Good to have this one back.
As expected, the NHL returned this weekend with full houses (for the most part) and record TV audiences for its biggest rivalry (Flyers-Pens) or defending champs raising a banner against one of its most popular teams (Kings-Hawks). This was met with derision from tons of commentators inside and outside the sport. “Look at the rabble,” they mocked, “this is why owners think they can get away with lockouts multiple times per decade. Because they can.”
Do you understand now, hockey fan? You are the Great Enabler, without principle or conviction. When will you understand your plight like everyone else?
Except when you look back almost exactly one year, that is.
Let me take you back a little more than a year ago. August of 2011. The NFL ends a lockout — a work stoppage that cost it all of a few preseason games which everyone hates anyway, as well as crunching down the free agency period which everyone loved anyway — and then enjoys record viewership for its primetime games. It’s hailed as a sporting monster, and experts everywhere marvel at just how strong the NFL brand is.
Let’s move on a couple months, to Christmas 2011. The NBA returns from a lockout — it’s second in 12 years, and while that’s a better record than the NHL and they’ve never lost a whole season, it isn’t exactly a glittering mark — with a stellar lineup of games on it’s usual Yuletide Schedule. It enjoys record viewership all season including through its final contested by admittedly two great teams. It is hailed as the league on the forefront of marketing itself, run by the smartest people in the room. It is just a testament to how well the NBA runs itself, we’re told.
If I have this straight, that NBA fan (who probably knows nothing about the game and got the boss’s tickets, because if he was a real basketball fan he probably couldn’t afford to go and/or is probably disgusted by all the in-arena bullshit that accompanies an NBA game) who never took his frustrations out on the league by not forking over his cash, he’s helpless against the David Stern marketing machine.
But the NHL fan, who grew up with having to go to the game in order to see it regularly and has a dearth of good hockey coverage to this day, he’s just a mindless drone who’s responsible for all the evil in the world because he likes to spend money and time watching the product he so dearly loves? Do I have that right?
What was it we were supposed to do? Let’s carry this out: Say all arenas were half-full this weekend and all season. Say the viewership somehow dropped off the ottoman hockey-ratings have always been on all year. What then? Advertisers go fleeing and teams drown in red ink. They fold or move. Disappearing teams does cause fans to leave the game forever. Revenues drown. Great, we’ll have taught some guys a lesson. Maybe. And the game and league we enjoy would never be the same or as good.
But man, wouldn’t we feel better?
They all can’t have it both ways. You can’t bemoan the fact that it’s all run as a business, and then make fun of us when we treat it as a business that puts out a product we like. I get disappointed when Hot Doug’s is closed because Doug is on vacation, most likely on the dime I helped provide. But I don’t stop going there when it reopens, because it’s fucking delicious and the best place around. I certainly don’t feel bad about doing so.
The NHL puts out a product we adore. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not the problem. You’re not the problem. I’ve said it before, what did we lose or discover during that lockout? Three months of a season that’s probably a month too long? Yeah, that sucks. But now you’re getting more hockey between now and May than you normally would have. Find out that owners think you’re just a walking wallet and the players think you’re scenery? You already knew that. You know who else thinks you’re a walking wallet? EVERYONE. Government, industry, everybody. Everyone that opens a business wants your money. Big deal. Get over it. It’s the path we chose. For the most part, we like it.
This is Chicago. It’s a big city. When I want something, I want the best I can get for the most part. That means when I want Mexican food, I don’t go to Taco Bell. I hit Los Nopales here on Western. Sometimes I like to go to a small theater for a play. But sometimes I want to go to Steppenwolf or The Goodman, because they’re two of the best theaters in the world.
And that means when I want hockey, I want NHL hockey. Keep your Swift Fucking Current and your Miami of Ohio’s. I’ll stick with the best. And I’m not going to feel the least bit guilty about it.