The first leak in what could become a long out battle between owners and the NHL players union became public today, and if by what was leaked is any indication, it could be very unlikely that the Chicago Blackhawks season will start on time at the United Center on October 13th.
The owners came out firing wanting a lot from a huger chunk of revenue sharing, to maximum 5 year contracts, to free agency after 10 years of service. Gary Bettman and the owners he represents were very aggressive in their first shot fired. Unfortunately for the owners, and the fans, staring down that shot is none other than Donald Fehr who shut down America’s pastime and skipped a World Series too. It always seems funny to me that the owners in most leagues are going on strike to make rule changes because they can’t control or police themselves and the contracts they sign always get out of hand.
What I have to say to negotiators on both sides is this. Hockey cannot afford another lockout/strike for an extended period of time. Yes, old school hockey fans will not be affected or leave the game, because they LOVE the game of hockey and like in any sport they will always be die hard fans. What hockey can lose is the growing new fan base that has been created especially since the Blackhawks championship. Big cities that haven’t won in a long time creating fans that were not there 5 or 10 years ago after hoisting a Stanley Cup. I know old school guys hate seeing what they think are bandwagon fans at games, but these are the new fans that will have and take their kids to games that will help grow the sport. A strike would only push those new fans away back to football, baseball, or basketball.
Speaking of baseball, they can say ratings and attendance are back and better than every but they will never really be Ameria’s past time again. When the World Series didn’t play it unofficially handed off that title to the NFL. Hockey has never been as popular as either of those sports, but it was much more popular than it is today. Versus and NBC do a great job in featuring the game, but you have to be lucky to catch a highlight on ESPN unless its the Winter Classic or the playoffs. It’s a strange day on ESPN when they march out Barry Melrose! Hockey is growing again and of course it has its challenges financially like any other sport, but all the growth and improvement it has made in the last few years will come to a screeching halt if games are missed.
Not only will it lose its new fan base, if hockey were to miss games it will again lose the older generation like my Father’s age. Guys that grew up watching Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull that have worked hard for their entire lives and get disgusted every time they hear a pro athlete complain about not getting enough dollars in their check. Although they are getting up there in age, this group enjoyed hockey but turned away after the strike and lost interest in going to games or even watching the games. The Stanley Cup brought them back and hockey can’t turn its back on this group again.
September 15th is still a while off, but it will get here quicker than anyone can imagine! Don’t kill off hockey, negotiators. Get some real negotiating done and keep hockey alive and growing for the future generation to enjoy and become huge fans!!