One word that was uttered a lot during the lockout was “care.” We heard how people weren’t going to care about hockey’s labor dispute. There were theories from a lot of different people that “nobody cares.” It was put out there by many fans and media alike, but it was easy to be skeptical. Major markets such as Philadelphia have given reason to be skeptical of such a theory. See 1994 and 2005.
When getting out of my car to cover the first Flyers game of the abbreviated 2012-13 season, a group of fans came up to me shouting expletives and asking, “Where is Jeremy Jacobs?” Why did they ask me? Who knows other than the fact I was wearing a suit while walking into the arena. This pretty much debunks the theory that fans didn’t care about the lockout. They cared.
In fall of 2005, the NHL was coming off of a year where they cancelled the entire season including the playoffs and Stanley Cup Finals. I’ll never forget just how much excitement there was surrounding the start of that 2005-06 in Philadelphia. After the end of the lockout it didn’t take the Flyers long to make a deal for Peter Forsberg which is pretty much all it took to get everyone going.
The 2005-06 season was one of the highest priced secondary markets ever for a Flyers regular season. Season ticket sales were high then, and the pattern has followed through to now in the fallout of the 2012-13 lockout.
For the short 2013 season it was announced the Flyers have more season ticket holders than they did in the 2011-12 season with around 18,000.
The Flyers got off to a bit of a slow start dropping the first 3 games, but that hasn’t stopped the crowds from coming and blowing the roof off of the building for the first couple of home games. It was truly a playoff-like atmosphere at the Wells Fargo Center.
Television ratings are performing above many expectations and settings new records. Plenty of fans said they would boycott certain aspects of the NHL, but it’s not working too well, especially in places such as Philadelphia.
It’s not just Philadelphia with the strong return. League wide, we’re seeing little evidence of any slowing in momentum. The traditional hockey markets are selling out buildings left and right. Open practices displayed some of the biggest crowds for practice in the history of the hockey teams who were hosting them.
We won’t know the full impact of the NHL’s return until after the season, but it sure looks now that the fans that were looking to prove a point aren’t going to succeed. Their point is duly noted and I don’t think anybody would fault them for doing what they’re doing, but hockey is a lifestyle and even somewhat of an addiction for many fans out there. They are always likely to return.
Luckily for the NHL’s fans, the earliest the new CBA can be terminated is 8 years from now. That’s good news for the fans, because based on the way the fans have come back so far, all they have done is prove Gary Bettman right again. The fans will come back. Hockey fans always come back.
Justin Johnson is a Senior Correspondent and has been covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers since the 2008-09 season. Justin has covered all levels of hockey across the United States and Canada. Justin is a graduate of Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ and currently resides in Southern New Jersey.