I am a huge Pittsburgh Penguins fan. From the moment I first watched a game, live, at the very top of the now-defunct Civic Arena, I was hooked on NHL hockey. I’ve been there during cup runs, watching future Hall of Famers, and I’ve also been in the stands to during seasons when Terry Ruskowski was the Captain and Dick Tarnstrom was the leading scorer.
I love freakin' hockey.
I am part of the minority of professional sports fans. Hockey is not the most popular attraction for ticket buyers and, more importantly, television viewers. NHL games consistently rank behind the NFL, major league baseball, the NBA, NASCAR, women’s figure skating, Honey Boo Boo, the Weather Channel… well... you get the picture.
Being part of a rabid but small fan base, it’s easy for me to remain loyal to the game I love. Unfortunately, it also allows me to forget a very simple fact: once you look outside the small inner circle of rabid NHL fans, you find the rest of America doesn’t give a plastic rat’s ass about hockey (you’re welcome, Florida Panthers fans).
There are eight to ten cities in the U.S. where hockey moves the needle. Pittsburgh is certainly one of that group. The Pens telecasts are consistently ranked among the leaders. However, once you look beyond the mainstays of the league (Toronto, Pittsburgh, Boston, Detroit, etc.) and focus on the second tier of hockey cities (Atlanta, Phoenix, Columbus, etc.) the drop-off of fanaticism becomes noticeable.
I’m speaking only about cities that have an NHL franchise. Once the hockey-free zones of American society are addressed (Houston, Seattle, San Diego, etc.) you begin to get a clearer picture of what the NHL “lockout” means to America.
While Penguin fans like myself, in Pittsburgh and around the country, are aching, dying for the puck to be dropped, the rest of America, the majority of Americans (and their wallets) are oblivious (at best) and ambivalent (at worst) to the lack of sticks and pucks.
When (if?) the league returns, hockey fans will gladly pay the price to watch their favorite team. The “lockout” probably has not threatened our loyalties. Until (if?) the game returns we’ll simply find some other form of entertainment and hand our money to it.
The rest of the country, the ones who don’t ache for hockey, don’t even know it’s gone.
And that’s the real problem.
How can a game I love so much mean so little to so many? How can the fools in charge of the National Hockey League (owners AND players) have shown such poor vision in marketing and growing their product? Every time it begins to gain traction, both sides find new and more foolhardy ways to shoot themselves in the skate.
How is this possible?
How else can you explain allowing greed to snuff out yet another season of the NHL? Stupidity and lack of vision.
Somehow, I expected more from the sport I love.
Maybe I'm the one who's stupid.