Now that the latest face-off between the National Hockey League and its players union is over, bloggers are abuzz with how fans will react to a shortened season of 48 to 50 games. If history is any indication, fans will forgive.
In an NBC Sports poll, fewer than one in five claim they won’t come back. More than likely, animosity will be forgotten once play resumes — until the next time a labor disputes paralyzes a major sport.
Face it, fans are fanatic. Many who follow professional sports get so caught up in the action that the most basic details of past negotiations become a blur. Many probably don’t even realize this dispute was a 113-day lockout, not a strike. Others are likely oblivious to how this latest agreement calls for 50-50 revenue sharing between owners and players, akin to the NFL and NBA collective-bargaining agreements.
This year’s face-off came eight years after the NHL became the first major sport to scrap an entire season, when the 2004-2005 season was canceled. Only four teams experienced a 5 percent or more drop in attendance when play resumed in 2005. Nine enjoyed attendance increases of 5 percent or more.
In its last season before the lockout, the NHL did so well it raked in a record $3.4 billion, with average franchise values hitting an all-time high of $282 million.
The NHL is strong in certain markets, such as Detroit. As a league, though, it doesn’t have the clout of other major sports and is more reliant on support from average fans.
According to Forbes, NHL teams get 47 percent of their money from arena revenues such as gate receipts, concessions, and parking, with less support from broadcast rights. That loyalty cannot be assumed forever, especially if Southern cities without long ties to the NHL become harder to win back.
Then again, this year’s Stanley Cup Finals will likely be pushed back until late June, a time of year when Toronto and Phoenix don’t seem quite so far apart.