In sports media, there is a clear distinction between college and professional sports. This distinction could create a friction between the two markets, perhaps even creating direct competition between the two markets. A town in the middle of nowhere, Grand Forks, North Dakota, is a fine example of where this friction could occur.
Grand Forks is known as one of the biggest hockey towns in the country. The University of North Dakota is unique in that its students prefer to stand outside in the cold, waiting to get inside the hockey arena, than to tailgate the football games. There are no professional sports teams in the area. So, people are left to choose which market they’d rather focus on, UND’s men’s hockey team or the National Hockey League.
Brad Schlossman is the one of the biggest voices in sports journalism in the state of North Dakota. He has been covering college hockey for twelve years now. When asked how he thinks the NHL influences Grand Forks, he explained that Grand Forks is mainly influenced by UND’s hockey team.
“People in this town get introduced to the sport of hockey mainly from the college,” he said. “And from there, they start to find other avenues of hockey. They find the NHL through where the alumni players end up.” Brad cited Zach Parise, who currently plays for the Minnesota Wild. When he started playing there, people in Grand Forks started to pay more attention. When Drake Caggiula, who just graduated last year, starts to play for the Edmonton Oilers, you suddenly start to see a lot more Oilers jerseys on campus and around town.
Brad does not think that the success of the Wild or UND’s team detract from each other.
“The schedules work out so well that people can get their college hockey on the weekend, and their Wild games during the week.” He explains that the Frozen Four, college hockey’s nation championship game, happens in mid-April. Then the NHL Playoffs start almost the next week.
“The two markets of hockey do not interfere much, if anything they grow each other,” Brad said as the interview ended. According to Schlossman, hockey markets do not wreck each other. They work together.
On the domestic side of things, the people that live in Grand Forks seem to corroborate this idea. Reina Ortega, a junior at UND, has grown up with both sides of the hockey world. She explains how her parents encouraged engagement with hockey.
“It was really a bonding thing. We would all watch games together and pick teams in the playoffs that would go all the way.” Her dad attended UND and would follow the team after he left the school. So, the Wild and UND always played a role in her passion for hockey. But she has seen that in Grand Forks, things are a bit different. She recognizes that around here, people do not care much about an NHL team unless it has a UND alumni on the roster.
“The town is divided between the Blackhawks and the Wild,” Reina said of the current situation of the NHL in Grand Forks. She sees that many people are attracted to the idea of watching alumni on TV.
She explains that “the Wild seem like celebrities to me. But college hockey is my classmates. They are people I can see.”
Even people not much into the hockey scene can see that the two markets do not interfere much. Jason Hallaway, a sophomore at UND, said that he does not pay attention to hockey. But he also sees how people can follow both markets without much trouble.
“Though I do not follow hockey, I know that UND only plats on weekends. The Wild play all week. That gives people plenty of days to focus on the NHL and then they can watch college hockey.” Perhaps the two markets are not mutually exclusive after all.
Initially, it might seem that two different kinds of hockey might interfere with each other. Some people might not have enough time for every type of hockey. Maybe they do like college hockey for one reason, but the NHL cannot fulfill this reason. But the situation in Grand Forks reveals that the two markets are not necessarily in competition, that they even feed into each other.