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Hockey fans fed up with ongoing NHL labor strife
For all the angry tweets, texts, threats and organized campaigns, fans will still pick up the remote and print out tickets as soon as the strife ends.
They always do. In every sport. Remember 1994? After the World Series was wiped out, baseball loyalists vowed never to return to the old ball game. Fueled by super-sized sluggers and retro ballparks, attendance topped 60 million in 1996, 70 million in 1998 and soared to 79,503,175 in 2007.
The NHL, of course, can’t match those numbers. But the story arc is still the same. The NHL drew 20,854,169 fans when the sport returned in 2005-06 _ 497,970 more than the total in 2003-04, the season before the lockout.
The NHL saw an attendance uptick each of the next three seasons and totaled a record 21,468,121 fans in 2011-12.
Fans are filling stadiums from A (Air Canada) to X (Xcel Energy) and most geographic points in between. If there are fans still holding out over the lost season and refusing to step foot inside an NHL arena, they’re at least throwing on their oversized Winter Classic sweaters and watching from home.
The 2004 Stanley Cup finals between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flames averaged 3.286 million viewers on ABC/ESPN, the Nielsen company said. Those numbers actually dipped in 2006 and 2007 when Carolina and Anaheim, two nontraditional hockey markets, won the Cup.
When hockey-mad cities like Pittsburgh, Detroit, Philadelphia and Chicago all reached the finals, though, the ratings soared. The Blackhawks-Flyers series in 2010 on NBC/Versus averaged 5.167 million viewers, the highest for the finals since 2002, Nielsen said.
The NHL is coming off its sixth consecutive year of record revenue, with a projection of more than $3.2 billion by the end of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, the league said.
Don’t forget, the NHL has a $2 billion, 10-year deal with NBC Sports Group through the 2020-21 season.
“Our fan support coming back last time was outstanding and we were probably a little bit surprised to see how good it was,” Adams said. “That speaks to how much the fans love the game.”
The NHL clearly caught some breaks coming out of the last lockout.
The league marketed its comeback around rising stars like Crosby and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin. They added fan-friendly shootouts and the New Year’s Day Winter Classic. The league made the two-line pass legal to help bust up the neutral-zone trap and created chic commercials to appeal more toward casual fans.
This time _ whenever the lockout ends _ the league might be all out of tricks. They’ll need to dig. And it could take years to recover from the wreckage.
Some teams are trying to keep their brand alive among an increasingly uninterested public. The Flyers aired classic games and brought back former stars for autograph signings at a sports bar in the same complex as the Wells Fargo Center.
Gerry Helper, special assistant to the president and senior vice president for the Nashville Predators, said the team enjoyed their best season ticket renewal year in franchise history this past offseason.
By Emily Miller
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