THE CASUAL AMERICAN HOCKEY FAN

Wanye
November 29 2012 07:52PM

With every blessed day that the Lockout drags on, your ol' pal Wanye is pushed further from home in the vain attempt to forget about the NHL and the beloved Edmonton Oilers. Today his sobering musings come from San Francisco. Also he is speaking in the fourth person, which has to be some sort of Olympic Record.*

Its striking how the NHL and the Lockout have been completely invisible in the week we have been in the US so far. Now granted San Francisco isn't an NHL City, nor is it really a hotbed of hockey fandom. But the National American media isn't even registering the lockout as an issue any more.

We have been watching ESPN and their TSN copycat show "Sports Center" on the reggie-reg and any mention of the lockout is given the same amount of air time as the summary scores from the Portuguese Cricket League if at all. Same thing with USA Today and the New York Times - two leading newspapers with national reach.

As goes the American Media so goes the casual American Sportsfan. Not only is the average US sportsfan not on any particular side in the Lockout - they seem barely aware of the work stoppage if at all.

This is impossibly bad news.

WHY WANYE?

Americans - and in particular American Sports Fans - are the most entertainment saturated people in the history of time. They have a dizzying array of channels, sports, teams and talking heads all vying for their attention and thereby their hard earned dollars.

These same fans are the collective wallet that allows the NBA to pay something called a Andris Biedrins $62 million over six years. Their money paid the NFL to sign Kevin Kolb for six years for a mere $62.1 million and allows the MLB to basically lose it's fiscal mind on a daily basis.

Really these fans pay for it all.

And if you want to keep the Shawn Horcoffs of the world rolling Bentley for years to come as is his God given right, these are the people you need to entertain. As much as it may pain us to realize it: Canadian fans are a fraction of the collective buying power of their American counterparts.

And the NHL had been making substantial inroads in recent years. Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston and LA have all won Cups recently bringing a great many new fans into the fold. Heck even the craptacular Rangers have had some playoff runs in Gotham of late. This is all necessary for the NHL to get its paws on additional revenue it so desperately needs.

But with every passing day these new fans are finding things to do to entertain themselves. And it isn't that difficult - there are a trillion teams and a gillion sports competing for their hard earned dollars. Black hearted sports leagues and teams that don't even know or care what a Baby Nuge is and why he is so important to humanity.

Their well oiled business machinery is sweeping up hockey fans like those Aliens in War of the Worlds and blasting their dead carcasses all over the fields.** And rather than competing head-to-head during tough economic times the NHL and NHLPA are handing them over without a fight.

OH TOTALLY

Now don't get us wrong. The hardcore American hockey fan is just as pissed as his/her hardcore Canadian counterpart. The average American sports fan that is a fan of a few teams in a few sports? Not so much. The machine that is the American Media - that can turn the UFC from underground human cockfighting into a substitute for Heavyweight Boxing in a matter of months?

They don't even seem to notice anymore. That silence you hear? Its the sound of the vast, vast majority of the US not caring.

If this season is lost, a lot of the good work the NHL has done in emerging markets is going to be lost along with it. Can anything be more anti-climactic in a "what have you done for me lately" mecca like Los Angeles than the Kings raising their Cup Banner a year late? Please. 

OH WE TOLD YOU SO ALRIGHT

Now once upon a time a certain dashing young hockey blogger made dire predictions in part of a 4 part article series called "The Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Beastie Boys" about the potential economic strife that a prolonged recession would cause.

A bad economic scenario for the NHL would include a minor interruption in league activity that would force restructuring, a change in franchise ownership or some sort of bailout package to rescue a team unable to make payroll.
Think this is a crazy scenario? Look at the lengths the US government has had to go to bailout failed investment banks. These people have one function: make money—and they have failed monumentally. Would it be so crazy for NHL head office to put together a bailout package for the Nashville Predators if they couldn’t make payroll? 

People laughed at the time. They said "oh Wanye, your rugged good looks can't help you on this one. No way a team leaves, no way a team folds. The NHL is rock solid." Fast forward a mere 49 months. The NHL has already owned and subsidized the Coyotes and the Stars for extended periods of time. Not only has the American Economy (and most of the Civilised World) slid into the crapper but it has stubbornly stayed put.
 
The Thrashers have already moved to Winnipeg, American teams are losing money by the bucketful and the NHL/NHLPA has helpfully made things 1000x worse by this extended lockout. Two years ago the Hockey News was talking about Bettman facing a "glut of potential for-sale NHL teams" Is there any reason to think things have gotten anything but much, much worse behind the scenes?
 
So said the Hockey News back in 2010:

You have to wonder how many more proverbial rabbits Bettman can pull out of his hockey helmet (to keep NHL ownership stable) I mean, you can only stumble over so many Jeff Vinik’s in the world and convince them to risk their wealth on the shaky prospect of NHL ownership.
Bettman and Vinik met at this year’s Winter Classic and in the next few months, Bettman convinced Vinik– a hedge fund manager from Boston and a part owner of the Boston Red Sox – to buy the Tampa Bay Lightning. Now that Vinik is in control of the Lightning, he’s getting a nice glimpse of what a mess things are there. In fact, sources maintain that he has offered the CEO job to five people and they have all turned him down.

How is that investment going for you two years later noted Hedge Fund Manager and saavy money guy Jeff Vinik? According to the Forbes Article Robin Brownlee pointed out yesterday they lost $13.1 million dollars last year. And things are only getting worse across the board.
 
In our mind these are the facts that need to be taken into account as to why the owners are digging in their heels so hard. Could the owners actually be engaged in a last ditch attempt to stabilize things before drastic measures become necessary? The NBA rejigged its salary cap and economic scenarios and saw the values of teams increase and operations stabilize short term:

If the salary cap were lowered to, say, 50% of revenue and the subsidies from high-revenue teams to their low-revenue rivals were increased to $200 million from the current $150 million, which is essentially where the two sides seem to be headed, small-market team values would get a big boost (as was the case in the NBA when the New Orleans Hornets and Memphis Grizzles sold for $338 million and $330 million, respectively, after the league worked out a new labor pact last year). The league’s overall profitability would also increase.
But teams like the Carolina Hurricanes, Phoenix Coyotes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Anaheim Ducks and Columbus Blue Jackets would still have trouble making money unless they went at least two rounds in the playoffs.

Both sides may believe they have the moral edge on the other. In the end it really doesn't matter. Here is another fearless prediction from San Francisco's number one Oilers Fan:
 
If this lockout lasts the whole year and the recession doesn't lift,  Quebec will have a team as will another Canadian City within a few years. Once the Canadian markets are saturated with teams - and there is room for like 2 more tops up here - the NHL will have nothing left to do but pray that the Canadian economy holds and a few more Northern US markets can accomodate teams.
 
Otherwise you will see team values start to slide and contraction become a viable option. And with every day this Lockout drags on, this becomes a more distinct possibility.
 
*It is, they checked.
** The NFL isn't actually murdering hockey fans. That we know of. Yet.

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