Could NHL Lockout Cause Significant Damage To Its Fan Base?

Some pundits and bloggers speculate the NHL could lose some fan support whenever the current lockout ends.

 Luke DeCock of the Raleigh News & Observer recently ran a piece on some Carolina Hurricanes fans either seeking a refund on their season tickets, or planning not to renew when their current tickets expire.

Puck Daddy Greg Wyshynski referenced DeCock story, and suggested the deeper the lockout goes, the more fans will leave:

 It’s not going to be through some petition or pledge drive or Twitter hash-tagged boycott. It’s going to be dedicated fans who evaluate their finances, think about how this League had punched them in the stomach and spit in their hair twice in seven years, and then reallocate their entertainment expenditures to cover life’s more pertinent costs. 

Jason Brough of NBC Sports Pro Hockey Talk cited the economy as one of three reasons NHL fans – and some sponsors – might not return in the same numbers they did following the last lockout. Two lost seasons in eight years and lack of a compelling entertainment angle (like the rule changes following the previous lockout) could also hamper the NHL’s attempts to woo back disgruntled fans.

Joe Pelletier of suggests the longer the lockout goes, the greater the risk the league runs of fans losing their emotional attachment to the product.

These are, of course, legitimate concerns. If NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, his lieutenants, and cabal of influential hawkish owners share those concerns, however, they’ve shown no sign, probably betting the fans will return as they did last time.

The growing grumbling from the fan base via social media might be reaching their ears, and could compel them toward getting a resolution with the NHLPA implemented in time to still play a meaningful season.

It appears, however, the league – and the PA as well – aren’t paying much attention to that grumbling. If they were, this lockout never would’ve happened in the first place.

If both sides were as concerned about the adverse effect another lockout would have upon the fans as they profess to be, we wouldn’t have already lost two months of the 2012-13 NHL schedule.

Both sides – but especially the team owners, since they’re the ones who locked out the players – appear to believe what Bettman said several months ago: the league survived and thrived following the last lockout because it has the greatest fans in the world.

They came back before, they’ll come back again. It’s a natural assumption, though one which could come with more risk this time.

Even a modest decline in future league revenue would have a significant impact, not only for the teams, but also the players. After all, their salaries are tied to revenues, and if the latter either stagnates or declines, so too will salaries.

If the grumbling from NHL fans on social media is to be believed, the league could see a reduction in fan support whenever the lockout ends, which would send shock waves resonating throughout the league.

It remains to be seen, however, if the NHL and NHLPA truly believe it, let alone if it actually happens.

Sure, it’s possible NHL attendance could decline following this lockout, especially if it goes on to kill another season, but threats from fans to quit the league will prove empty unless they’re backed up with substantiation.

The NHL remains a gate-driven league, and while it takes it over a billion dollars from sponsors, broadcasting contracts, merchandise, and walk-up ticket sales, season ticket holders remain its lifeblood.

Should thousands of season ticket holders in every NHL city cancel or refuse to renew/purchase season tickets, it would be a significant blow to league revenue, sending the clearest message of fan discontent over the recent lockout.

Problem is, there’s no reports of mass cancellations of season tickets. What reports there have been on the subject indicate no significant threat to season ticket sales/renewals.

Granted, that number could increase if another season is lost, but that’s not a certainty at this point. If a season-saving deal were implemented before the end of 2012, there won’t be an adverse effect upon the NHL fan base.

Little wonder, then, the NHL doesn’t appear concerned about losing fans to this lockout.


  1. I have 2 children and when they misbehave I don’t give them the attention they want because I don’t want to “reward” them for improper behaviour yet every writer on the NHL Beat keeps doing that very thing. I’ve heard we can’t influence the negotiations and I say we can. Stop writing about it! The only news worth mentioning is that they have a deal, everything else is just rewarding them by keeping it in the news. Stop Giving them attention!! They’ll come around fast enough when they realize be are starting to move on and forget about them. I understand that the Writers/Bloggers need to feed their Families but you’re not helping… Stop giving them attention, give them a reason to make a deal.

    • Well said.

  2. When the World Series was cancelled in 1994 I swore off baseball. Since that time I’ve been to only two games (on someone else’s dime) and this year was the first year that I bought any MLB merchandise. I hold grudges.

    I’ve been a Shark’s season ticket holder since the move to San Jose from the Cow Palace and I’ve decided that another lost season means that I’m putting the NHL in my rear view mirror. I will give up my season tickets, cancel Center Ice, stop going to at least one away game every year, and forgo buying any merchandise. I may end up cancelling even if there is a partial season; I haven’t decided.

