This time of year gives sports fans the unique opportunity of following two major sports at the same time during their championship run. The NHL makes its quest for Lord Stanley's Cup while the NBA embarks on its journey for the Larry O'Brien trophy. In cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia the teams have to battle for the interest of fans and marketers alike, but in cities like Oklahoma City, San Jose, and Vancouver, the teams have the city's undivided attention. I was asked by a friend of mine which sport I thought had the better fans. My answer may surprise you.
Overall the NBA has a bigger fan base than the NHL. The NBA draws better attendance for home games, generates more revenue, and resonates with the casual sports fan more than hockey. Your average person may not be able to tell you who Alexander Ovechkin, Daniel Sedin, or Patrick Kane are, but they certainly could identify Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, or Shaquille O' Neal. Basketball players are more visible and more marketable in the United States. Hockey's fan base is primarily in Canada where 30% of the country's population resides in three cities (Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto). It's impossible for hockey to compete if you were to use the actual number of fans as the barometer. That being said I think the NHL has a more loyal and rabid fan base. Because there are fewer teams in the NHL and more cities where hockey is the only game in town fans tend to support those teams with more passion and enthusiasm. Wins and losses are much more critical.
The game is more important in hockey where as the event itself is the main attraction for the NBA. Courtside seats, HD Lounges, and after parties can be just as entertaining as the outcome of the game for NBA fans. NHL fans would prefer to watch a good old fashioned slug fest with a hot dog and a beer. The fans in Vancouver for game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals are more excited than the fans in LA for game 7 of the NBA championship, there's just less of them.