It’s about time. NHL management and players dropped the gloves and bickered like little girls as they tried to reach a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
There were a lot of casualties along the way. Will fringe hockey fans return in full force, or have they put the sport on the back burner? Making the financial and time commitment is significant in this current and future economy.
The NHL is not the NFL, the NBA, nor Major League Baseball and any time there is an extended lockout and the stadiums or arenas are dark, the trickle down toll it takes on those who have part-time jobs associated with their teams leaves a sour taste in everyone’s mouth.
Of the major professional sports, hockey could least afford this length of a lockout. Just when they got an agreement with a major network (NBC), they go on strike. The timing could not have been worse.
Small market teams such as Nashville will suffer the most. The hard-core fans will knock the doors down to see games at Bridgestone Arena, but those fans who can take it or leave it have broken the habit of attending games. Once you move on to something else and factor in your disposable money allocated for sports and entertainment, you might not want to support a sport that has turned its back on the fans twice in recent years.
The Predators and the league have major damage control issues. Smaller franchises always teeter between being in the black or the red. It will take a ton of creative marketing to win back casual fans that decide it’s not worth it.
The owners got back approximately seven percent of what they had given the players in the last CBA. With a 48-game schedule, fans will barely have time to see their team’s makeup, strengths and weaknesses before the playoffs start.
When the players association made a deal with the devil (Donald Fehr) it cast fears that Fehr could bring down the NHL and put it out of business. He left deep and permanent wounds when he represented baseball’s union in what turned out to be the bloodiest negotiations in the sport’s history.
The Predators could least afford to miss a significant portion of the season. It took a long time for them to build up a following and the current ownership has poured a lot of money to sign and retain star power. Predators’ fans are no different than other fan bases. They will support winners and teams that not only make the playoffs, but also contend for the Stanley Cup. The Predators have improved to the point where they are an annual playoff team, but progress toward winning a Stanley Cup has been slow and the competition stiff.
Coach Barry Trotz needs to have his team ready to burst out of the starting gate because the shortened season lessens the margin for error. A slow start could prove damaging into the future.
The season could begin as early as next week. Everything will be ramped up. Training camp. Setting the roster. Marketing. Promotions. Getting the word out. The Predators management needs to produce a tangible thank-you to the fans that come back. They are the ones who pay for tickets, parking, and concessions.
The Zambonis will be there. How about the fans?
Joe Biddle is a four-time sports writer of the year in Tennessee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.