    Part of me wishes that they would just cancel the season now and be done with it. I’m disgusted by the greedy bastards running the league.

  3. Of course the NHL is right, most people will just take their beating and return to the league that beat them down and didn’t care about them. I think that is what abused people do, their afraid to leave. This league and their players are a joke.

  4. Well as for me Ive been to 2 NFL Seahawk games this year and if i don’t see any positive news from the NHL by early December Ill be getting myself some Seattle Seahawk season tickets for next year.
    If the NHL comes back next year I think ill reduce my season tickets to a 20 game package these owners are not serious or dont give a hoot about the fans.
    We need more Melnyk owners that care about the game and the fans.

    • You still haven’t answered this question to prove you didn’t make up a whole bunch of lies about your make believe business, your make believe investors and how many make believe houses you own or the make believe super genious you claim to be: Consider a government bond which is issued on Jan 1, 2004 with date of expiry as Dec 31, 2008. The bond has a face value of 1,000$ a YTM of r=3% and a semi-annual coupon of 6.375% Determine the Price of the bond.

  5. I said it before and I’ll say in again……The problem with this topic is people. . . . . .like me.
    I have been a partial season ticket/season ticket holder with the Flyers since the 80s. I went to games with my Dad, then split a season with a guy and finally had his tickets transferred into my name when he had enough. I have sat in the same seat since the Wells Fargo Building went up. I know that if I give up my season tickets to “make a statement”, I will never get those seats back again. I would denounce hockey and repaint the Flyers room if that happened. I’m obsessive/compulsive. So, I will begrudgingly come back.

    I am the buffer that the owners count on.

    The people who will boycott the sport are the people that I depend on to buy tickets off of me so that I can afford season tickets. Without them, I can’t shell out that kind of coin. So, I have to suck it up and dig deeper and try and hope that the occasional ticket buyer is still there. Whether they are or not, the owners don’t care. They already got their money.

    The fans suffer. The season ticket holders suffer more.

    I will be more inclined to come back if they just cancel this season and start fresh in the 2013-2014 season. I don’t want to have to pay for a shortened garbage season.

  6. I have not been to a pro sports event in over 15 years,i was fed up with the overpricing and bad concessions that far back.
    I have bought 2 baseball caps,one for baseball and one for hockey and one pair of sweats[big sale could not resist].
    i do watch lots of games on tv but never paid for the extra sports package,if it is on cable i will watch.
    Now the work stoppage is bad but i know i will be watching it on tv when it returns,i have no doubt about that.
    When my caps get messed up enough i will get another one,and it will be at another sale i cannot resist.
    But going to any game is not going to happen and not just over the work stoppage but because i long ago refused to pay those prices and they have obviously have not gone down.
    And the overall cost to go,parking/eating/drinking etc is even too much and i have turned down freebies and rather watch on tv.
    i have big doubts the many swearing off going to games or buying stuff will end up lasting very long but i hope when they do go they boo the ceiling right off the arenas when the game starts and keep it up all year when the game watched is a stinker.
    booing so loud it hurts the players ears i think will send a strong message that the fans will not forget and that poor play is no longer acceptable.
    you want to cry over your big bucks you damn well better play up to those big bucks and make those overpriced tickets worth it.

  7. 1) The biggest difference between now and 8 years ago is the overall economy. Things were booming back then, 2004-05, so a recovery for the NHL after a lost season with fans and sponsors wasn’t as difficult
    2) Today with the unemployment rate double, or more aptly triple what it was back then, the economy in the US sputtering along at barely above recession rates, its probable that many fans will make decisions with their discresionary spending they didn’t back then.
    3) Additionally businesses are cutting back their advertising spending. So coupling fewer fans with fewer sponsors that 3.3 billion dollar number is probably no longer valid

  8. Completely agree fauxrumors! Plus with the new age of social online outlets like Twitter the fans could actually make a point to reduce interest in the NHL and keep on the same page with one another. For some reason the owners don’t take that into account either. We are way more socially connected than we were in 05.

  9. Wouldn’t it be the ultimate irony if the lock-out actually caused the eventual moving or closing down of some franchises due to fan resentment and apathy in the weaker markets. A fan like Fotiu29 in a strong hockey market like Philadelphia will come back (thank you for your honesty…) but will marginal market fans feel the same way if this drags out to a full season?

  10. The main problem is that the NHL is basically holds us hostage to watch hockey in the US. The AHL games are not broadcast nationally so our only choice is the NHL. If there were a WHA type league today that truly competed for talent and fan base, you can be sure this lockout would have been very short, if it had happened at all.