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Thriving NHL thankful for Crosby

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins Sidney Crosby plays in the Black and Gold game Jan. 17, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

On the rise

Stanley Cup playoff merchandise sales: Up 60 percent in 2013

Stanley Cup Final merchandise sales: Up 100 percent in 2013

TV viewers during 2013 playoffs: 84.9 million (up 5 percent over 2012)

American viewers of Stanley Cup Final: 55.1 million (up 19 percent over 2012)

Team concession sales: Up 12 percent in 2013

Average weekly merchandise sales: Up 29 percent on NHL.com over previous season

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Josh Yohe
Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013, 10:27 p.m.
 

The NHL is seven months removed from a lockout that could have crippled its popularity.

No such result occurred, and now league officials believe their product can achieve unprecedented appeal.

The Penguins' Sidney Crosby is among the biggest reasons.

NHL executive vice president of marketing Brian Jennings was in Pittsburgh last week for the league's annual NHL Exchange, a merger of merchandise ideas and retailers. Jennings, though, wasn't spending time thinking about T-shirt designs or promotional giveaways.

He had the game's brightest star in mind.

“Sidney Crosby is a big part of what has made us so successful in recent years,” he said.

The NHL enjoyed record attendance, TV ratings and merchandise sales during the 2013 season. There was little reason to believe that was likely before the season.

After all, Major League Baseball did not immediately recover from a work stoppage that affected the 1994 and '95 seasons. The same can be said of NBA work stoppages that cut parts of the 1998-99 and 2011-12 seasons.

Hockey struggled to recover from lockouts in each of the past two decades. But not this time.

“I think I know what part of the solution has been,” Jennings said. “I think the players in our league are special people, and I think our fans see that. Look at the biggest names. Look at Crosby. Look at (Alex) Ovechkin and (Steven) Stamkos. They're good people, and I think that's part of why people keep coming back.”

Crosby turns 26 on Wednesday, and while that hardly represents an over-the-hill age, younger stars like Stamkos and John Tavares have taken the league by storm.

But they haven't taken his spot as the game's biggest name.

“There is no question that Sidney Crosby is our marquee athlete,” Jennings said. “It has been that way for a while. There's just something special about him.”

Jennings said the upcoming Olympic year won't change anything.

“I don't care where Sidney Crosby is from,” Jennings said. “It doesn't matter if he's from Canada, the United States or anywhere else. He's just a unique player and a unique person. He's the guy. Now, there might be slight differences in terms of what CBC wants and what NBC wants in terms of the Olympics. But we don't worry about that too much. We respect that the NHL players are playing in the Olympics, but we worry primarily about the season.”

NHL training camps begin in about six weeks.

“We have remarkable fans,” Jennings said. “That can't be forgotten.

“Having someone like Sidney Crosby helps, too.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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