Sunday, January 6, 2013

NHL Ready to Drop the Puck, But Did They Drop the Ball with their Fans?

After 113 agonizing days of waiting, the NHL and the players association reached a tentative agreement on a new 10 year labor deal and avoiding what could have been the second cancelled season in less than 10 years.

"We've got to dot a lot of Is and cross a lot of Ts," Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "There's still a lot of work to be done, but the basic details of the agreement have been agreed upon."

The end of the lockout means that the players are happy, the owners are happy, the employees of the teams are happy...but are the fans happy?

Hockey fans are unfortunately used to work stoppages. In the 1994 - 1995 season, the lockout spanned 104 days which caused the cancellation of 468 regular season games. The 2004 - 2005 season wasn't played at all because the two sides couldn't come together on an agreement in time. It lasted 310 days and cancelled a whopping 1230 games. And this most recent lockout ended after 113 days, cancelling a total of 628 regular season games. For those of you playing at home, that is 527 days of being locked out and the cancelling of 2326 games.

You'd think that all of lockouts and cancelled games would turn even the most die-hard fan away for good...right? The NHL isn't the only game around, even in my hometown I have an ECHL hockey team and a top notch college hockey program that are less than 20 minutes away (and considerably less expensive than going to an NHL game). I could even stay at home and watch plenty of college hockey from the comfort of my couch on the NBC Sports Network.

History has shown though that NHL hockey fans do forgive and forget. During the 2003 - 2004 season, the Detroit Red Wings had a total attendance of 822,706 for the season (averaging 20,066 per game). The 2004 - 2005 season was lost to the lockout. However, the Red Wings fans came back out to support their team during the 2005 - 2006 season. The team had almost identical attendance numbers (822,646 total and 20,509 average per game).

Granted, the Red Wings had a great season that year and they do play in "Hockey Town". So, just for comparison, let's look at a team that had a not so memorable year. The Chicago Blackhawks won only 20 games during the 2003 - 2004 season but had 543,374 in total attendance (13,253 average per game). For the 2005 - 2006 season, they saw 546,075 people come through the turnstiles (average of 13,318 per game).

So, when the NHL drops the puck on this current season, will the fans be able to forgive and forget again? Or was this lockout the straw that broke the camel's back?

No comments: