1. Will the fans come back?
There’s no question that the die-hards will come back. They cannot stay away; hockey is in their blood.
The real question is whether the casual NHL fans will come back. And not just this year, but ever.
Sure, teams can do their best to woo them back. Pittsburgh was the first team to announce official “please forgive us” gimmicks yesterday—they’ll have free concessions and half-price merchandise for the first game of the season. And surely other teams will follow suit.
However, nothing any single team does can erase the image the league has cultivated for itself. To casual observers, the NHL looks like the stupidest pro sports league on the planet.
They insist on keeping teams where they don’t work, and yet the richest teams will only do the bare minimum to ensure that those teams survive. (FYI, $200M in revenue sharing aint gonna cut it). As a group the teams make somewhere in the neighborhood of $600M in profits, and yet they make the players sacrifice more of their salaries so the poor teams can stay afloat. And of course they give huge, untenable contracts to players, and then insist the players agree to make them stop going that.
Oh, and they think it won’t matter if they just don’t play a season.
I mean, could you imagine a corporation like Sony just being like, “Um, hey everybody, we’re not going to make any TVs this year. Sorry. Please consider buying our TVs next year!” It’s insane.
So yeah, that’s the biggest question: can the will non-hardcore fans ever care about the NHL again?
If so, it will take a wholesale transformation of the league’s image. And you know what that means, right Gary Bettman?