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So…will the fans come back?

Jan 6, 2013, 3:23 PM EDT


The damage the lockout has caused to the NHL is obvious, with lost revenue and games at the top of the list.

But what about collateral damage?

The NHL will likely face some blow back from its fans — you know, folks that have endured two work stoppages in the last seven years, one that wiped out an entire season and another that dragged on for 113 days.

Surely, some fans will flock back to their favorite teams as though nothing ever happened.

Almost as surely, some will stay away.

Others will have a tough time deciding how to support a league with a penchant for damaging itself.

With that in mind, here are some key points to consider…

Once bitten, twice shy

Fans returned in droves following the 2004-05 lockout and, by last season, the NHL was posting great attendance figures. An April report from the Sports Business Journal claimed teams averaged 17,445 fans per game last season, up 1.8 percent from last season and 2.8 from two seasons ago.

Those are solid numbers, which lead to a big question:

Will fans come back again?

It remains to be seen how negatively this latest work stoppage affects people’s psyches.

The first lockout was met with anger. This one was also met with anger, but also a considerable amount of apathy — and apathy usually doesn’t translate to people spending their money on your particular brand of entertainment. There’s no shortage of ways to spend disposable income, in case you haven’t noticed.

Social Media

One big difference from the ’04-05 lockout and the ’12-13 one was the impact of Facebook and Twitter — especially the latter. Twitter allowed fans to become much more dialed in to the minutiae of labor negotiations, meaning they probably got too close a look at very wealthy men fighting tooth and nail over how to divvy up $3.3 billion.

There’s also the issue of how players came off via social media. Many took to Twitter to show how life was going during the lockout — lives that included Ferraris, money phones, seamstresses at Barneys and sunny vacation spots. (Translation: life was going just fine, thanks.)

To be fair, many players are now using social media platform to express regret to their fans (see: Andrew Ference’s deeply apologetic tweet, and Ryan Miller apologizing for the role players had in the lockout.)

Halted Momentum

The Kings should’ve been building off their first Stanley Cup win in franchise history. While they did sell an “unprecedented” number of season tickets following the Cup victory, it’ll be tough to re-establish a presence in a crowded Los Angeles sports market after being out of the public eye for so long.

In the last few months alone, the Galaxy won the MLS Cup and the Lakers made a series of bold, headline-making personnel decisions. Oh yeah, the Clippers currently have the second-best record in the NBA.

What about Florida? The Panthers enjoyed tremendous success last season, capturing the first Southeast Division banner in franchise history while snapping a 10 year playoff drought.

The team showed noted improvement at the turnstiles — Florida averaged 16,628 in attendance last season, its highest total in seven years — and took the eventual Eastern Conference champion Devils to seven games (and two overtimes) in the opening round.

Think the Panthers would’ve liked to have been playing already?

Giving Back

The NHL does have a history with fan incentives out of a work stoppage. One of the key features from the last lockout was a series of rule changes designed to make the game more exciting and attractive, a plan that won over a lot of casual observers.

This time around, the incentives might be a tad different — more of the grassroots, “we’re sorry” kind of stuff.

Example: Panthers president Michael Yormark said he would announce a ticket promotion Monday that would allow fans to sit with him at all home games this season.

Giveaways and promotions like that will help but, ultimately, it’s the sport itself that will win fans back. That’s something Winnipeg defenseman Ron Hainsey recognized shortly after the new CBA was reached.

“Our focus now,” he said, “is to give fans, whether it’s 48 games or 50, the most exciting season we can.”

  1. capesouth - Jan 6, 2013 at 3:25 PM

    Yup, including the ones who comment saying they won’t…especially those ones. It will take a bit to rebuild the overall fanbase but they always come back. The trick is to not have lockouts every decade.

  2. jimw81 - Jan 6, 2013 at 3:28 PM

    atleast we got free center ice for season.

  3. govtminion - Jan 6, 2013 at 3:30 PM

    Cute rule changes are nice, but after doing this yet again I want to see them do something that directly shows how much they want the fans back. Since we’re only having half a season, maybe offer NHL Center Ice for free for the season? No better way to get the fans back than to give them the opportunity to watch the games easily.

  4. jaybyrd99 - Jan 6, 2013 at 3:30 PM

    Free or severely reduced center ice package would be a nice start

  5. ducksk - Jan 6, 2013 at 3:38 PM

    I never left. Free center ice!

  6. iammrbinky - Jan 6, 2013 at 3:39 PM

    Jay you took the words out my fingers.

