NBC appears to “get” hockey in a way that ESPN never wanted to. That’s apparently mostly thanks to middle management, because the head of NBC Sports thinks one of hockey’s most venerated traditions is just getting in the way of marketing.
Via the Sporting News, NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus told the Chicago Tribune (paywall) that he’s lobbied NHL executives, NHLPA executives, and even individual players to cut their playoff beards so we can see their pretty, pretty faces. Now he’s going public:
“The players won’t like this, but I wish they all would stop growing beards in the postseason,” Lazarus said. “Let’s get their faces out there. Let’s talk about how young and attractive they are. What model citizens they are. (Hockey players) truly are one of a kind among professional athletes.
“I know it’s a tradition and superstition, but I think (the beards do) hurt recognition. They have a great opportunity with more endorsements. Or simply more recognition with fans saying, ‘That guy looks like the kid next door,’ which many of these guys do. I think that would be a nice thing.”
You’re telling me you can’t find a way to market Alex Killorn’s villainous mustache?
Or Patrick Kane’s annual playoff mullet?
There is presumably a microscopic competitive advantage to playing hockey clean-shaven, be it aerodynamic or evaporative. It is also presumably overcompensated for by the fact that players like growing the beards as long and as bushy as they can, building camaraderie even as they compete to see who can grow the best one.
I’d even argue that the beards are a better marketing tool than being able to see Steven Stamkos’s cheeks. Just look to the numbers of fans who grow their own in solidarity, and how the weirdness and relatability of the tradition already has staked mainstream awareness in exactly the sort of non-hockey fans who Lazarus wants to reach.
Lazarus concedes that no one is going to listen to his suggestion, which is great news for everyone and will continue the cover-up of hockey’s darkest secret: some of its players have kind of weak chins.