NHL is destroying its own fans

All the talk this week has been about the NFL’s replacement referees. Has the integrity of the NFL been destroyed after the bizarre finish on Monday night between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks?

The replacement referees are controversial but everyone will keep watching anyways. The NFL will continue as normal, no matter how bad any referees are. However, if you want to see a sport that really is destroying its brand and its integrity, then look no further than the NHL.

For the second time in the past eight years, the NHL and the NHL Players Association are in a work stoppage due to a labor dispute. The 2004-05 season lasted the entire year and was the first major professional sports league in North America to cancel an entire season.

Let that sink in for a minute. For the second time in eight years, a major sports’ fan base is told that they can’t watch their favorite players and teams because the owners and players haven’t figured out how to split up their money.

Last year, when fans finally started watching hockey again at levels that were closer to the numbers before the 2004-05 lockout, both the owners and players are punishing them again.

Could this really be happening?

All signs point to yes, as the NHL is led by commissioner Gary Bettman, who already knows how to cancel a season. He has no qualms about using that same leverage again and is already placing timetables for when to cancel major parts of this season. Also, there is NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, who was a major part of MLB’s strike in 1994, which prematurely ended that season and shortened the 1995 season.

How many times can fans bounce back to a sport after this? After benefitting from a temporary lockout in the NBA last season, the NHL then took a few steps forward and now giant leaps backwards.

While many pundits believe they will get a deal together by Thanksgiving and begin a shortened-season afterwards, some players are bracing for a multi-year lockout. If they cancel another season, then I’m finished with the NHL. What’s the point of watching a sport that’s so greedy they would cancel two seasons in less than a decade?

After the lockout in 2004-05, the NHL introduced many rule changes that helped make the game more exciting such as shoot-outs at the end of overtime and several changes to increase the number of goals scored.

But how can you tell a NHL fan to return this time after denying them the opportunity to watch their favorite players and teams for the second time in eight years?

The business model isn’t perfect. According to Forbes, at least 18 NHL teams lost money last season. But, more than half of the teams were at 95 percent capacity or more for their home games last season. The fans are doing their part in showing up to the arena and wearing their favorite player’s uniform.

Can I find something else to do with my time and money if they can’t figure out a way to put a product on the ice every year?

“If they want to hurt their own game and drive it into the ground, that’s what they’ll do,” Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews told the Chicago Tribune referring to the league’s owners. “Even if it comes down to that, it doesn’t matter as long as they get what they want.”

At least we agree on something. If there is no season this year, the NHL is going straight into the ground.

 

Bobby Nightengale is a senior sports communication major from Bloomington, Minn. He is the Scout assistant sports editor.

Direct comments, questions and other responses to rnightengale@mail.bradley.edu.