Besides the fact that they’re not very good at it
The main reason is simple, I think, a very “American” reason. But first, a little history and then some other lesser reasons why you’re average American sports fan isn’t a fan of NHL hockey.
The Americans won the Gold Medal against the Soviets in the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics and then mostly dropped off the media’s radar until the “Miracle On Ice” at Lake Placid in 1980. The next year, Massachusetts high school player Bobby Carpenter became the first American ever drafted in the first round, picked third by the Washington Capitals. He then became the first American player to score 50 goals in a season in 1984–85. Because of his and the 1980 Olympics team’s successes, pro scouts turned some of their attention to northern midwest and northeastern U.S. high schools.
United States Hockey had become an actual Thing. But American sports fans did not flock to the pro rinks nor did they gather in large numbers around their TV sets to watch their local team. And they had their reasons.
“There’s too much fighting”
In the 1970s, in the pre-Wayne Gretzky era, this was a truth that even many diehard fans couldn’t disagree with. Led by the Philadelphia “Broad Street Bullies” Flyers, ugly, bench-clearing brawls were common. This goonery led to the anti-fighting movie “Slap Shot” and infamy for the Hanson Brothers.
But since then, several rule changes — extra penalty minutes for fight “instigators,” game misconduct penalties for the “3rd man in” and first man to come off the bench during fights — have greatly curbed brawling. The days of “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out” are long gone, and the number of fights continues to decline markedly year after year. Your reason is no longer valid, I’m afraid.
Fighting is banned in European leagues and the Olympics. You throw a punch and you’re thrown out of the game. But it should probably not be banned from the NHL.
“I can’t see/follow the puck”
This is a drawback of watching hockey. It’s a fast-moving game with few stoppages. The puck is only 1” x 3”. You cannot “passively” watch a hockey game, either live or on TV. HD technology has greatly improved the TV experience, but apparently not enough to bring in new fans.
In the ’90s, there was silly-talk of changing the color of the puck — desperate times. But then Fox Sports, one of the NHL’s U.S, broadcasters in the mid-1990s, did just that with FoxTrax. Uproarious laughter echoed through North America’s rinks, big and small.
Players did not like the new puck; they complained that it bounced more. Amazingly, this stupid tech trick lasted through two seasons despite a steady ratings decline.
“There’s not enough scoring”
I guess this is a valid complaint, considering the source. (This is also one of the main reasons Americans don’t like soccer.) But back in the late 1980s, during the dynasty of Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers, hockey was much more of a freewheeling game and there was a lot more scoring than there is now. Yet American sports fans still collectively said “meh.”
These days, in media discussions about improving scoring, there is talk of making the nets bigger (idiotic idea), goalie equipment smaller (OK idea), and the ice surface 10 feet wider to match international and Olympic dimensions (great idea).
Meanwhile Gary Bettman, a labor relations lawyer from fucking Queens and the worst commissioner in NHL history (sources: me and the internet) does nothing. I truly think that he — like most Americans — hates the sport.
“Their uniforms are too bulky, I can’t see their bodies”
A few women have complained about this to me over years. (Hey, it’s not my reason, don’t call me sexist.) “I can’t see their butts, their legs, their arms, anything!”
Yes, well, getting hit with a vulcanized rubber disc at 90–100 mph (or higher) opens big wounds and breaks bones even with all that padding. But, just to give you an idea of what some of the most athletic bodies in the world look like, here.
How’s the NHL doing now, ratings-wise? Look at the Stanley Cup finals numbers from the last ten years and look at the amazingly terrible consistency of those low numbers. (You take a look too, Bettman.) Reruns of Old Yeller would have scored better this year.
The numbers during September’s World Cup were even worse (cc: Bettman). Even the big USA–Canada matchup attracted fewer than one million Americans (766,000). And I think about half of that number was silent, glowing TV sets in Best Buys.
So really: why do Americans hate hockey, what is the main reason? I believe it’s simply because they’re not the best at it like they are at baseball and basketball (and “football”). The Canadians are of course far superior but, the USA isn’t even second best. Russia is still better and arguably Sweden is better. Little fucking-less-than-10-million-people Sweden! Fuck those ice-pussies!
What else besides wider rinks would help? A new commissioner who actually likes the game more than he likes the fucking owners would be a great step forward.
I urge all sports fans who have never been to a pro hockey game to get tickets between the blue lines (preferably right on a blue line, so you can watch how hard a team works to get shots on goal) in the first five rows (if you can afford them) so they can witness how fast the game is, witness the skill these players have at passing, skating, checking, avoiding checks and shooting, all with no time to actually think of doing any of these things. It’s all instinct, reaction, muscle memory from doing that exact same move, thousands and thousands of times before.