Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Sushi of Sports

I have been watching a metric ton of Stanley Cup playoffs this spring, and not just my now dismissed Washington Capitals. As such, I have pondered what has kept hockey at such a miserably low TV rating for pretty much, well, forever.

For starters, it is a sport that I would venture 90% of the sports watching men in America have never, ever, ever played. Not just on ice, but even street hockey.

This is the biggest, primary barrier to the sport.

There are other reasons - lack of stats, preponderance of European/Canadian players, difficulty in seeing the puck, lack of basic strategic understanding. I could go on and on with those forever.

But cutting to the heart of it, I think, is the fact that most of hockey is frustration and failure. There is very little scoring compared to other American sports (although, more than soccer), and most plays are foiled at some point well before resulting in even a shot on goal.

Which 90% of the time, statistically speaking, turn into saves. Which is a success for the goalie, but ultimately a failure for the offensive team.

Hockey to the un-initiated, is lots and lots of hacking, whacking, checking and grabbing.

Yet to me, and others who love the sport, or played it at any level (me, C League adult ice hockey at midnight with other middle aged dudes) the game remains electric, flowing, and filled with constant tension.

In this way, I think hockey is the sushi of sports. If you like it, you LOVE it. If you don't, you'll never eat it. Period. It's gross. All or nothing.

I said this on my radio show on Tuesday, and got many thoughtful responses. This was one.


I'm with you, hockey is exactly like sushi. I think the "lots of failure" is close but not quite the whole picture. Growing up in Michigan I used to play and am a big hockey fan but watching in DC and with my friends and occassionally my girlfriend, here is why I think Americans aren't into it:

1. People don't understand the game/rules, my friends ask me constantly what certain things mean. Probably comes from most people not playing growing up so they aren't attached.

2. Its hard to watch. Americans are all A.D.D., the non-stop action without a break to stop and chat with your friends is not condusive for the casual fan. The small puck also plays into it being hard to follow.

3. Its hard to follow your favorite superstar player during the game. Without clearly defined possessions, shifts where players come and go without a clear break (not to mention they are only on for a minute at a time) coupled with equipment that makes it hard to follow them while they are all playing makes it impersonal for most fans.

Ok that is all. Thanks.

-Joe in DC


  1. I've tried to watch it. But I can't follow the puck, and I don't understand the rules.
    Not to mention, I can't pronounce the names of most of the players.

  2. It is ugly, and is unrefined compared to other American sports.Goals are often the result of sloppy unathletic plays like skate deflections.It would be like having the basketball rim at seven feet and no goaltending rules.The only baskets would be the result of someone falling down or a deflection off someones head.It has no well executed plays to speak of, like football, where you can see the elaborate strategy.Its like soccer on skates in that respect,except with more Canadians and less women.The simplicity in the two sports is easily seen when compared to a sport like baseball, where the stats themselves show the complexity.I think its more like spam, simple,plain,ugly, and you only like it if you were fed it repeatedly as a kid.

  3. If frustration and lack of scoring is the crux of it, why is soccer the most popular sport in the world?

  4. I've never played hockey but over the past 3-5 years I've watched more and more of it and enjoy playoff hockey a ton. The biggest 'issue' i have is that I don't know any strategy. I don't know why a team is a 'dump and chase' team or one that forechecks well or why a teams ISN'T a dump and chase team or why WOULDN'T a team forecheck more or better? I am picking up things the more I watch but the strategy involved is tough to grasp. I used to think hockey was so random and the bounce of the puck would allow a far inferior team to be a superior just on dumb luck. That isn't so. I get that now.

    I think hockey play-by-play guys are the best in the business. It's so fast with so many things happening I'm always amazed at how many guys are so good. But going back to my strategy argument, it is so fast and there is so much going on, the color commentator/ex-hockey guy in the booth has very little time to discuss strategy and who is doing what and why.

    Just my two cents from a new hockey rube.......

  5. Astrola; Soccer is the most popular sport in the world just as rice is the most popular food. In most countries it's all they have and all they can afford.

  6. i have played hockey most of my life. I love to watch it especially during the Playoffs.

    If you play the game, you are a fan of watching it on TV. If you don't play, I can understand it may be hard to follow.

    First, it is not an American sport. Not many American-born players have put the game into the spotlight, exception 1980 USA Gold Team.

    NHL players aren't marketed real well. Mike Modano, Jeremy Roenick were high achieving US-born players but not many people know who they are. Current players like Zach Parise, Ryan Miller, Patrick Kane, Ryan Kesler are great players and should be marketed in the US besides their team cities. But they are not.

    It is a niche sport, sushi as you say. It will never get any bigger. If ESPN took them back, it still wouldn't get any more popular. And it seems like the NHL doesnt mind

  7. till: so you're saying that countries like england germany and all other europe nations only eat rice?
    I'm confused...