Hockey is very popular in NHL cities. Attendance is strong and local media ratings are good. As Mike Lombard noted, the NHL has only in the last few decades expanded past its regional roots in the Northeastern U.S., Montreal, and Toronto. I also agree that hockey is difficult to appreciate on TV, although the high definition and the ever-increasing size of TV screens in living rooms have drastically improved my enjoyment of the game.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle is that you really can’t appreciate the sheer speed of the game until you see it in person. Those guys are big and they are FAST and even in today’s modern game where cheap shots are reduced by having two referees and fighting is almost passe, it’s still an exhilarating experience to see an NHL game in person.

More television exposure through more widely available TV networks and special events such as their “Winter Classic” outdoor games which draw crowds several times larger than usual are ways the powers that be are trying to increase their popularity.