Before yesterday, I hadn't thought about hockey or the NHL in about a month.
Well, that's not totally true. I have to write about the NHL lockout for work, after all. But yesterday, while I lamented the absence of the Winter Classic on New Year's Day, I finally thought about the NHL on my own time. I finally thought, "Oh man, I wish there was hockey today."
That hadn't happened in quite some time. And that's really, really bad news for the NHL.
See, I'm a casual hockey fan. I generally get into the league in February, once the NFL season ends. In the winter, it's on my agenda just after Premier League soccer, and it splits time with the NBA and college basketball on my viewing schedule.
Generally speaking, I follow the league through the Philadelphia Flyers, my favorite team. And that normally means I follow the league right on through the playoffs, which I would argue are the best playoffs in pro sports.
At this point, though, I barely even care if there is a season. I'll watch the Flyers from time to time if the NHL comes back this year, but I'm not going to lose any sleep if it doesn't. I'm disgusted with the owners, you see, and I'm happy to see many of the NHL players earning some dough in Europe.
But I won't give the owners my money by buying a ticket this year. I won't be excited to watch games on television. And you can bet I'll be counting the days until Gary Bettman and the owners decided to lock out the players again.
Because I don't trust the NHL any longer. I don't find the league reliable. I'm not a hardcore fan who is acting like a jilted lover now but will leap back into the league's arms and forget this whole thing happened once the lockout ends.
Nope, I've always had a more casual relationship with the NHL, and the league has been sending out "Hey, I may be hot, but I'm totally crazy!" signals for years now. You're a good time here and there, NHL, but I'm not taking you to meet my family. Not a chance.
I'm sure I'm not alone. I'm sure there are plenty of casual fans like me that are basically smirking at the idea of a season at this point. I'm sure there are plenty of folks who haven't thought about the league in some time.
And that's where this lockout hurts. Any professional league knows that the hardcore fans will stick around through thick and thin, but you have to appeal to the casual viewers if you want to be successful.
Turning casual fans into hardcore fans should be any league's goal. And with another lockout, the NHL has done exactly the opposite. Now, casual fans like me are barely even thinking about the NHL, and when we do, it is because we are shaking our collective fists at the lack of a Winter Classic this year.
Seriously, the Winter Classic is one of the coolest things in professional sports. And it's an amazing way for the NHL to worm its way into a day traditionally dominated by college football. But hey, whatever, toss that to the side, NHL owners, along with a slew of casual fans.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the NHL will come back and do the exact same ratings it traditionally does. But I have a feeling plenty of people like me will take a hiatus from hockey once the league returns.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to continue thinking about other sports.
Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets are posting about field hockey as often as the NHL these days. As in, not at all.