By Akash Vig, Staff Writer
The puck has dropped, but some – or many, apparently – are not welcoming professional hockey back with open arms. Why the cold shoulder? Of course, many are disappointed that the season did not start on time, and fans have been growing restless these past few months. Now, with the players finally back on the ice, some fans are purporting that they should be cheering their teams on from a distance. A startling number of NHL enthusiasts want to boycott this season by not purchasing any merchandise or even going to games. According to a poll by NBC Sports, 30% of respondents will most likely not come back; nearly 50,000 people took part in answering the million-dollar question.
As any advocate of the game knows, franchises south of the border are already struggling to stay afloat. Even the Washington Capitals – one of the more successful post-lockout franchises thanks largely to a devoted ownership group with deep pockets and Russian superstar Alexander Ovechkin – are suffering from fan fatigue. Based on average ticket prices, the team has lost $6.4 million US this season, as nearly half the schedule was axed. Along with Detroit, Minnesota, New York, and Pittsburgh, many teams in the US are attempting to build a solid fan base, but a lockout of this magnitude could seriously hinder those plans. Out of the four major leagues in North America – NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL – the National Hockey League is the most reliant on fans’ willingness to attend games: Forbes reported that 47% of revenues for NHL teams came from the arena itself.
The NHL is counting on fans more than ever to show the same devotion that they displayed in the aftermath of the 2005 lockout. Ironically, markets saw a sharp increase in attendance after play resumed last time, with Pittsburgh and Carolina gaining 33% and 26% respectively. Current projections are not so optimistic, however, as some of the stronger franchises – including the Canucks – have announced that a “small” number of season-ticket holders have terminated their memberships with the club. These cancelations and rumors of season-long boycotts may or may not be enough to prevent the NHL from being a $3.8 billion US business again; regardless, it will be interesting to see how many will truly abandon a game they’ve followed for so long, rendering professional hockey a part of their daily lives.