The crazy people at the Collegian, the student paper at The University of Tulsa, let me write stuff. This article below was featured in the Jan. 28th issue. (link to article coming soon)
The National Hockey League returned to the ice on Jan. 19 after owners locked out for 119 days because the league and players could not agree how to share revenue. This was the third stoppage—one of which wiped out an entire season—since Gary Bettman left the NBA to become the NHL’s league commissioner in 1993.
Following the 2004-2005 lockout that which wiped out the entire season, fans were angry, and some teams in non-traditional hockey cities had trouble bringing them back. In the seasons following the second lockout, attendance has returned and TV ratings and revenue have dramatically increased.
Credit has often been given to Bettman for bringing hockey back to broadcast TV, leading the league into a better financial standing and increasing the sport’s popularity.
When the first games were canceled for the 2012-2013 season, fans were worried and upset that the entire season would be missed once again. Only seven seasons had been played since the last lockout, and neither league nor players seemed to want to work with the other.
As is typical with hockey fans, worried and upset quickly transformed into angry. The players received unhappy remarks for being well-paid yet fighting for money, but most of the criticism was directed at Bettman and the owners.
The attacks went so far that one fan tweeted “can I get a RT for wanting Bettman dead?” which was retweeted by Dave Bolland of the Chicago Blackhawks. Bolland quickly deleted the tweet, apologized and said “It was a mistake, I never meant to retweet that out.” Clearly, though, there was anger with Bettman and the league.
Other than death threats to Bettman, responses have included fans threatening to leave the league. A group of fans from Los Angeles created “Just Drop It,” a pledge backed by over 21,000 people on Facebook to boycott the same number of NHL games canceled since Dec. 21, in hopes of creating an organized and easier-to-follow “eye for an eye” retaliation than an indefinite boycott.
Both sides had finally come to an agreement on Jan. 6, and completed a deal on Jan. 12, followed by the immediate release of a 48-game schedule, reduced from the regular 82-game season. The “Just Drop It” pledge stated fans should miss ten games before returning to the NHL. The league and players had to hope fans and sponsors would return.
A few sponsors have, and some, such as Molson Coors, are looking to be recompensed for missing nearly half of the season. Luckily for the NHL though, it seems that hockey fans have returned without demands. Granted, we are only through the first week of games after a long lockout, but high attendance records were set opening weekend in traditional hockey and non-hockey cities.
As of Jan. 26, 21 of the league’s 30 teams have sold out, and 12 of the 21, including non-traditional hockey cities such as Columbus, Ohio; Miami; Anaheim, Calif.; and Los Angeles have over-sold all home games played. Only Phoenix is below 90 percent attendance.
Excluding the Winter Classic, NBC’s opening-day coverage was the highest-rated hockey game ever on the network and highest since ABC carried the NHL in 2002. Local broadcast records were set on NBC in Philadelphia, Pittsburg and Chicago.
The Kings raised their Stanley Cup banner in the Staples Center to the highest rating since 2007. The first Blues vs. Predators game was the highest-rated Blues game on Fox Sports Midwest ever.
It is unlikely the league can keep attendance and ratings this high until the playoffs in May and June, but teams have been offering discounts on tickets, merchandise and concessions among other incentives to bring back fans and keep them.