NHL gives fans another cold slap in the face
By John Doolin January 21, 2013 3:50PM
John Doolin is an Oak Forest resident and the South Division advertising director for Sun-Times Media.
I can’t say I’m much of a hockey fan, outside of a free invite to a game or watching an occasional playoff game on TV. However, I saw firsthand how outnumbered I am when the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010.
The bagpipe band I play in had the privilege of leading the beloved Blackhawks down Michigan Avenue to the roar of roughly 1 million-plus people on a scorching June day.
Now, the NHL finds itself in another lockout, the third in pro sports in the past year or so. The NFL impasse last season took 132 days, last season’s NBA lockout lasted 149 and now the NHL has canceled about a third of its season.
But hockey doesn’t have the hold on the American sports fan as do football, baseball and basketball.
While the NHL sits idle, sports fans have lots to focus on elsewhere, such as college and pro football and the ever-changing entity known as the NBA.
There’s not the public pressure on the NHL owners and players to settle their differences as there would be on the NFL and the NBA. That’s part of the reason why the hockey lockouts last so long. Remember, a labor dispute canceled the entire NHL season in 2004-05. I’m not so sure either side will succumb to any sort of public outcry because there is none.
The Blackhawks have turned around their franchise, drawing sellout crowds the past two years, and they are missed. But the Bears’ playoff drive, Notre Dame’s amazing season and shot at the national championship and the start of the Bulls’ season make it easier to get through the hockey hiatus.
The NHL has canceled more than 425 regular season games, the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich., and the All-Star game, with no end to the dispute in sight. Greed, pride and stupidity continue to carry the day.
It all seems so silly — millionaire players squabbling with billionaire owners. Excuse us if we don’t find much room for sympathy. The league saw a record year of sponsorship in 2011-12, including the largest sponsorship in its history in Canada with Molson Coors. Overall merchandise sales rose by 15 percent. The 2012 Winter Classic on NBC was the most-watched regular season game in 36 years, with viewership up 22 percent over 2011. I could keep going but you get my point (all facts courtesy of NHL.com).
Bottom line: The NHL is a nearly $3 billion annual business, but the players and owners can’t agree how to divide up the spoils. Really? The average NHL team is valued at $240 million. The NHL’s average player salary is $2.4 million. In the words of Bud Fox to Gordon Gecko in the 1987 movie “Wall Street” — “how much is enough?”
Lost in the whole thing are the everyday folks whose jobs are lost or reduced in a lockout — vendors, concession workers, ticket takers, parking attendants, maintenance and office workers, etc., who do the regular jobs that aren’t glamorous but are necessary.
Yes, most of these workers have another job. You will find they work all day to pay their bills, and work at night for all the frills. It’s what many everyday people have to do, but the NHL big shots, both on the ice and off, wouldn’t understand that.
Also hurt financially by the lockout are the outside suppliers (food, beverage, souvenirs, various area supplies) who enable an NHL game to be held. Where are they in the sharing of the $3 billion business? What do you say to their families who don’t have the holiday season they are accustomed too because Mom or Dad has not been able to work at the stadium to make the extra money to put that something special under the tree or on the table. Who mediates for them?
The NHL impasse will eventually be settled. It’s hard to imagine they would allow another full season to be called off. And the fans will come back, maybe slowly at first but then in numbers likely approaching last year’s attendance.
That’s a large part of the problem in these pro sports labor battles — no matter what happens, the fans always return. Knowing that makes it easier for both sides in a conflict to take a tough stand. They know it’s a short-term loss for long-term gain, and the sport will not suffer irreparable damage.
It would be great if someday the fans really sent a strong message and boycotted games for a lengthy period after a sports lockout/strike. It’s not likely to ever happen. They’re fans, and their love for their team and the game makes it so easy to forgive.
John Doolin is an Oak Forest resident and South Division advertising director for Sun-Times Media.