The NHL is in a lockout... again. After missing the entire 2004 season and seeing hockey fade into the shadows of the American sporting culture, the NHL's comeback has been impressive. The league divorced with ESPN and has built a fruitful partnership with NBC. In recent years, the NHL has seen some of the best Stanley Cup ratings in over a generation and stars and teams the league can build around.
So, NHL owners did the sensible thing and locked out their players. Why? I haven't quite figured that out yet. Because they want to suck every penny they can out of players and fans? Because they loathe themselves and their own success? Because Gary Bettman and the league's owners are actually evil vampires? If you read the post-lockout statement from the NHL, things have never been better for the league... which makes the timing of the latest NHL lockout an awesome idea.
The lockout is terrible for the NHL and equally as bad for NBC Sports. NBC and NBCSN have over 100 regular season games scheduled for the 2012-2013 season. Beyond Sunday Night Football, the NHL is NBC's only footprint in the four major pro sports. The league forms the backbone of NBCSN as well.
But while pessimism abounds once again, we're here to provide sporting alternatives to the NHL for NBC to get them through those cold, depressing winter months. There are actually several leagues and compettions around the globe just waiting for NBC to show them to an American audience. Who knows, maybe one of these leagues will surpass the NHL in popularity...
1) EHF Champions League Handball!
Champions League soccer meets one of the favorite Olympic cult sports with the premier handball competition in Europe. Who wouldn't love to see defending champions THW Kiel try to defend their title against European powers like FC Barcelona (not the one with Lionel Messi) and Montpellier HB. The tournament runs from late September to early June, so by the time February rolls around you won't even remember which Staal brother plays for which team.
2) Water Polo World League!
Water polo is another popular Olympic sport, and the World League schedule fits nicely into where the NHL would be for NBC. But the main selling point here is the experience Doc Emrick gained in London calling water polo matches. The man could make a Scrabble tournament sound exciting, so he'll have no trouble making the Water Polo World League part of your water cooler discussions. With Pierre McGuire poolside, the entire NHL on NBC operation doesn't have to skip a beat.
3) World Curling Championships!
Speaking of Olympic cult sports, nothing quite pulls the heartstrings of Americans than men and women rolling big rocks on ice. In March and April, there are three world curling championships with the men's, women's, and mixed doubles tournaments taking place. But why stop there? There's all sorts of Canadian curling to be televised including the prestigious Tim Horton's Brier in early March! And, curling is still a pure Canadian sport - you won't see it in South Beach or Arizona. Curling is the sport on ice of the future, all it needs is some luck when timing meets opportunity. That time is now.
4) Indian Premier League!
If you're asking who in their right mind would want to watch Indian soccer, the answer is nobody. But the IPL isn't Indian soccer, it's one of the top international cricket leagues in the world. The IPL tournament takes place in April and May, features top players from around the world, and is played in the much more TV friendly T20 format. At the very least, cricket beats hunting and fishing.
5) Aviva Premiership!
English rugby's top flight just kicked off their 2012-2013 season, which runs through April. For the hockey fan that misses the fighting and physicality of the sport, rugby is the best alternative. No helmets, no pads, just big guys knocking the crap out of each other for 80 minutes.
6) Premier League Darts!
Insanely over-the-top theatrics plus overweight men throwing arrows at a stationary target. 8 of the world's best darts players play a double round robin tournament from February to May. How does this not equal huge ratings for NBCSN? How is this not on American television today?
The surprise sport of the London Olympics, archery, was actually the highest rated sport on NBC Sports Network for large portions of the competition. While there isn't a world championship until next year, why not televise any number of USA Archery events from around the country? Follow around a young archery prodigy on the quest to make the next Olympics. I smell a reality series where The Hunger Games meets Honey Boo Boo.
8) Major League Eating!
Why should a sport of champions like competitive eating only shine on July 4th with hot dogs? How cliched. You don't even know what's in the things. And that dipping the buns in the water? Gross. Let's see competitive eaters test their skills over the course of a full season and different disciplines. A September 29th doubleheader of the Western Days Festival World Tamale Eating Championship and the Wild Eggs National Pancake Eating Championship would be the perfect occasion to take MLE to the mainstream. As long as Rich Shea is there with his crazy Kabuki theater commentary, I'll be watching.
9) Kontinental Hockey League!
Hockey players and fans don't even need the NHL to survive. Just slap a Metallurg Magnitogorsk jersey on Sidney Crosby and we won't miss a thing.
@awfulannouncing i must confess i already watch curling on CBC. But i think they should just pick up all college hockey games...
@NotBarryMelrose great article. Everything in sports is about $. Whatever happened to the fans, those who support these teams/sports :(
@awfulannouncing I DEMAND LAWNMOWER RACING TO REPLACE THE #NHL! Plus, NBC already has a melodramatic racing guy to cover it (Bill Weber).
@awfulannouncing I want them to have all of those. I'd watch it over watching ESPN discuss Tebow every single day
@awfulannouncing I visited Canada and every single bar/restaurant had the Brier on. I dare anyone to change the channel if put on NBCSN.
@awfulannouncing just show the London Olympics again on 'super tape delay' the ratings would still be better than normal programming
The sad thing is, I'd watch every one of these (save for possibly Competitive Eating.) Unfortunately, FoxSports has the rights to Australian Rules Football, which is the original obscure sport. Maybe throw in dodgeball as #10 :)