Where have all the fans gone?

Photo Credit: Noah Graham/Getty Images

I was a freshman during the last NHL lockout. During that time, I could walk into any of my friends’ rooms and was just as liable to find them studying as I was to see them playing online poker.

Sites like http://www.partycasino.com became a common way to pass the time, at least for younger people who would otherwise spend their nights and weekends in front of their televisions watching hockey. Instead, they traded those TVs for laptops; their goals for chips as they did what they could to fill the void – and avoid textbooks.

So what are people up to this time?

With the college bowl games in full swing and the NFL regular season winding down, there are still a lot of sports. Besides, the NHL doesn’t do exceptionally well as a television product in the first months of its season anyway. It’s March and April when the league will want to be on the ice anyway. Up to this point, most franchises are happy to break even as a business.

A lot of people are also doing some of the more predictable things you can do. TV shows and movies are always going to be a way to pass the time, but that’s not exactly satisfying the hockey fix some need, especially those north of the border.

Early numbers are showing that Canadian Hockey League attendance for teams in cities that also have NHL teams aren’t jumping up that much. In other cities, like Sarnia where the Sting play, attendance was down to begin the year.

Part of the problem here may be with the quality of the game in the pre-NHL levels. Yeah, it’s great to see the future NHL greats smoothing out their rough edges, but for every top prospect on a team, there’s two or three more that are “just guys,” those meant to fill out rosters who don’t otherwise do anything special other than pass the puck to the future millionaires.

Clearly, this is not what the NHL fan wants.

We want the big product on the big stage. At this point, we’d welcome the Jarome Iginla trade talks and discussions about just how fat Dustin Byfuglien is these days. Heck, hearing about Tim Thomas’s rants was an excellent way to kill the day waiting for the puck to drop at night.

You’ve listened to it on the radio stations. You’ve read it in the papers. Fans don’t care about all the posturing from the NHL and NHLPA. They have no interest in hearing one side continually talk about how far they’ve moved while the other doesn’t seemingly doesn’t want to make a deal. There are two or three nights a week where fans are not getting to watch their team play. Whether it’s apathy or disgust, fans just want this to be over.

At least then we’ll have something to do at night.

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