  7. capsrockva - Jan 6, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    Let’s just get the season under way. I can’t wait to watch the Caps!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Let’s go Caps!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. sportsfan69 - Jan 6, 2013 at 3:41 PM

    Instead $159.00 for a full season package, how about $59.00. Directv, please start Add TSN on the sport channel line up. Make it channel 210. I can’t stand watching basketball in the USA.

    • crosberries - Jan 6, 2013 at 6:58 PM

      I told my cable company I would pay extra per month to not have TNT (basketball network)

  9. barkar942 - Jan 6, 2013 at 3:45 PM

    Now we have to talk about players actually playing. I wonder if the Kovy and Ovie show are happy that they have to leave home now?

  10. greej1938l - Jan 6, 2013 at 3:47 PM

    Never left!

  11. sdelmonte - Jan 6, 2013 at 3:54 PM

    It took a long time after the last stoppage. It will take a while now, but just the fact that there is a season will make a difference. We saw NBA fans come back by season’s end despite a stoppage that was about as bad in terms of terrible PR. A good postseason could do wonders.

  12. seanemac75 - Jan 6, 2013 at 4:02 PM

    How about groupon deals for tickets and merchandise. Free Center Ice. Free Parking. Free tickets.

  13. somekat - Jan 6, 2013 at 4:16 PM

    Discount center ice? Of course you will get discounted center ice, it is half of the product

    If that is the best they can do, they are going to come up very short, and this is coming from a guy that will be watching opening night regardless

  14. digbysellers - Jan 6, 2013 at 4:17 PM

    I sure as heck know I’m not going to any games this year and I literally live 2 minutes from Wells Fargo Center. I’m done with all these bums (owners/players) for awhile.

    • shotzongoal - Jan 6, 2013 at 9:38 PM

      I noticed this on another board. Rather than not go to the game, after the National Anthem everyone should get up and go talk with the beer guys, servers, usher and the like and thank them for coming back. Let the players play to empty seats for the first period.

  15. geo91 - Jan 6, 2013 at 4:18 PM

    Count me out, I’ll check back in come 2013-2014.

  16. banger60 - Jan 6, 2013 at 4:20 PM

    I love hockey but they have a huge p.r. problem, let them suffer like we did for awhile, I might watch it on tv, okay I’m lying I can’t wait.GO RANGERS.

  17. bspray - Jan 6, 2013 at 4:21 PM

    If the league really wants to try and win back the fans, their VERY FIRST order of business should be firing Bettman.

    • bspray - Jan 6, 2013 at 5:21 PM

      Nice to see Mrs. Bettman was able to get online and vote on my comment…

    • desertfan - Jan 6, 2013 at 9:35 PM

      If you were his boss you would be drinking champagne and enjoying a $200 NY steak dinner with him tonight- do you realize how much he just made the owners???

      • bspray - Jan 6, 2013 at 10:11 PM

        So the league that SHOULD HAVE made more than $600 million dollars this year with an operating PROFIT over $470 million, just gave half that money away due to this lockout. Assuming your fan base comes back, ready to spend what they spent last year, you, as an owner, just lost $235 million dollars and you think they are going to be eating $200 steaks and drinking champagne? I am thinking whatever you just smoked is going to get you suspended for a few games…

        The league and it’s owners will make whatever they make going forward but they will never recover the money lost due to the lockout.

        Keep in mind that pretty much all the concessions over the last two weeks were made by the league, not the players. What the owners REALLY did was get a better deal on the revenue split but the players were willing to give that up back in October. The league also got a little bit of the built in contract protection that keeps the richer squads from front loading contracts and screwing smaller market teams that can’t do that. They didn’t get anywhere near the protection they were seeking and somehow in your mind, that was worth giving up half the season and destroying your relationship with your fans.

        I am more saddened than shocked by your stupidity.

  18. pensfan603 - Jan 6, 2013 at 4:26 PM

    Look at all the peopl ecommenting it will come back those first games will have huge ratings, for the casual fans they will all be watching for the begining, but yes they have lost a bit of the hardcores, and it will take a good labor negotiation with no lockout to regain those fans.

    • zetaone - Jan 6, 2013 at 6:35 PM

      That makes no sense whatsoever.

  19. heshutziscores - Jan 6, 2013 at 4:28 PM

    If i left, I wouldn’t be stalking this stupid website for updates. Any other stupid questions?

