Throughout the NHL lockout, there was fear that fans would not return once the dispute was settled. However, the numbers show that fans were eager to have their hockey back. Both attendance figures and television ratings were up significantly compared to any point last year. Therefore, it can be argued that the lockout may not have done the significant damage that the NHL had feared could have been irreversible in the long-term.
Seventeen Sell-Outs Marked The First Weekend Of The NHL Season
The NHL managed to sell out 17 games in its opening weekend. In fact, Buffalo and Pittsburgh were able to attract more than 10,000 fans to scrimmages held last week during their respective training camps. Fans in Buffalo bought all but 18,000 tickets that were offered to the general public for all 24 home games this season.
Television Ratings Were Higher Than Ever
NBC got a 2.0 overnight rating for their coverage of the first day of the hockey season. This is the highest rating that they have gotten for a hockey game that was not the Winter Classic in over two years. For the fans that were not ready to buy tickets to a game, it is proof that they are grudgingly willing to move on from the lockout and get back to watching hockey again.
Why Were The Numbers So High?
There are a few reasons why the numbers were as high as they were. First, the game ofÂ hockey
Â was growing in popularity during the seven seasons preceding this lockout. The numbers most likely mean that many of these new fans were casual fans who were simply waiting for the games to return and did not hold anyone personally responsible for the lockout.
Secondly, theÂ NHL
Â did a good job of reaching out to the fans and taking steps to win them back. In Buffalo, owner Terry Pegula as well as the players made themselves available for pictures and autographs before Sunday's home opener. Other teams offered discounts and other specials for fans who were willing to buy tickets and team merchandise. These outreach efforts were critical in retaining fan support.
Lastly, the lockout ended at a fortunate time for the league. For most Americans, the months of October, November and December are dedicated to football. January is then a time to watch the NFL playoffs and perhaps take a peek at the NHL standings. Therefore, this is when the season starts for most casual fans.
What Should The League Learn From Its Last Lockout
The league should understand that future lockouts may not result in fans being happy just to have their league back. It is expected that Gary Bettman will retire at some point in the next eight years before either side can opt out of the current CBA. If Bettman is gone, it is more likely that a lockout will not occur anytime in the future. Another point of optimism for the league and the players is that this prior labor fight wasn't about fundamentally changing the game. With a new financial framework for the game in place, future labor fights should be easy to resolve before a lockout can occur.
ByÂ Don Phan
: A part-time sports writer and lifelong Chicago sports fan.