As part of a great-as-usual exchange between ESPN’s Bill Simmons and noted writer Malcolm Gladwell, the two sports-niks hypothesized about the NHL’s future. Simmons pondered why Canada, the unquestioned home of hockey, doesn’t have more NHL teams. In response he proposed a new, two conference league split evenly between Canadian and American teams. Gladwell replied with:
I'm with you on the 24-team, Canadian-American conference idea, particularly since it turns the Stanley Cup finals into a border war every year. I was once in Brazil when Brazil was playing Argentina in soccer, and the entire country was in a state of advanced hysteria. I was at a conference and they stopped the proceedings, in the middle of the day, so everyone could go watch the game. Unbelievable. That's what happens when you combine sports and national loyalties. Can you imagine this happening every spring?
In a fictitious world, which in this case means ignoring the local economic impacts of either relocation or folding for some teams, this is a great idea. The leveraging of nationalistic pride seen in international sporting would be a huge boon for business in the metropolitan-driven professional sports world. Aside from teams like the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, Dallas Cowboys, and others with national followings, professional teams are limited to their immediate metropolitan area and surrounding region for a fan base. This is an excellent method to temporarily multiply that, and at just the right time for final-round competition. Just think about aggregating up all the national support one sees during the World Cup and Olympics and apply it to a seven-game series. Personally, the sports world needs more of this.
Can you imagine? The Washington Capitals escape a treacherous American conference to face their equally battle-tested counterparts from Ottawa? That’s like a real simulation of South Park’s American-Canadian War. Who wouldn’t watch that--and what sponsors wouldn’t want a piece?
Now, is any of this really going to happen? Probably not. And there is very little chance a Capitals-Senators series generates the same audience as a Argentina-Brazil match. But its fun to consider.