    (sorry still bitter about lockout, i’ll come around)

  20. stepasidesue - Jan 6, 2013 at 4:34 PM

    I think that everyone should stay home for the first game. It would be a blow to their expensive egos. Maybe they could compensate all of the eateries that went or almost went out of business. The communities with teams suffer the most. The players get a long vacation, except for the professionals that went overseas to play the game and stay ready. I hope they develop some humility and maybe look up at their fans once in a while. That’s one thing I don’t like about hockey, they congratulate each other but rarely acknowledge their fans.

    • somekat - Jan 6, 2013 at 5:38 PM

      As much as I agree with the general idea that both owners and palyers are the problem, the “compensate all the eateries” kind of goes off the rails a bit. Do those same eateries send a percentage of their extra profit to the NHL teams when their business does better than normal because of NHL games? The answer is pretty obvious, so why should the NHL be responsible for them not getting business they can’t get otherwise?

      That would be like a 40 year old that lives in his mom’s basement getting mad at his mom because she got sick, can’t work, and no longer gives him money to go out to the bar. If in order to survive, you have to sponge off another person or business, you can’t complain when that person or business can’t, or no longer will, support you.

    • desertfan - Jan 6, 2013 at 9:38 PM

      In Canada there are 100,000 PAID season tickets sold for this season.

      Also since the lockout 200 have been cancelled- yes TWO HUNDRED.

      Each team has 5-7000 on the wait list.

      All games will be sold out- so boycott the mailman.

  21. stepasidesue - Jan 6, 2013 at 4:36 PM

    I also don’t believe anyone should get a stanley cup.

    • ron05342 - Jan 6, 2013 at 4:52 PM

      LOL wut?

  22. thebadguyswon - Jan 6, 2013 at 4:41 PM

    No one missed it. Hockey sucks.

    • hockeyflow33 - Jan 6, 2013 at 5:11 PM

      Good one

    • Chip Caray's Eyebrows - Jan 6, 2013 at 7:51 PM

    • kitshky - Jan 7, 2013 at 12:09 AM

      …saaays the guy commenting on a hockey blog.

  23. stepasidesue - Jan 6, 2013 at 4:48 PM

    Kind of makes me ask, was it the players or management that were the republicans.

  24. catskinnerd11r - Jan 6, 2013 at 4:53 PM

    No Center Ice for me. If its free I’ll watch. The NHL will not get one dime from me this year, that leaves me $2000 richer.

  25. adambballn - Jan 6, 2013 at 4:58 PM

    I was at the store today in San Diego and wearing my Blackhawks hat… I walked by a guy who had on a Hawks shirt, he gave me a fist bump and said, “we’re back.” I think the NHL will be ok.

  26. jaybird22seven - Jan 6, 2013 at 5:07 PM

    The non hockey markets in the US that struggled before will struggle even more now. The fan base will be down for sure. Those markets should be moved.

    • kitshky - Jan 7, 2013 at 12:11 AM

      I’ve been thinking about that … I wonder if the average fan in those kind of markets are even emotionally attached to the game to really be all that offended. I’m not giving an opinion, just a thought.

  27. sportsfan69 - Jan 6, 2013 at 5:09 PM

    Hey, ALL Hockey fans who have Directv, email Directv that you want TSN (Canada’s ESPN network). They have room on their channel line up. I’m tired of watching and supporting NBA basketball on ESPN. TSN – Total Sports Network rocks! Go NHL!!!! This is a great day!

  28. fortwaynekomets - Jan 6, 2013 at 5:19 PM

    If the fans don’t boycott then that IS SAD.


    because the NHL doesn’t give a flying squirrel about you!!!

    they will pull this $hiot ANY chance they get!!!!

    don’t forget the suffering you went through these last.4 months people. please

  29. fortwaynekomets - Jan 6, 2013 at 5:24 PM

    Fans, do you appreciate feeling like the useless pieces of crap the NHL has made you out to be?

    remember the FANS DON’T MATTER TO THE NHL.




  30. bleed4philly - Jan 6, 2013 at 5:26 PM

    Boycott the first week in protest! Hockey fans unite! This league runs on OUR money!

  31. bostonboy82 - Jan 6, 2013 at 5:29 PM

    Is that the game with sticks an ice thing?

  32. dreamzilla - Jan 6, 2013 at 5:47 PM

    as an Oilers fan living in buffalo ill be back no doubt. im excited about the season and with the short season it will only help them with the young fresh legs …im sure minny is the favs to win the northwest div..but im telling you i love the oils chances to do some damage as long as the goaltending situation holds together…run n gun oilers…NORTHWEST DIV CHAMPS…BOOK IT!!!

