NHL's in a world of trouble -- or potential

Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche, left, and Philippe Boucher of the Dallas Stars battle for position during NHL action at the Pepsi Center on Wednesday in Denver.


KAI RYSSDAL: The National Hockey League season began in earnest last night -- if you're anything less than an avid hockey fan, though, you might have missed it. We're barely a week into October, baseball's just getting interesting, and the NFL season's heating up.

All of which go to make Diana Nyad's point about the position hockey's put itself in.

Hey, Diana.

DIANA NYAD: Kai, what's going on?

RYSSDAL: Well, here's what's really going on for me: The Yankees play tonight. So honestly, I'm not too interested in hockey.

NYAD: Well, you know, count yourself among millions. Why does hockey start in September? Excuse me, I'm not a big hockey fan, but I could appreciate it as a winter sport.

RYSSDAL: That being the case, though, you have to give it credit for trying. They're doing some new things this year to recover from the strike, right?

NYAD: Yeah, they're doing new things -- they're going to have a fantastic outdoor game with maybe 75,000 people just outside Buffalo on January 1st. That's fun, I'd go if I were close by and I had a really big parka. You know, I think what we're really talking about with hockey, with my mind, it's sort of like a denial. Hockey was part of the Big Four in the '50s, '60s, '70s, even up into the 1980s, with superstars [like] Wayne Gretzky... But it's not any more. NASCAR, the X Games, even the World Series of Poker outdraws hockey on television.

RYSSDAL: What's the disconnect, then?

NYAD: The disconnect is the money. The corporate money and the beautiful ice rinks are here in America, but the huge, rabid -- let's not count Canada for a second -- the huge, rabid fan base is in Sweden. It's Finland, it's Slovakia, Russia. And to my mind, we should combine the two -- be the first truly international league NHL. It would be exciting, it would be maverick.

RYSSDAL: Now, the NHL did have a season opener in London, four, five, six days ago, right?

NYAD: First time ever -- the Kings and the Ducks played in London, and England isn't even the hockey country of Europe... But, it was close enough by that all those Finns and Swedes and Czechs came in. They all wore their jerseys. It was a raucous, exciting two-game set. And why not -- take the Anaheim Ducks -- why don't the have a rink and a training center and even a competition center in, let's say, Zurich, in Switzerland? And once a year, they go over there and they settle down for about three weeks and they play all the teams in Europe? And then they come back here... And then why doesn't the team in Zurich come over here, play all the teams in the U.S.? The world is small these days.

RYSSDAL: All right, so let's talk about the Diana Nyad World Hockey League here for a second... And the thing you have to have to make money in professional sports these days -- a television contract.

NYAD: Yeah, and look at the one they got now.

RYSSDAL: Well, right.

NYAD: Look at the one they got now. It used to be the Outdoor Life Network -- it's now called Versus. And I mentioned the World Series of Poker before... But Kai, during the strike of 2004-2005 season, when hockey was out that entire season, poker... You know, people would rather sit and watch a guy stare at a pair of nines than tune in to the greatest hockey players in the world -- that's got to tell the commissioner something.

And one thing it's got to tell him is, that if he could get that television contract in Sweden and in Russia, where people stay up till 2, 3, 4 in the morning, it's the number-one sport in a lot of these countries. Number one. You wouldn't even have competition. If he could share in that television revenue, all that merchandising, you know all those gate receipts -- all of a sudden, the fan base and the money would be huge. I'd go watch Sweden against the Anaheim Ducks, wouldn't you?

RYSSDAL: I probably would -- Diana Nyad and the business of sports... hockey, this time. Thanks, Diana.

NYAD: Thanks, Kai.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, the most widely heard program on business and the economy in the country.


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