“Somebody put in the Hockey News last week, if they had an all-L.A. college team – they had Beau Bennett, Emerson Etem, my son, (Bill) Comrie’s sons (Ty and Eric), it would be the best college team in the country. That’s maybe the next move. Some day, one of the big schools, like USC, is going to have to put in a hockey team.”
TV ratings have been excellent thus far in the playoffs. Los Angeles drew a 7.1 rating for this past Wednesday’s opener against the Rangers, the market’s third-highest rating ever on NBC and trailing only Games 5 and 6 of the Stanley Cup final, when the Kings were in a position to clinch the Cup.
Moreover, the research firm Nielsen recently did a survey in which they compared the number of adults “interested” or “very interested” in professional sports leagues in the L.A. area, from 2010 to 2014. Among respondents who described themselves as “interested” in professional sport, the NHL was up 22 per cent, the NFL up 4 per cent, while the NBA was down 8 per cent and Major League baseball was down 5 per cent. Among those who described themselves as “very interested,” the numbers were even better. Interest in the NHL was up 48 per cent, the NFL 16 per cent, while the NBA was down 2 per and Major League baseball down 1 per cent.
The Kings have sold out 118 consecutive games going into Saturday’s second game of the Stanley Cup final against the New York Rangers.
“It’s starting to become a hotter ticket,” said Kings’ television host Patrick O’Neal, son of the actor Ryan O’Neal, who gets to interview some of the celebrities that turn up for Kings’ playoff games this spring. “There is a buzz now and social media helps that. On our post-game show, the fans come out to our set and they’re chanting and screaming. There’s so much passion behind this team.
“Listen, I was there when the Lakers won two championships. I was there for the Dodgers when they got to back-to-back NLCs and went on their 42-8 run, but for me, the passion for hockey with these fans in Los Angeles, there’s nothing quite like it. There’s something special happening. I’m sensing a turnaround – that we’re getting these fans because the team is winning and because they love these guys. I’d like to see more, but I do think we’re trending in the right direction.”
Kings’ broadcaster Jim Fox played with the team between 1980 and 1990 and upon his retirement, moved into the community relations department. One of the goals then was to get young players interested in playing hockey, in the hopes that they would become the next generation of fans. But it was a tough slog in the early days.
“The first Kings’ youth hockey camp, we scheduled it for a Monday through Saturday, and we learned from this that we better have an orientation day on the Sunday first – because three quarters of the kids didn’t know how to put on their equipment,” said Fox. “We knew they didn’t have the equipment because we were supplying it, but my wife Susie and I, we had to actually put on the equipment for 75 per cent of the kids. Gretz had already been here for three years; that’s when kids were coming to hockey camps when they never would have thought of it before; never even skated before. Now you see the difference. You have California teams winning national championships; California-bred kids drafted into the NHL. It is a generational thing.
“When I took my job in community relations, I was asked, ‘what was my goal?’ and I answered, ‘I want to make sure the Kings are popular after Wayne leaves.’ He was the ignition point; a lot of the credit goes to Wayne. But now, I think we’re a generation-plus past Wayne, in group sales and youth programs, those types of areas, now we get attention. People want to be part of it.”