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We’re nearing the middle of November, and a game has yet to be played in the NHL.
The first two months of the season were canceled due to the second lockout in five years and the third lockout under Gary Bettman’s term as NHL commissioner. As the lockout drags on and on, the NHL stands the chance of losing fans once play resumes, similar to what happened to the MLB after its long lockout of the ’90s.
Following the MLB lockout, attendance at games took a big hit. I can remember watching a game on TV shortly after the lockout, and there were probably less than 100 fans sitting behind home plate. It hurt the sport for a long time. Fans didn’t start attending games en masse until players started using steroids, hitting insane amounts of home runs. Even now, a lot of MLB markets still have low attendance at games.
There’s a chance the NHL could suffer the same fate. After all, this is the second lockout in a decade. Fans came back after the first lockout thanks to some rule changes to make the game more exciting, but I’m not sure if people will be so eager to return this time.
This lockout came at a bad time for the NHL. The league was doing well and growing, attendance at games was rising, new fans were checking out the league, and the league is coming off a great postseason, where the Los Angeles Kings won their first Stanley Cup in team history.
It will be interesting to see what happens when the lockout ends and play resumes. I think a lot of casual hockey fans will be lost. Sure, teams in developed NHL markets like Detroit, Boston and pretty much all of Canada won’t be too hurt, but I wonder what it will be like for teams with developing fanbases.
In last year’s playoffs, two teams from nontraditional hockey markets were featured — the LA Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes. In the last few years, hockey in both of these cities has taken off, and hopefully the lockout won’t send things backwards for these teams.
Some of my friends who were casual hockey fans have seemingly forgotten about the sport. It doesn’t help that a lot of mainstream media sources don’t give much coverage to the lockout anyway. I doubt these friends will watch hockey when it comes back. They’ll stay with basketball, or whatever else they’ve found to occupy their time.
Part of me hopes that this does happen, that fans aren’t quick to return to the arenas, because it would send a message to the owners and players that they need to learn to figure their bargaining agreements out without having a lockout every five years.
Something needs to change in the league. The league needs to realize that arguing over contracts and how much money is made can alienate fans and hurt the league.
This lockout could hurt the NHL more than it realizes. The effects of this lockout could extend past when the games finally start.