The frustration on the part of hockey-fans was visibly overwhelming throughout the course of the now resolved labour dispute.
No matter how disappointed or upset some fans were with the long-lived lockout, they felt powerless insofar as they believed there was nothing they could have done to expedite the negotiations.
But there does exist some hope, for the economics of the situation suggest that long-lived lockouts may well be thing of the past. The change, however, won’t come by the doings of especially passionate hockey-fans.
“I don’t think there’s anything that the NHL could do to piss me off so much that I’d stop watching or buying Leaf’s jerseys,” said avid hockey-fan at Carleton University Brock Wilson. “I’ve loved hockey ever since I was a child.”
Raymond Sauer, who is a contributor at The Sports Economist and a Clemson University professor of economics with a specialization in the economy of sports, spoke to that sentiment.
In order for the NHL to turn off their most hardcore fans, “they’d have to ruin the spectacle—they’d have to ruin the sport,” he said. “That’s kind of hard to do.”
According to Sauer, all of the work he and his colleagues have done demonstrates that a true fan’s support generally doesn’t erode after being deprived of what they love, which, in this case, is hockey.
University of Ottawa professor Norman O’Reilly, whose specialty is sports business, expressed a similar view, although went further and pointed to a less unwavering demographic whose support is the real driver of the NHL’s success.
That demographic is comprised of what’s called the casual fan, whose attitude towards hockey is less passionate and more volatile. These types of fans consume the product that is hockey for various reasons and drive revenue streams that come from media rights, sponsorship, and merchandising.
Though casual fans have primarily propelled the financial growth of the NHL, they are a high risk demographic because they have a much lower attachment to the sport, said O’Reilly.
Each casual fan holds different tastes and preferences and values each sports-entertainment product just as he or she differently values other general goods and services. The casual fan is the person who on Wednesday flips on the television and decides to watch the hockey game because he or she has nothing else to do, said O’Reilly.
Since the demands of the casual fan are much more complex and much less ardent than those of the hardcore fan, the former’s tastes aren’t as qualitatively clear as the latter’s. What’s more, the casual fan can rather easily appease that taste by substituting hockey for another commodity.
Indeed, what is colloquially called fandom can’t be lumped into one model wherein an attachment to a beloved game trumps all. And the NHL is well aware of that.
Both the owners and players know it’s in their best interest to reach deals in a timely fashion whenever labour disputes arise. And, according to O’Reilly, the owners—given their knowledge, credentials, and past successes—are responding to that interest prudently.
“The NHL is moving…and one of Bettman’s goals is to move to a more NFL-style model,” he added. “The NFL is largely looked at from a structural perspective as the most successful sports league in the world.”
The NFL’s large-town teams support their small-town teams mainly because of revenue sharing, which allows for each team to sustain itself and even grow regardless of its readily exploitable resources.
When the NHL further adopts this model, when the economic pie becomes larger and every party feels they’re getting a fairer share, the future allocation of that revenue probably won’t facilitate as large a dispute, said O’Reilly.
If the most recent deal contains measures that ease the transition—like the last one did—then more agreeable negotiations between both parties are on the horizon, he added.
So, all in all, especially passionate hockey-fans need not worry that long-lived lockouts are the norm as of yet.