After the NHL locked out the 2004-05 season, a few friends decided they wouldn’t go to another NHL game. They only went to minor league hockey games and mostly ignored the NHL. Over time, though, they returned to the game.
I’ve made the argument the NHL would lose a slew of fans if there’s another lockout, to which others have said “oh they’ll be back. They always come back.”
Fair point because a lot of us do, but it seems the fans are even more angry this time around than they were the last time. A big part of that is the existence of social media. Someone’s voice can now be amplified much further than ever before. And there is a social media movement to protest the NHL and the NHLPA because of a potential lockout.
But you know who else is assuming the fans will return? The NHL owners. Or at least that’s what NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman seems to be saying.
Mark Masters, of TSN, posted a Bettman quote on Twitter about the damage a lockout could do: “We recovered last time because we have the world’s greatest fans.”
Hey, you fans were there the last time because you’re so great, so you’re just going to be there again to fill the NHL arenas and buy merchandise. Because, in a way, it’s saying you fans are sheep and will do whatever the NHL tells you to do. We all know that’s not true, especially since a lot of fans are now saying “what about us?” during these labor negotiations.
I know I’ll be back at games and watching if and when there’s a season. I won’t deny that. But that’s not true for every fan. First off, the NHL has a lot of casual and new fans. The NHL going into this season is more popular than it has been in years and has taken a lot of work to get there. Those fans aren’t going to stick around if there’s a lockout and will go back to whatever they do aside from watching games. And then there’s those fans who are angry. You can’t expect they’ll instantly be filling the arenas right away.
It will take a long time to recover to bring the NHL back to the popularity it is at right now. It took the league a good five years to recover the last time, and I have a feeling the fallout this time around could be worse.
Also, what will happen to those teams that are crying poor right now? These teams are only going to lose more revenue from a lockout and in the fallout of one. It will be much harder for them to recover while the big market teams can bounce back more easily.
But the bigger issue here is the NHL shouldn’t even be thinking “oh we can recover from another lockout because we did before.” That’s a rollercoaster of a business plan. Why would you want to have to tear everything down to only have to build it up again every few years with a lockout?
The NHL will never sustain itself in the long-term if it cannot achieve a certain level of labor peace and continue to grow. Don’t take two steps forward and one step back. But it takes thinking outside the box by the owners and league officials to do that, and they don’t seem capable of doing such a thing.
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