I wouldn't call myself a fan of the NBA. My uncle had season tickets to the Philadelphia 76ers when I was growing up, and while I'll still watch probably half of the Sixers games in a given season, I absolutely, positively cannot stand the general product that is NBA basketball. I'd rather focus my basketball energy on the college game, which I always seem to find much, much more entertaining anyway.
I think this ongoing NBA lockout situation is going a long way towards proving why I can't stand the NBA. When the NHL faced a similar situation back in 2004, and ultimately wound up losing a full season, you didn't get the pervasive feeling of greed that one experiences when they read a story about this NBA labor strife we're experiencing now.
It makes me never want to spent another dime on the league, and it makes me feel foolish for having done so in the past.
Now, the NBA has canceled two weeks of its season, and it doesn't seem like there's much hope on the horizon for a deal to be struck any time soon. So while I feel bad for the fans (hey, we've been there) and every single person who's going to be out of work if and when the NBA cancels all 82 games per club this year, I'm certainly not going to pity the owners, and as a selfish hockey fan, I can't help but think how much this whole thing could help the NHL.
It's not as simple as saying "hey, the NBA's gone... football is only two days a week.... everybody's gonna watch hockey now!" It doesn't work like that. It's not as if some American sports revolution is going to take place just because there's no pro basketball. ESPN isn't going to show a ton of hockey highlights now -- they're just going to cover the NBA lockout and shove the NFL down our throats a little further.
But on a city-by-city basis, the NHL can make strides in the NBA's absence. In some places like Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Toronto, they don't need the help. That's not to say some extra people won't be turned on to the Bruins or the Rangers or the Flyers, but in big Northeastern cities, most people are typically fans of all the teams, at least on a casual basis. Any growth caused by the NBA lockout won't be large enough to move any needle -- although off their Cup win, the Bruins could certainly jump up from their steady No. 4 position in the Boston sports landscape.
Where the NBA lockout can really help the NHL, though, is in places where hockey has never been the top dog.
Atlanta would come to mind if their team didn't move to Winnipeg, but in places like Dallas, the NBA lockout could give a legitimate boost to the base of the Stars. It's a highly engaged fanbase, what with the Rangers in the MLB playoffs and the defending NBA champs in town, and when a city is winning, they want more sports to watch. It's just kind of how it goes.
If the NBA cancels their season, there's going to be a long stretch of time between the end of the baseball season and the start of spring training where two or three days out of the week, the Stars will be the only game in town. With a new head coach at the helm, it could be rough going for Dallas this year, but if they can get on any kind of a run, there's no question that fans that would typically rather watch the Mavericks could be turned on to a team like the Stars.
Los Angeles probably has the greatest potential for growth. The Kings are already a rather successful franchise, especially when they're winning, and with the exciting additions they've made this offseason, expectations are through the roof. There's no NFL to compete with in town, either, and with the Dodgers and Angels already out of the picture this season, the Kings have the opportunity to completely own the sporting landscape.
The Ducks have an opportunity too. With the talent on that team and Teemu Selanne's potential swan song taking place this year, there's plenty to market in hopes of drawing more fans out to Honda Center. It's Los Angeles. People are going to spend money on sports somewhere. The Kings and the Ducks are the only games around.
It's sort of the same phenomenon in South Florida. Sure, the Heat had trouble selling out the building even with that ridiculous team they had last season, so it's unlikely that the Florida Panthers ever sell out many of their own games. But in terms of just general growth of the fan base, the Panthers have a lot to gain here. There are people in the Miami area that are going to want sports to watch, and with the Dolphins playing like crap and the Marlins out on the beach for the winter, the Panthers are the only game in town.
They might not be a good team, but they've made a ton of changes and should be an interesting team to watch. They might even be good, who knows? Now's the time for the Panthers to attempt to grab some of those casual Miami sports fans that they've yet to captivate. They need to at least try, because the financial numbers do not look good there and relocation whispers have already begun.
Look all over the map and you'll find cities that can benefit: Phoenix should see an increase in interest, especially with the bad play of the Arizona Cardinals. In fact, if the Coyotes can't succeed in an NBA-less market, it's not a good sign for their long-term future in the desert. Now might really be the time for them, if there ever was one.
The Colorado Avalanche have a young team that will improve, and fan interest has definitely tailed off in recent years. The NBA lockout could bring fans who have focused more attention on the Nuggets back to the hockey rink.
There are plenty of NHL teams with an opportunity now that the NBA lockout is in full, season-killing swing. There's definitely still competition in a lot of these markets -- the NFL, college football and college basketball -- but the NBA and the NHL have always been sort of married for the sole fact that they play the same length season across the same portion of the calendar.
Now's the time when many NHL teams can step out of the NBA shadow and show what a great product the league has become. And then from there, the only way to go is up ...
... until NHL labor negotiations next summer.
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