Hockey is already behind other sports in popularity, but the impending NHL lockout might hurt the league beyond recovery.
Just like all labor disagreements, this issue comes down to money. The owners want more of it, while the players simply want to keep the same percentage that they currently have.
The deadline to avoid a lockout is September 15 at midnight. This is when the most recent collective bargaining agreement, which was negotiated only seven years ago during the previous lockout, is set to expire.
Commissioner Gary Bettman assumes that a labor stoppage is inevitable. According to Sports Writer Ira Podell of the Associated Press in an article on Yahoo, Bettman recently told reporters:
We have been clear that the collective bargaining agreement, upon its expiration, needs to have a successful agreement for us to move forward. The league is not in a position, not willing to move forward with another season under the status quo.
He continues to explain that "there is a need to retrench" among the owners. If that happens, the players will not be the only ones to suffer: fans will as well.
NHL fans have been through a lot, but they keep coming back. The league is on the brink of its fourth labor stoppage in the past 20 years. Eventually, they will come to a point where enough is enough.
Still, the owners of the league feel the need to alienate the ones who make them money.
Compared to other leagues, the NHL has less revenue to divide between the owners and players. Patrick Rishe of Forbes reported that the league made $3.2 billion last year. Comparatively, this is $600 million less than the NBA made and $6.2 billion less than the NFL made.
Rishe goes onto say that over half of the teams in the NHL lost money last year. The owners have no choice but to negotiate for more money, even if a lockout occurs.
However, depriving fans of the sport that they love is not the best way to earn more money. The customers who found that out way back after the last lockout seven years ago could possibly leave for good after being betrayed once again.
The diehards are not going anywhere. However, casual fans who like to watch on television or go to the occasional game will find other sports to watch.
Fewer people watched the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011 than in 2004, prior to the last labor stoppage, according to Fox News. More than five times the amount of people watched the NBA Finals and World Series than the three million that watched the Los Angeles Kings defeat the New Jersey Devils.
Those numbers are not going to rise anytime soon. If the players and owners cannot come to an agreement, they will fall and fall fast.