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Thursday, June 03, 2004

More on the NHL's Labor and Economic Problems

Excellent article in todays Washington Post by Thomas Boswell on the state of the National Hockey League. Boswell, as many of you know, gained great stature in the 1980's as being a preeminent, Peter Gammons-class baseball writer (he also had the privilege about writing about some good Orioles teams, and using "good" right next to Orioles hasn't happened a lot lately). Boswell addresses the NHL's ails and hits the heart of the matter: if the NHL doesn't play next season, can it recover? Major League Baseball looks like it has fully recovered (from an attendance standpoint) from the awful strike of 1994, but it has a much bigger base of fans than the NHL does.

This whole issue of whether the NHL can recover from its major problems leads into another issue, which Mike & Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio asked this morning: is hockey the fourth major sport in this country after professional football, baseball, and pro basketball?

My answer is no, and it hasn't been for a while (probably since a) the NHL has over-expanded and b) since the trapping style of defense has led to much lower-scoring games). On Mike & Mike, it was pointed out that say 50 years ago the big sports were baseball, boxing and horse racing (at least the big pro sports). As you can see, fans' interests change, and the sporting world evolves. Boxing is a train wreck, and horse racing is barely hanging on (Smarty Jones and some of the better tracks notwithstanding). Today, I'd have to say, at a professional level, golf and NASCAR clearly have eclipsed hockey, and some would argue that Arena Football, believe it or not, is closing in. I also believe that both college football and college basketball are ahead of professional hockey -- just look at the numbers.

Be that as it may, the NHL really is at a precipice. It has a great core of fans, but it hasn't been able to expand that core. If the NHL doesn't play next year, the NHL as you know it will no longer exist. I think it will survive, but the league will be much smaller, and, hopefully, more exciting as a result.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed -- a 16 team league with more concentrated talent (including international players, unlike the old pre-expansion days), outlawed fighting, and minimal clutching and grabbing allowed on defense could be successful in North America. It would essentillly be a high scoring souped-up version of our NCAA hockey or some of the European leagues. There would likely need to be revenue sharing and a salary cap.

4:58 PM  

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