Back in August, before the current NHL lockout had officially begun, commissioner Gary Bettman famously (or maybe it was infamously) said that the league recovered from the loss of the 2004-05 season because it has the “world’s greatest fans.”
But if the 2012-13 season is canceled, will the fans return in droves again? Here are three big reasons they might not:
Fool me twice, shame on me. One lost season was bad enough. Add another less than a decade later and fans can’t be expected to be so forgiving. On top of that, this lockout is different. In 2004, most fans believed the NHL’s claim that the business model was unsustainable and that a hard salary cap was required to ensure the league’s stability for years to come. Now they see an NHL, having got what it wanted eight years ago, coming back for more.
It’s the economy, stupid. In 2005, things were a lot better than they are today. Whether the global economy is still technically in recession or not, the situation remains undeniably tenuous. There’s a reason the U.S. presidential election is largely about creating jobs and managing the debt. A lost NHL season would give individuals and corporations a great excuse to cut expenses by walking away from their season-ticket commitments and/or sponsorships.
What do they do for an encore? The NHL emerged from the last lockout having approved a series of rule changes that sped up the game and increased its entertainment value. It wasn’t quite the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa homerun record chase that helped baseball recover from the cancelation of the 1994 World Series (thanks, steroids!), but it still helped hockey fans put the lost season behind them.
On the bright side, there’s still time to save the season. Get back to playing hockey soon and the damage should be manageable.