Sunday night, my friend and her husband and sister came over to watch the Super Bowl. My friend is a Manhattan born-and-bred social worker who hates both violence and sports. And she watches the Super Bowl every year.
That says a lot about a sporting event. When you can draw in people who hate the sport, you’ve really got something.
That something is what the NHL is losing.
That something is what Ken Dryden is talking about when he says hockey fans are learning that hockey is more of a habit than a love.
Whenever the season is officially canceled, and at this point it seems like it’ll be canceled any day now, hockey is going to lose a lot of fans. Fans expect lockouts. Every major sport has locked out its players at some point. But the leagues and the players always worked it out, because they knew fans wouldn’t wait forever. They knew fans would find another sport to watch.
Hockey doesn’t get that. Hockey doesn’t realize that when they shut things down, certain fans will never return to the NHL again. It won’t be a conscious decision; they’ll just find something else to do.
If the Stanley Cup was the type of event that drew non-hockey fans around the TV, I would think hockey had a chance of surviving a canceled season. But without that kind of cultural penetration (at least in the States), the canceled season is going to destroy the sport.
The owners might end up with their salary cap and cost-certainty, but they’re going to have destroyed their revenue base. Sure the owners will pay less for their teams, but they’ll also being playing those teams in half-empty arenas for quite a few years to come.