NHL Lockout 2012: Why Another Lost Season Will Turn Away American Fans
There are so many things to love about the NHL and the game of hockey.
Potentially losing a second season in the past eight years to a lockout—which would be the third in the last 18 years, by the way—isn't one of them.
The NHL has the best postseason in sports, save perhaps the NCAA Tournament. The level of intensity is insane, playoff beards are one of the best traditions in sports and I've never heard a single sports fan say, "Meh, the NHL playoffs bore me."
Still, as good as the playoffs are, ratings were down for both the conference championships and Stanley Cup Finals this season (via Christopher Botta and John Ourand of the SportsBusiness Journal):
Viewership dropped 33 percent for the six-game Stanley Cup Final and 8 percent for the conference finals from last year. For the entire postseason, viewership on NBC, NBC Sports Network and CNBC was down 14 percent compared with last year’s coverage on NBC and Versus (1.2 million viewers compared with 1.4 million).
But hey, no worries. Who cares if a few ratings were down? The NHL still has one of the most passionate fanbases in all of sports, even if that following is smaller than other sports.
The league will be fine.
Or will it?
Not only was the NHL just the fifth-most popular professional sport in 2011 (behind football, baseball, auto racing and basketball), but college football and basketball were also more popular. Just in case you were wondering, all of those sports intersect with the NHL season at some point.
In other words, disgruntled fans will have plenty of other options to watch while the NFL takes a break. And if they are truly disgusted with all of these lockouts, there are plenty of other options when they switch allegiances to another sport.
Plus, we haven't even considered soccer, a sport I think will become very popular in this country in the next 10 years. Consider that the World Cup saw soccer jump to America's eighth-most popular sport in 2010.
FOX and ESPN have made a point to align themselves with the Barclays Premier League, and FOX broadcasts the Champions League. If you haven't become a fan of European football yet, be forewarned—you will become addicted. I decided to become a casual fan of the EPL a year ago, and now I'm a diehard Arsenal supporter.
The MLS may never reach the status of the NFL, MLB or NBA, but if the league is able to attract more top talent in the near future, is it really so crazy to think that eventually soccer could surpass hockey in terms of popularity in this country?
No, it's not. Especially if the NHL keeps shutting down.
The NHL does a lot right. The Winter Classic is one of the coolest things in sports. The league has (in my opinion) the best All-Star Weekend and Game. And the players generally seem like the most down-to-earth and relatable to fans.
If the NHL cancels the season...
But what happens if the NHL takes all of that away? What happens if another season is lost? Will fans be so quick to praise next year's Winter Classic if this year's version is taken from them?
The NHL can barely afford another lockout. But another lost season?
I think it would turn a lot of otherwise faithful fans away from the game they love, and in the process, open up the door to other sports looking to gain popularity in this country.
We want to see pucks buried in the back of the net. We don't want to bury another season killed by a labor dispute.
Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets would never deprive you of key features like franchise fantasy drafts.
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