The NHL And Blues May Have A Hidden Agenda With Everyone's Favorite Fan

by Adam Silvers

Thanks to his live tweet of the St. Louis Blues' Game 7 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in the opening round of the NHL playoffs, Tony X., or @soloucity as he's known on Twitter, is everyone's new favorite hockey fan.

Tony found that Blues game by chance. According to his tweets, he was looking for the Cardinals game but ended up watching the Blues and Blackhawks slugging it out in a winner-take-all Game 7.

In light of his viral Twitter feed on April 25, Tony became an overnight Internet sensation. Since that evening, he's gone from roughly 1,600 Twitter followers to his current total of 93,200 followers.

Within the last week and a half, Tony has appeared on "Good Morning America," interacted on Twitter with NHL superstar Roberto Luongo and was gifted a Blues jersey from St. Louis assistant captain Vladimir Tarasenko.

Last night, Tony enjoyed his first live hockey game in some very expensive seats thanks to the St. Louis Blues. The team, like much of America, also picked up on Tony's tweets and gave him free tickets to Game 3 of the Blues' second-round series with the Dallas Stars.

In addition to the Blues' interaction with Tony on Twitter, the NHL saw this as a prime opportunity to engage a new fan who could potentially represent a previously underserved audience.

As many outlets are writing this morning, this is a feel-good story about one man becoming a viral sensation thanks to his discovery of what many already believe to be the most exciting postseason in professional sports.

Awesome, right?

Well, I'm not trying to play Scrooge or be a curmudgeon, but does anyone else feel like the St. Louis Blues and the National Hockey League are doing their utmost to seize an opportunity here?

As one Chicago Tribune writer asserted, the low number of black professional hockey players, limited access to ice rinks in cities and expensiveness of the sport are probable reasons for hockey being unpopular among African-American sports fans.

During last year's Stanley Cup Finals, Ken Brown, a black Blackhawks fan spoke with the Chicago Tribune, saying,

I have two other black friends into hockey and the rest are like, 'Hockey? What?'

In that same article, William Douglas, who runs the Color of Hockey blog, said,

There's a perception in the African-American community that we shouldn't like hockey or sports like NASCAR. There aren't that many rinks in urban areas and the cost of equipment is outrageous. Not seeing players of color on the ice on a regular basis or not knowing there are players of color that reinforces the stereotype. Then it became a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

However, despite what Ken Brown and William Douglas told the Tribune, the numbers suggest the NHL's African-American fanbase is on the rise. In the city of Chicago, reports state the number of African-American Blackhawks fans rose from 12.6 percent in 2011 to 21.9 percent in 2014.

Speaking on growing the Chicago hockey network, Blackhawks President John McDonough reportedly said,

The Blackhawks organization is continuously working on finding different ways to create a deep and personal connection with as many people as possible across the Chicagoland area and the state of Illinois. Our approach is broad and all-inclusive. We try to grow our brand across all ages and demographics.

That's all well and good, and hockey's popularity may be on the rise among African-American Blackhawks fans, but Chicago is a sport-crazy hockey town. The Blackhawks have won three out of the last seven Stanley Cups and are perennial playoff contenders.

Around the rest of the country, the numbers appear to tell a different story.

According to Sports Media Watch, African Americans accounted for between just 1 percent and 5 percent of the national television audience for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, in which the Blackhawks participated.

So, even in a city like Chicago, which appears to show an increase in African Americans who identify as hockey fans, the actual television viewership numbers say otherwise.

When compared with other major sporting events in 2013, Sports Media Watch came to the conclusion the Stanley Cup Final was by far the least diverse event in terms of viewership.

Enter Tony X, a charismatic African-American sports fan, who knew nothing about hockey two weeks ago and is now the Blues' biggest fan and the NHL's most powerful marketing tool.

Hey, African Americans, look at Tony! Come watch hockey! It's lit!

That's not to say there's anything wrong with what the Blues and the league are doing. Playoff hockey is lit, and everyone really should pay attention to it.

Tony X discovered the St. Louis Blues and is now rooting for them to win the Stanley Cup. The NHL discovered Tony X and now appears to be rooting for his enthusiasm to lead to a boom in the sport's popularity among African-American fans.

You'll have to tune in to see who wins.

Citations: LOOK: Internet's favorite new hockey fan 'Tony X' attends first Blues game (CBS Sports), African-American fans have the highest growth rate among NHL fans (Chicago Tribune), Demo Reel, Part 3: Except For NBA, Not Much Diversity in Sports TV Audience (Sports Media Watch)