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NHL Lockout: Both Sides Must Value Fans over Money as Labor Dispute Continues

Ian Hanford@Ian_HanfordFeatured ColumnistSeptember 17, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13:  Commissioner Gary Bettman of the National Hockey League speaks to the media at Crowne Plaza Times Square on September 13, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The NHL is lucky.

Three labor lockouts in 14 years would have killed the fanbase of most organizations, but hockey enthusiasts kept coming back for more.

But, what about now? The league and the players union are in disagreement yet again, putting the magic number at four lockouts since 1997.

It's nothing short of ridiculous, and both sides need to shuffle their priorities. NHL.com posted an article in April of 2011 titled "Best-ever business year highlighted by record revenue," so it's not like no one is making money here.

The only side that's really losing out is the fans. No hockey, for any period of time, is sacrilegious to the sport's most devoted followers. They have endured the disappointments so far, but enough will be enough at some point.

Talk about shared revenue and splitting the money as much as you want, but we are talking about billions of dollars here. Fans contributed to a large amount of that money, but they continue to get the short end of the stick.

Hockey will probably never be most Americans' sport of choice. Baseball, basketball and football are too ingrained in American culture to ever be replaced in that way, but inroads have been made.

Young stars like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin have made the sport fun again, and the Los Angeles Kings just brought a surprising Stanley Cup championship to one of the world's biggest media markets.

The sport, in terms of popularity, hasn't been this good for a very long time—if ever. Instead of risking all of that progress, let's play some hockey.

Maybe the two sides will eventually agree—in fact, they probably will—but we shouldn't even have to talk about this. Things are more complicated than dollars, fans and ratings, but both sides need to have a simple thought process.

Fans make any sport relevant. If no one wants to watch, there's no point in playing. If no one plays and no one watches, no one makes money.

The NBA and the NFL got their recent Collective Bargaining Agreements done, despite a few hurdles of their own, but this isn't the same situation. Those leagues set the precedent for solving today's issues, but hockey's recent history makes this much more dire.

Loyalty is being tested. Some fans will never jump ship, but others are questioning if the NHL even deserves their attention.

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