It seems as if the labor unrest in the NFL is bigger news than the potential NHL work stoppage.
No, we’re not talking about the 2011 labor unrest that kept NFL players locked out of training camp last year. We’re talking about the NFL’s decision to lock out their game officials so they can seemingly save a few pennies.
But there’s a work stoppage looming in the NHL. The date is Sept. 15.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has promised (threatened) to lock players out of training camp if a new collectively bargained agreement between the league and the players’ association is not reached by that point.
Do mainstream sports fans care? Do casual hockey fans wonder what they will do with their winter nights?
It would seem that they don’t. If you listen to sports talk radio around the country, the prevailing subjects are the start of the 2012 NFL season, the baseball pennant races and the start of college football.
Hockey? It’s still summer time for most of the talk shows and if you have been listening to sports talk on the radio for decades, it seems like most talk-show hosts tend to avoid hockey talk anyway until their local team gets hot.
This is no surprise. Hockey, in the eyes of many, is an audience turnoff. It’s too barbarian, it's too racist (source: NationalPost.com) and the majority of the talk-show hosts don’t even seem to care.
You get some who love it, like Boomer Esiason of WFAN-AM in New York City and Dan McNeil of WSCR-AM. But too many others seem afraid of the sport or hold it in some kind of disdain.
Will fans start to protest if the NHL locks out players?
They base those feelings on hockey’s low national television ratings. That’s been the story for years.
When the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins (source: CBC.ca) made Stanley Cup runs in 2010 and 2011, respectively, those TV ratings jumped quite a bit, but when the New York Rangers were stopped last year by the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals, those TV ratings went down again.
But passionate fans may not be calling talk shows or writing letters to the editors or braying loudly because they know how sports labor in North America works.
There have been so many labor disputes in the four major sports that fans are no longer in shock because one side is threatening to lock the other out or a decision to strike is implemented.
In the NHL’s case, it seems like league may be trying to play chicken with the NHLPA.
The NHL lost the 2004-05 season, making it the only North American league to lose a full season. The NHL seemed to win the battle with the players, as it rolled back salaries 24 percent before the first puck was dropped in the 2005-06 season.
Now the league wants more, even though revenues have gone up dramatically.
Additionally, the league has a valuable television contract with NBC and the NBC Sports group; a lockout is bad for business and a number of fans would turn their backs on the league.
Perhaps fans can see that the NHL is just trying to squeeze every drop from the players until they can come to an agreement.
Why should fans get any more emotionally involved than they have to—because Bettman wants to use his power to keep the players from getting their fair share? It’s ugly and it stinks and there are better things to get involved in besides Bettman’s attempts to control the system.
It’s not the fans' fight until games start getting canceled.
At that point, the fans will start to make noise.
They may not get much help from talk-show hosts, but they will be heard.