winners by far

The biggest winners in the NHL lockout will be the Balmy Belt teams of the Southern United States. That’s right. I said it. Now before my fellow Canadians form a lynch mob and figure out the best way to dispose of a carcase let me explain. I know conventional Canadian wisdom says that if you can’t play the game outside for half a year then it shouldn’t be played at all. I know that there is no nation-wide television deal. I know that fan interest is at an all-time low. I also know that these are precisely the reasons why the balmy belt is going to be a hot-bed of hockey in five years time.
Even without market research it is safe to say that interest in the game of hockey is at the lowest point in history. If anything the work stoppage forced people to look elsewhere for entertainment. Perfect. The balmy belt has consistently shown that it needs a massive influx of fans. The best way to accomplish this would be a large scale publicity and awareness campaign. If the work stoppage has accomplished anything it has forced the NHL into a position where they need to do this instead of thinking they should. The Canadian fans will come back. Anyone who thinks otherwise should look to baseball and notice that those numbers are pretty close to where they were before their work stoppage. A massive awareness campaign by the NHL in the palm tree section of the hemisphere will lead to increased interest in the local game.
What can help keep that newfound interest in the local game? Television coverage. I’m not talking about a national deal. Outside of the Great White North it shouldn’t happen. National interest can only occur after a number local interest areas are created. You cannot sell a product to someone with no knowledge. The NHL didn’t get good ratings on national deals because the market wasn’t there yet. Get the locals interested in the game and the ratings will follow. To make matters even more interesting, the local t.v. deals should be cheaper because of the lack of national coverage. If the NHL tries to milk the local market instead of massaging it, then all bets are off and we’ll be down to 15 teams by the end of the decade.
And now for the final option. The NHL should invest in summer in-line skate hockey camps and promotions, much like the NBA does with the street ball. Yes it is true that people cannot play ice-hockey in the summer. But if that was the case wouldn’t football be destined for failure? You can’t play it outside in the winter after all. I have just one two words for you. Arena Football. Picking up where the XFL should have gone it has gained a national contract not because people were bored but because local excitement made it to the national level. It is arena football that the NHL needs to compete with first, then they can work at toppling the NBA.
Nothing I’ve mentioned could have possibly happened without the work stoppage. If the NHL had inked the Gretzky/Lemieux deal back in the spring the dire impetus to make sure the Southern teams can survive would not be in place. The NHL would have plodded along and the teams would have died a slow, painful death.
The future of the game will not be solved by this contract. It will be solved by the willingness to work at getting interest back into the game.