When the World Cup of Hockey was announced most hockey fans including myself were excited. It was going to be great. Best-on-best, hard hitting hockey in the summer. What could be better? Well that’s not exactly how it went. What fans got was lackluster play, lack of intensity (no hitting), and honestly not very competitive hockey. This has resulted in poor television ratings, especially in the US. Empty seats have also been an unexpected problem. Very low price tickets at the Air Canada Centre (the meca of hockey) for the Finals have also been very common. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly even admitted “There’s not a lot of Torontos.” it is the center of the hockey world. “Even for this market and its hockey passion, it was at times challenging.” The reason ---- Team USA!
If Team USA was playing Team Canada in the Finals, I can’t help but think that we would be singing a different tune. The excitement of this tournament was the fact that US and Canada, Russia and Canada, or US and Russia would meet in the finals. Unfortunately that did not happen. Team USA lost out in three straight and Team Canada for the most part rolled everyone that stepped in their path. That begs the question, what is next for the World Cup?
The concept of the World Cup was to showcase the NHL’s greatest stars, and for the league to generate some extra revenue. Well that did not happen. With seats for the Finals unsold, (at a cost less than a regular season Toronto Maple Leafs game) things are not looking to positive.
When originally announced the thought of many, including me was, that the World Cup was being setup to replace the Olympics. NHL participation in the Olympics is something that the league is for, but there are some major hurdles. The time of year (during the regular season), location (foreign countries without the needed amenities), and the fact that the league receives no revenue all make it hard to the league to commit to shutting down their season. With the leagues decision to go or not go, to the next Olympics looming, the World Cup looked the perfect opportunity for the NHL to use this as bargaining power with the Olympic committee and fans. Well that plan may just have backfired.
NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman did say that this would not be a one and out, and that the World Cup would return in 3-5 years. He also stated that there would be changes and improvements. The first area that will be addressed is the location. Toronto is the hockey hotbed of the world, but does it make sense to have it all in one city? Having multiple cities would increase excitement and eliminate day games. Is the time of year perfect? I thought it was, but the crowds and excitement level tell me otherwise. Will Team Europe and North America continue to exist? Team North America was by far the most exciting team to watch, but will those players want to play for their country. What are the correct number teams? There is talk that the NHL is considering full country participation (just like the Olympics) where qualifying games would be needed. That would increase the revenue drastically. It would make the tournament global, and increase intensity levels. There are many aspects that need to be considered, and like everything it takes learning to improve, and time to grow.
The World Cup is here to stay, but there is no question that improvements are needed. What they will be are up in the air… I do have one solution that would increase excitement guaranteed – USA versus Canada best of five!…. Just a thought.