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Published: Wednesday, 1/9/2013

NHL lockout’s timing hurts league’s brand


Idle thoughts from an idle mind, wondering how long it will take Notre Dame’s defense to chisel that egg off its face:

It is true that the NHL has a niche fan base that ranks somewhere between loyal and addicted and will be in its arena seats and in front of its TV sets when the league starts an abbreviated, 48-game regular season in about 10 days.

But will casual fans and, perhaps more importantly, sponsors stick with a sport that has now had three major contract interruptions in two decades under the same commissioner, including a full-season shutdown in 2004-05?

The timing of the most recent lockout never made a lick of sense.

Since that last dark season, the NHL enjoyed one year after another of record revenues and had marketing strategies in place for the sport to experience more growth.

Never-satisfied owners, however, wanted to reduce the players’ slice of the pie, among other objectives. And they accomplished that. The players scored some wins too, including salary cap structure.

But to what end?

Sure, the fans will come back, at least in the established and traditional markets. It may be a different story elsewhere, in places like Phoenix and Columbus and in the south, where a certain amount of apathy already existed. Some sponsors have moved on, and others are reportedly seeking compensation. Television partners were left with empty sheets of ice.

Back when it all started, Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller called the lockout “brand suicide,” and he may have been correct.

Half the season was lost. Hundreds of millions, maybe billions of dollars were sacrificed by both sides during the dispute. Also sacrificed were the league’s two premier events short of the Stanley Cup playoffs — the Winter Classic in Detroit/Ann Arbor and the All-Star game in Columbus.

Certainly, one continues to wonder how much longer Gary Bettman, the much-maligned commissioner, can survive.

The new collective bargaining agreement is for 10 years but with opt-out clauses for both sides after eight. So don’t count on any more than that. This is the NHL. Labor peace is short-lived.

■ The Mid-American Conference just polished off one of its best-ever football seasons and merited additional mention because both coaches in the BCS title game, Nick Saban of Alabama and Brian Kelly of Notre Dame, made their FBS head coaching debuts in the MAC.

In fact, there are more than a dozen major-college coaches who followed that path, three of whom — Saban, Gary Pinkel (Missouri), and Tim Beckman (Illinois) — broke through at Toledo.

The rest include Urban Meyer (Ohio State) from Bowling Green, Brady Hoke (Michigan) from Ball State, Kelly and Butch Jones (Tennessee) from Central Michigan, Jerry Kill (Minnesota) and Dave Doeren (North Carolina State) from Northern Illinois, Dave Grobe (Wake Forest) from Ohio, and Darrell Hazell (Purdue) from Kent. In addition, the duo of Al Golden (Miami, Fla.) and Steve Addazio (Boston College) coached at Temple during its brief MAC stopover.

■ The Old Swami, seeing mostly sure things and liking only one road underdog, takes on this weekend’s NFL playoffs:

Denver 24, Baltimore 13.

New England 41, Houston 27.

San Francisco 30, Green Bay 24.

Seattle 28, Atlanta 23.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.

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