That was my reaction at the latest round of game cancellations – “Meh.”
Based on reactions across social media, that seems to be par for the course. The NHL fan base has gone the route of Phil Collins:
I got better things to do with my time.
I don’t care anymore.
I don’t care anymore.
The pent-up rage that was seen when the impending lockout clock hit zero on September 15th is virtually gone
All that seems to exist right now is one single emotion: apathy.
Apathy is perhaps the worst nightmare of the NHL, even if they don’t realize it.
If fans miss NHL hockey, if they are sad by the lack of NHL hockey or if they are angry at the lack of NHL hockey, they will come back at the end of the lockout.
However, if fans simply don’t care, then the NHL has an uphill battle.
You know how when you’re watching a show on television and a commercial comes on and, instead of paying attention to the product, your thought is, “How much longer until my show is back on?”
The NHL is starting to enter that territory. You can win fans back who are angry, who are disheartened and who feel betrayed.
You cannot win fans back who simply don’t care if the NHL exists.
The NHL is becoming the professional sports version of, “We don’t have Coke…is Pepsi okay?”
We don’t have the NFL here…is the NHL okay?
Think of a sport you don’t like – not a sport you hate, but a sport you don’t follow or care about. For me, that sport is tennis. I don’t hate tennis, but I don’t go out of my way to watch golf (or play golf…mainly because I’m terrible, but that’s a different matter). If professional tennis shut down for a year, I’m not positive that I would notice. My life would not change in any discernible way if the French Open did not happen. And if tennis came back from that year long work stoppage…would I be clamoring to watch tennis? No…because I don’t care about tennis.
But for some reason, the NHL seems to think that people will come pounding down the doors to the arena like Walmart on Black Friday. However, the apathy is growing. The NHL needs people to be angry when they cancel games. They don’t need apathy.
When fans stop caring about your sport, they stop realizing you exist. When they stop realizing you exist, they don’t show up to games anymore.
If you don’t believe that such a thing can happen to a professional sports league, then sit down, take this nugget of information I’m about to give you, digest it and see what happens.
Be sure you are sitting down.
Are you sitting?
The Arena Football League still exists.
That’s right. The “50-yard-indoor-war” that spawned Rob Bironas, Brenda Warner and – to a lesser extent – Kurt Warner – still exists…in a way at least. In 2008, the league went bankrupt. The 2009 season was cancelled and the league was sold at auction to the highest bidder. In 2010, the league came back with 15 teams…since then, 8 of those teams have either folded or relocated.
The NHL is dangerously close to following the Arena League’s path into irrelevance.