Canadian prairies, where many players come from, there simply aren't a lot of visible minorities.

Paul Nicholson said...

James, yeah, i totally get that. With very rare exceptions, i don't think hockey is a racist game or anything like that. Just an observation that in areas where a large portion of a population is of another color/race, it makes it just that much more difficult for a near-monochromatic sport the gain as much popularity. I don't think the league did anything to promote this, or discourage black players. Just saying that i think the league could use going out of its way to promote itself to minorities.

The NBA and its global initiative is a great example. A few years ago (10 or more) David Stern got it in his head to promote the NBA worldwide. Obvious grabs were for the China market, but he also took players to Africa, South America, and Europe. The result: a recent explosion of top talent coming from all over the world to play in the NBA, where just a few years ago is was 95% US born. Great athletes like Manu Ginobili, Dirk Nowitzki, or Steve Nash that might have ended up playing soccer or hockey, ended up playing basketball.

The NHL needs to go after talent with that same aggression. I know it is easy for basketball given the cost associated with building a basketball court in Africa (or a small southern US town) vs an ice rink, but i think the league could still make stronger efforts than they are.

More reading on the subject for those that didn't see