  33. stevedurbano - Jan 6, 2013 at 6:06 PM

    Yeah I’ll be back but it’s only because I’m a 57 year old dumb ass that can’t seem to find anything better to do in the winter. Bring it on- where else can I buy a $14 beer? Go Blues!!

  34. fortwaynekomets - Jan 6, 2013 at 6:14 PM

    Fans… tired of being locked out and feeling like the useless pieces of crap the league has made you out to be?


    HOW… you might ask?


    We the FANS… aka the ONLY people who keep the NHL operating and pay the players salaries… we NEED TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

    Watch games on Television, watch them at sports bars, get together with some friends, have a viewing party, etc. Remember in JUST a few months we will be preparing for a new season anyways. THIS is the time to send a statement to the league we will NO longer tolerate this type of treatment as fans!

    History has shown the owners not only know the FANS will fill the seats, they EXPECT it.

    Don’t want to ever go through this emotional rollercoaster again?


    • desertfan - Jan 6, 2013 at 9:42 PM

      You are not dealing with reality!!!

      Watch the sports news!!!

  35. fortwaynekomets - Jan 6, 2013 at 6:15 PM



  36. gotampabay52 - Jan 6, 2013 at 7:03 PM


    • catskinnerd11r - Jan 6, 2013 at 9:35 PM

      Grmmur most b u are friend

  37. habssuck - Jan 6, 2013 at 7:34 PM

    I will watch all the games on tv for free, but I wont spend my money on anything with an NHL logo on it for quite some time. They have made it clear that the fans and sport do not come first or second, by a longshot.

  38. drabix - Jan 6, 2013 at 8:05 PM

    I cancelled center ice and won’t be renewing it. I’m not heading to the Joe for any games this year, and I enjoyed the money I saved on the Winter Classic this year, so I’m staying away from Ann Arbor next year. And I REALLY enjoyed the Big Chill at the Big House. I’ll catch lots of games on the radio as I work on house projects, and I’ll watch what I can on tv. But I’m not dedicating time to watch for a while. And I’m afraid we will be right back here in another 8 years.

  39. latrobe21 - Jan 6, 2013 at 8:25 PM

    I’m as big of a die-hard hockey fan that you’d ever find. I will wait for the 2013-14 season, however. Just can buy into not seeing the west teams (I’m a Penguins’ fan), the shortened season, cheapened Stanley Cup champ, etc.

  40. rainyday56 - Jan 6, 2013 at 8:26 PM

    All commenters here seem to assume the NHL lives and dies by fickle walkup business and the rare average Joe that can afford season tickets. Give your heads a shake. 100% of the luxury boxes and 80% of seats are held by corporate subscribers. Most of whom probably were on the owner’s side during the lockout. I don’t pay for hockey tickets. I get tickets from my vendors for the games I want to see, as do most of the other commenters here, I’ll bet. Who in their right mind would pay the exorbitant prices they charge for a ticket? You do not get value for your dollar because the prices are artificially inflated because they are mostly sold to business interests that use the expenditures as tax write-offs. Don’t talk to me about the value of the “live” experience. All games are televise so each period has 2 major breaks for commercials where the players go to the benches for six minutes while the ice girls shovel and the team runs some disngenuous fan involvement bunk. I have seen several periods ruined because these breaks happened right as the teams were starting to play and break cooled them right down. No the NHL has had little regard for the paying fans for quite sometime now because they just don’t need them it seems.

  41. arbruins - Jan 6, 2013 at 8:36 PM

    Good bye NHL, see you next year…maybe.

  42. therealjr - Jan 6, 2013 at 10:14 PM

    If the NHL was smart they’d have CI be absolutely free for this year. Not only would it actually seem like a sincere apology to the diehards, but it might bring in some new fans who don’t realize what asses they just made of themselves for four months.

    But I’m sure they aren’t smart, and don’t understand that the tiny profits they make from it this year would be dwarfed in the long run by such a savvy business move.

  43. mnwildfan15 - Jan 6, 2013 at 11:35 PM

    The real question is, is princess Alexandria coming back or staying in mother Russia

  44. 1sportschica - Jan 7, 2013 at 10:33 PM

    Can’t wait! We’ll have hockey back for the next 8 years, until yet another lockout. Can’t stand pro-basketball, and after the NFL playoffs (Go Hawks!), what else is there?

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