With the draft, the first week of free agency, and development camp all in the books, looking forward to team conventions and training camp should be the only thing in NHL fans’ and players’ minds.
But it’s not.
For the second time since 2004, the league and the NHLPA are in talks to write up a new collective bargaining contract. The talks are still in the early stages, with the NHL making its first offer a few days ago–a proposal that was described as a “declaration of war” against the NHLPA.”
Yes, as with seemingly all labor disputes in sports these days, there’s a threat of a lockout.
The NHL’s popularity has grown ever since the 2004 lockout.
- Total attendance increased 1.8% last season, with teams like the Islanders and Panthers seeing a 19.3% and 6% increase.
- The league is coming off a season of record revenue.
- Advertising revenue and merchandise sales have all increased over the past several seasons.
- Events like the All Star Game and Winter Classic are delivering ratings increases.
There’s still no doubt that, for the most part, hockey remains a niche sport but one with a very dedicated following. Most fans only watch their own team, unlike the NFL where there’s a more broad scope of interest. But for the first time in a while there is a group of possible new fans that are just starting to find interest.
It’s not exponential growth, nor is it growth that will immediately challenge the NBA or NFL, but it’s growth nonetheless. And the last thing the league needs is another lockout that could possibly push away potential fans.
Over the coming weeks, the league and the NHLPA will be arguing over what they’re willing to give up with each of them playing the victim card.
Don’t let them fool you.
The real loser of a lockout would be the fans and the momentum of the sport–something that, once lost, can be very difficult to get back.