There comes a time in every bad relationship when one party simply throws his or her hands up and says enough is enough. It seems that time has come with the NHL and its fans.
After months of fan unrest with every cancellation, the NHL and the NHLPA heard an unfamiliar sound when the league wiped out its latest block of games through Jan. 14: silence.
For the first time, a sport with the possibly the most passionate fans in all of sports were apathetic when the league took more games away. More than anything, that should be on the minds of the owners and players when they sit down at the bargaining table and try to salvage the season.
Perhaps it was more pragmatism. After all, when it had looked like the lockout was close to being over on Dec. 6, the two sides pulled a rug out from under fans and essentially re-inflamed the ongoing Cold War.
Nevertheless, fan apathy or pragmatism was not something that the NFL or NBA had to worry about in their respective lockouts a year ago.
Granted, the NFL is a whole different animal. The NFL dwarfs all other professional leagues in terms of popularity, and their owners' lockout was one of the greediest power plays in recent memory. You can't compare the nation's most popular sport where the lockout was nonsensical to a league that hangs onto the fringes of mainstream popularity.
Though it is more popular, the NBA is a far more apt comparison.
When the NBA locked out last winter and had a squabble that was splashed all over the airwaves, it was mostly understandable. Teams were losing money, the league needed to reconfigure its financial situation and the players understandably rebuffed. The lockout wound up costing the league 16 games and forced players into an extremely congested schedule.
Not even that abbreviated slate of games would have happened without the outpouring of vitriol from fans. They let their frustrations be known, as did some of the most prominent members of the NBA media.
Grantland's Bill Simmons, who is arguably the most powerful sportswriter on the planet, endorsed the #unfollowNBA movement on Twitter last November. While losing a few thousand Twitter followers isn't going to hamper multi-billion-dollar negotiations on a macro level, the #unfollowNBA situation was just the most notable of many fan-led acts of displeasure.
More importantly, the passion was there throughout the entire process.
There was an attempt at an #unfollowNHL movement, but it has exactly 542 followers, and there are eight tweets with that hashtag currently on the Twittersphere as of this writing. In fact, it seems like fans are more frustrated with the continued existence of Gary Bettman than they are of actually not having hockey.
I mean, we've already reached a point where the canceled games are starting to destroy both sides financially. According to Gregg Krupa of the Detroit News, a conservative estimate says the league will lose an additional $2.75 billion of revenue if the season is canceled through the playoffs:
Simple arithmetic suggests the NHL will lose an additional $2.75 billion in revenue if it cancels the full season and the Stanley Cup playoffs. That sum includes $2.2 billion based on the economic performance of the NHL last year. The league also would lose $330 million in additional revenue due the owners, now that the players have essentially agreed to a 50-50 split of the pot.
That figure isn't even counting the residual effects of the lockout in future seasons, either. And considering players will now miss checks into mid-January, it's pretty safe to say they're hurting as well.
With the financials now piling on, it's time for the fans to start packing the vitriol. TSN's Darren Dreger speculated that the next set of cancellations would be the entire season, so time is running out.
If there's any fan unrest left, it needs to be brought forth during the holiday season. However, if there isn't, the NHL may have even more problems when it finally does return to the ice.
Having angry fans is bad. Having fans that no longer care could be the league's death knell.