Like it or not, the NHL is becoming younger, louder, and more personable. And as its young stars begin to gain leadership positions, the demand from a younger subset of fans grows larger: Make hockey fun again. Let players have personality on the ice and off, be it through social media engagement, game-day fashion, or creative goal celebrations.
Some say that hockey was always fun. True, to an extent.
Minute per game minute, you arguably can’t find a faster, more action-packed major sport. But among the North American leagues, and internationally, the NBA still dominates on Twitter activity and in its social media.
One of the biggest factors that helped basketball succeed in the social age wasn’t the NHL’s commonly preached conformity.
The NBA found huge success in marketing its star players as larger-than-life, letting them have public personas that tied into larger, richer narratives spanning careers, teams, and decades.
Superstar Auston Matthews, the up-and-coming 21-year-old face of American hockey, has taken note, citing NBA star Russell Westbrook’s individuality as a source of inspiration in a recent GQ feature.
He’s well met by former USA National Team Development Program teammates Jack Eichel, who was recently named captain of the Buffalo Sabres; Dylan Larkin, Detroit’s hometown darling who’s stepping up as an assistant captain for the Red Wings; and Matthew Tkachuk, who’s also wearing an A in Calgary.
It’s not only the born and bred American youngsters who are ready to stand out. The team responsible for the resurgence of the debate about how much fun is too much is none other than the Washington Capitals, whose summer celebrations led to the ban of the legendary Cup Stand.
Though the publicity of their championship celebrations was revolutionary, the Capitals hold more promise in amount of fun per sixty. After a title win, their petty grudges are only transforming into a bold sense of self-confidence.
Alex Ovechkin is already a superstar on a mission to grab the attention of all the boys and girls and babes in the hockey world. Evgeny Kuznetsov’s interviews and celebrations reveal a player growing into the spotlight, ready to embrace a downright devious kind of skill against his opponents. Braden Holtby is already a league-recognized style icon whose meticulously chosen plaid suits and well-groomed beard have woven into the hype of game-day coverage. And Nicklas Backstrom is finally smiling on-camera.
(This isn’t even mentioning highly polarizing figure Tom Wilson, whose aggressive approach on the ice has earned him the marking of a player everyone hates unless he’s on their team.)
If the NHL wants to appeal to new viewers, it can gain ground by marketing its stars outside of a bland, monotone mold for success.
With high-scoring, chaotically delightful games that happen almost every night all across the continent, an audience needs something to anchor them.
Individuality isn’t a bad place to start.
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