Think of the worst possible scenario in any situation, and then multiply that by 10. That's the impact a lockout will have on the NHL.
After a number of meetings, it appears an agreement will not be reached between the owners and the NHLPA before the deadline September 15. Commissioner Gary Bettman has failed to bring optimism to the table, comparing this situation to the NBA and NFL lockouts last year.
If the NHL does have a work stoppage, it will be the second time in less than 10 years that the players and owners have failed to reach an agreement. When the league had its first lockout in 2004-2005, it lost its momentum, which took years to get back.
In '04, ESPN dropped its television contract with the NHL once word of the lockout got out (The College Voice). That meant the NHL lost its nightly coverage on the top sports network in the country, as well as all national broadcasts and its show, "NHL 2night," on ESPN2.
Since then, television ratings for the NHL plummeted to new lows, and fans grew frustrated that Versus, now NBC Sports Network, was the only network covering nationally broadcasted games. It took six years to get the ratings back to pre-lockout levels, but eventually led to a new deal with NBC (Source:ESPN).
Now, with ratings back up, the league is threatening to lockout again. If it took six years to build viewership the first time, how long will it take a second time?
The NHL was lucky enough to land a huge deal with NBC for another 10 years, but if it misses out on an entire season, will the major broadcast company find a way out of it? Will we have to rely on watching our favorite teams on local networks and struggle to find the right channel to watch? Probably not, but a year without hockey could do a lot to NBC's current schedule.
Attendance also was back on the rise, as Chicago, Washington and Boston saw large increases in the number of fans. In 2009, the league increased its attendance and ratings during the first half of the season, and 10 teams sold out every game (New York Times).
Fans sometimes feel betrayed when various leagues lockout. Viewers turn to other sports while league officials from their sport of choice figure out issues.
According to Spectors Hockey, some bloggers and pundits have called for fans to show their displeasure by threatening to abandon the NHL, to turn away once and for all to punish the league for “failing to hold up its share of the bargain.”
And we must not forget about the players. During the lockout seven years ago, more than 350 players left the NHL for the Russian Kontinental Hockey League, and that's not including players who decided to go elsewhere (Forbes). With the KHL now offering more money to players than the NHL, it is likely more players will abandon ship and play elsewhere.
Big names such as Joe Thornton (San Jose Sharks) and Rick Nash (New York Rangers) have been rumored to receive temporary offers from other leagues, and the lockout has not even been confirmed. Things will only get worse for the NHL if a decision isn't reached soon, and the effects could turn out to be worse than the first time around.
Fans do not deserve a lockout. Quite frankly, no one does.
But it's all about the money, and now that the league has increased its total revenue by millions of dollars, it was only a matter of time before we ran into this speed bump.
It's never a good sign when the commissioner says there is a "wide gap" between both sides with just a month to go before the deadline.
As of now, it doesn't look like there will be a preseason, but at least we can hope to start the regular season on time.
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