The third and final installment of my examination of the true casualties of the NHL lockout will focus on the most obvious group of people who wish this was all just a Halloween nightmare: the fans.
We, the Fans
In case NHL fans had not noticed, there are other professional sports leagues playing games while the NHL sits this one out. The NFL, without a doubt America’s most popular sport, is eight weeks into its regular season. The NBA, meanwhile, just kicked off its first night of regular season games last night. And it doesn’t hurt to mention that MLB just completed its season with the crowning of the San Francisco Giants as World Series Champions. Want to know what these leagues have in common with the NHL? They have all had to endure labor-related issues within the past 20 years.
Yep – that’s pretty much where the similarities end. None of these leagues have ever lost an entire season to labor strife; the NHL did, in 2004-2005, and is close to doing it again. None of these leagues hold the record for most games lost during a work stoppage; that honor belongs to the NHL, which lost 1,230 games during what happens to be another record the NHL holds – the longest lasting work stoppage in sports history, a total of 310 days. (If you’re curious, MLB comes in second with 921 games lost during a work stoppage that lasted 232 days – read more about it here.) And none of these sports can boast to suffering two lockouts in less than a decade’s span; now, the NHL can.
All of which beautifully illustrates my point: NHL fans have been asked to endure far more greed and idiocy than any other type of professional sport fans in North America, and we’re being asked to do it yet again.
Forget about the fact that the NHL has spent the years following the 2004-2005 lockout boasting about revenues being higher than ever before; forget about the fact that many of the owners spent last year and the off season agreeing to crazy huge contracts; forget even the fact that the NHL brought in $3.3 billion worth of revenue in 2011, the lowest of any of the so-called Big Four leagues in North America but still a whopping $3 billion more than Major League Soccer; forget all of the economic reasons why this lockout is a joke that should never have happened.
The real reason this lockout should never have happened, simply put, is because we, the fans, deserve way better.
I understand professional sports are a business – I really do. I don’t have any glamorous, naive assumptions about everyone in pro sports being involved simply for “the love of the game,” and I don’t buy into talk about “the sanctity of the game,” either. If you want to see these lofty ideals at work, you have to watch young kids play these sports, because once money gets involved, things change – and I’m okay with that, to a point . . . that point being when the professional league stops even faking an interest in its fan base. The other leagues at least try to act like they care whether their fans are unhappy; the NHL doesn’t even bother. Yeah, the right words are being said, but all you have to do is look at the other three big leagues to see how the NHL comes across as a sport that truly doesn’t care about the fans any more. Major League Baseball lost the Word Series in 1994; there hasn’t been a work stoppage since then. Both the NFL and the NBA experienced labor disputes last year; both worked quickly to resolve the issue, with the NFL only losing preseason games and the NBA losing less than half of its season. The NHL couldn’t even go ten years without squabbling over money again, and the fact that they allowed even one regular season game to be cancelled so soon after an entire season was lost shows you how little they care about the fans who, in fact, pay their damn salaries.
Don’t get me wrong: any work stoppage in pro sports angers me, and I’m not saying the other leagues mentioned are angels who truly have the interest of their fans in their thoughts all of the time. It simply has become obvious to me that the NHL doesn’t care AT ALL about what its fans think, how its fans feel, and the extent of the sacrifices and indignities it has made its fans suffer, especially compared to other professional leagues. The worst part of all of this is that many of us are now being forced to question how committed we are to remaining fans of this sport when, or if, it ever resumes. No fan should ever be forced to ask himself that question, which makes us the biggest losers of this lockout.