By Pat McQuillen
Lasting 113 days, this year’s NHL lockout was the longest since the season was entirely lost in 2004-2005. Including the cancellation of 625 regular season games throughout the league, the lockout caused the New Year to come and go without the NHL’s most viewed game, the Winter Classic, scheduled to be played on January 1 in front of 110,000 people at Michigan Stadium. Although the NHL is back, there is speculation that some fans will boycott the league, imposing the drought upon the owners that was initially put on the fans. The question that remains to be answered is this: can the NHL survive with only its diehard fans in attendance?
The answer is yes, for the most part. Despite the uproar of some fans, many of which plan to act on their displeasure, the NHL will never have trouble filling a stadium. For example, the Boston Bruins drew over 1.2 million fans to their victory parade through Boston after winning the Stanley Cup in 2011. The TD Garden, the Bruins arena, holds 17,565 people when it is full. This ludicrous inequity between the fans and tickets available guarantees that the Garden will be full on most nights, no matter what.
In hockey “hotbeds” across America, there will always be a consistent following of the local team. The NHL owners run into a problem in the cities where hockey comes in second, third, even last when compared to the other big three sports. Take Phoenix, Arizona, as an example. Making it to the Western Conference Finals in the playoffs last year, the Coyotes had difficulty filling their stadium, despite how deep they went in the race for the Cup. The same can be said for many other cities around the country, such as Dallas, Texas, whose Stars have the lowest fan attendance out of any team in the league. One game in 2010 versus Boston produced only 822 fans, a good percentage of them wearing black and gold.
As the NHL juggles an abundance of fans in some areas and scarcity in others, the prospect of fans boycotting the league is a big issue. In the areas with stronger following a boycott would not be a problem, because there will always be a fan willing to buy a ticket. The case is not the same in cities with weak following, where a boycott of the team’s games could seriously affect the revenue generated by that organization.
As a diehard Bruins season-ticket holder, I know deep down that I will hold nothing against the NHL when it comes back; I will greet it like an old friend that I’ve missed remarkably. The case may not be the same for people in other cities, who are fed up with the greed and immaturity shown by both management and the players throughout the lockout. If there is a boycott of the league from some fans, many of the teams that the NHL is centered around will survive, while others in less committed areas will scrape by.
Locked out for 113 days, the NHL has dug itself into a ditch that many cities around the league will have trouble coming out of.