NHL Lockout: Why It's so Hard to Be a Canadian Sports Fan

Jim FlanneryAnalyst IOctober 10, 2012

Hockey fans abound in Canada
Hockey fans abound in CanadaBruce Bennett/Getty Images

As the NHL lockout drags on and games get cancelled, fans north of the 49th Parallel are getting increasingly anxious. What do we do with our winters when there's no hockey to watch?

The answer seems to be to talk about all the hockey that isn't being played. 

Yes, the stereotype is true. Canada is so steeped in hockey that the average Canadian fan is utterly dialed in to hockey, whether it's there or not.

The proof is in the news, on sports talk radio and at the water cooler. The major topic of discussion isn't the excitement of the MLB playoffs. It isn't Sanchez vs. Tebow or any other NFL Week 5 thread.

It's hockey.

But here's the thing: the average sports fan isn't really a fan of sports but a fan of one particular sport. In Canada, that one particular sport happens to be hockey.

Whereas in the United States, people grow up as football fans, or baseball fans or basketball fans and further divide up between pro and college ranks. Up in the great White North there is only One True Faith.

This drives people like me crazy.

In the past couple years, I've attended games of Major League and North American League baseball, CFL and CIS football, NASL soccer, NLL lacrosse and, yes, NHL and WHL hockey.

In years past, I've also been to NBA basketball, netball, world championship badminton, and university-level basketball, volleyball, hockey and soccer. That's to say nothing of the hundreds of hours per year I've invested into coaching high school age baseball in the last 25 years.

I love sports.

So when I turn on the radio to listen to the local sports talk station and they're discussing the lockout and the news on the TV is the lockout, with a headline crawl about the lockout, and I go to work and the guys are all chatting about what's going to happen with the lockout, I find it very frustrating.

I actually have to go looking for sports news not related to hockey. Admittedly, in our modern, 21st century world, I don't have to look very hard—I can get my fix on sites like Bleacher Report, for instance. But when the NHL lockout continues to take precedence over playoff baseball....

Let's just say it gets my goat some days.

Now, maybe my perspective is skewed by the local sports news coverage which basically operates on the premise that the only two teams in the universe that matter are the Calgary Flames and the Calgary Stampeders. But I've lived elsewhere in the country and seen the same general pattern.

To be fair, the lead story Wednesday morning on Canada's two major sports networks, TSN and Sportsnet, was the MLB playoffs. So that was refreshing.

I would also not presume to tar all my fellow countrymen with the same brush. There are people out there who appreciate a number of different sports. I even know one or two of them.

But the general consensus is that hockey is the be-all and end-all.

To make matters worse, the NHL knows this. They know that when this labor strife ends, Canadians will go right back to filling the stands like lemmings, without missing a beat.

They might lose a few American viewers to the many other sporting distractions out there, but Canadians know hockey and will come back in droves, rather than express their dissatisfaction by taking their business elsewhere.

In that respect, the NHL owners and players really have nothing to lose north of the border. They can take their time dividing up their pieces of the multi-billion dollar pie, secure in the knowledge that their core fan base will still be there when they're done bickering.

To me, that might be the biggest tragedy of all. Rather than finding something else to pay attention to—whether it's baseball or football on TV, or junior hockey, or university sports or NLL lacrosse—the hockey fans will reward the greed of the players and owners with as much support as ever.

No lessons learned, no justice dispensed, no shift in the sports paradigm. Just more hockey.



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