A second NHL lockout in the last seven years looks inevitable, as the NHL and NHLPA remain far apart on terms of a new collective bargaining agreement. The current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire on Saturday, Sept. 15, giving officials from the league and NHLPA just over a day to negotiate.
As unfortunate as it is, it doesn't look like a resolution is coming in the immediate future.
The Associated Press ran a question and answer with information about the lockout, and provided some pretty excellent answers for fans.
Q: WAS THE NHL HURT BY THE LAST LOCKOUT?
A: Attendance did not suffer at all, lending credence to the notion that hockey has a committed fan base that will retain its season tickets. The league's regular-season average increased from 16,534 in 2003-04 to 16,954 in 2005-06, according to STATS LLC, and was 17,454 last season. Only seven teams experienced substantial decreases from 2003-04 to 2005-06: Columbus (17,369 to 16,796), Dallas (18,355 to 17,829), Edmonton (17,678 to 16,833), New Jersey (15,060 to 14,230), the New York Islanders (13,456 to 12,609), St. Louis (18,560 to 14,213) and Washington (14,720 to 13,905). In contrast, Major League Baseball has larger venues and nearly twice as many games and is far more reliant on single-game sales. After the 1994-95 strike, MLB's average attendance didn't recover to its pre-walkout level until 2007.
Though the diehards will attend games, the average or casual fan could lose interest.
Q: HOW ABOUT THE NHL's WIDER AUDIENCE, AS MEASURED BY TELEVISION RATINGS?
A: Tampa Bay's win over Calgary in the 2004 Stanley Cup finals averaged 3.3 million viewers on ABC and ESPN, according to Nielsen Media Research, while Carolina's victory over Edmonton in 2006 averaged 2.8 million on NBC and OLN. Average viewers rose to 5.2 million on NBC and Versus when Chicago beat Philadelphia in 2010, then fell to 4.6 million on the same networks for Boston's victory over Philadelphia in 2011 and 3 million on NBC and the NBC Sports Network for Los Angeles' win over New Jersey this year. Just for comparison with other leagues, last February's Super Bowl was seen by 111 million people and the World Series and NBA Finals each averaged more than 16 million viewers.
Of course, with the league coming off three straight Stanley Cup Finals with large market U.S. teams involved, it's conceivable that the NHL might not have too much of a hit come playoff time.
Still, it's unfortunate that we're even discussing whether or not casual fans will lose interest, rather than the season -- which should be getting underway soon. Hopefully, it will get underway at some point in 2012.