Printed on: December 13, 2012

Fans fed up with ongoing, fruitless NHL labor strife

By Dan Gelston
AP Sports Writer

Sitting in a hockey locker room, Steve Chase became the latest die-hard fan fed up with the NHL lockout.

Living in Los Angeles, Chase believed the league had squandered all the goodwill built in the area after the Kings won the Stanley Cup. His weekly pickup games with friends became his only taste of the sport he loved because of the ongoing labor strife that has dragged on for months.

So he took a poll of his buddies, then took a pledge:

"We're not coming back."

Not for good. Just not after the lockout is settled, not for a while.

Chase started the grass roots "Just Drop It" campaign that encourages fans to boycott one NHL game for every game canceled after Dec. 21st. No tickets, no TV, no merchandise -- not a minute or a penny spent on the league, punishment for what he believed are continued abuses of loyalty on their fan base.

He made a video and started a Facebook page, urging fans to click the "like" button and join the cause. More than 11,000 angry fans have joined since the weekend, a puck drop in the circle compared to the millions of fans who attend games, but the latest small sign fans won't again be easily won back.

"People are trying to crush the NHL," Chase said. "That's not our goal. Our goal is just to get hockey back. They're fighting over our money."

They are exasperated over a work stoppage with no end in sight and little regard for the fans.

Remember 1994? After the World Series was wiped out, baseball loyalists vowed never to return. Fueled by super-sized sluggers and retro ballparks, attendance topped 60 million in 1996, 70 million in 1998 and soared to 79,503,175 in 2007.

The NHL, of course, can't match those numbers. But the story arc is still the same. The NHL drew 20,854,169 fans when the sport returned in 2005-06 -- 497,970 more than the total in 2003-04, the season before the lockout.

The NHL saw an attendance uptick each of the next three seasons and totaled a record 21,468,121 fans in 2011-12.

The NHL is coming off its sixth consecutive year of record revenue, with a projection of more than $3.2 billion by the end of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, the league said.

Don't forget, the NHL has a $200 billion, 10-year deal with NBC Sports Group through the 2020-21 season.

On Opening Night in January 2013 or October 2013 or November 2015, whenever, the teams will be back ready for the first faceoff.

So will the fans.

At least some of them.