Because It's The Cup: Penguins Kris Letang and Flyers Kimmo Timonen fight during the first period in game three. Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

The 2012 NHL Playoffs: PR Pros or Woes

When I’m not wearing my Cardiac Cane superwoman get-up, I’m a 9-5 marketing and communications coordinator. The NHL playoff debacles have me wondering is this good or bad for the sport’s image? If you aren’t sure what “debacles” I’m referring to then you need to spend some quality time on the NHL Network and read this article by fellow Cardiac Cane writer, Jennifer Caslin.

The NHL tweeted today the three playoff contests this past weekend averaged a 50% increase in overnight ratings compared to last year. Can we credit the marketing department on the improved ratings? Should we give praise to the heated match-ups and ugly rivalries? The increase in program views means fresh fans are tuning in…or at least the potential for new fans.

Which brings me to my next thought. Does watching a player pull hair, smash an opponent’s face into the glass, or throw a punch to the back of a downed player’s head intrigue or disgust novice spectators? I asked my hockey veterans on Twitter to tell me what they think of the playoffs so far and some of the responses included: Insane, clusterfudge (sounds delicious), tragic, awesome, reckless, and cataclysmic. I know each of the respondents is well versed in the sport, but how would a non-hockey fan sum up the Pens versus Flyers game, for example? Will the gladiator-style games attract new followers to help grow the sport in the U.S.A.?

On the other hand, will it do what I dread and turn future puck heads away in disgust? Without understanding the sport, will they only see movie-typed goons dropping gloves and screaming about the latest Dear Abby column…that’s what they are yelling about, right?

I believe the answer rests with the NHL and how they regulate those 60 minutes. It can be the difference between a respectable or lowly sport. Before you put words in my big mouth, I’m not saying fighting in hockey should be banned. Removing fighting from hockey is like removing Santa Claus from Christmas. Ice hockey would live on without fighting and people would still celebrate the holidays. However, removing one element from the other changes the experience and tactics completely. Who would deliver presents to believing kids without jolly St. Nicholas? How would a game change momentum or correct undesirable behaviors without a little roughing up? Note: I said “a little roughing up,” not an elbow to someone’s unsuspecting temple.

You want newcomers to respect the sport then you keep it entertaining while showing a firm, consistent ruling. Shana-shame in the news after a game that boasted 158 penalty minutes is like a sober Lindsay Lohan…only a few newbies will stick around to keep watching.

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