No spike from most recent National Hockey League (NHL) lockout

In a Globe & Mail poll, 70% said they wouldn't watch NHL hockey after the league's latest lockout, but that hasn't translated into more NLL fans.
In a Globe & Mail poll, 70% said they wouldn't watch NHL hockey after the league's latest lockout, but that hasn't translated into more NLL fans.
Many lacrosse fans hoped the most recent National Hockey League (NHL) strike would benefit the National Lacrosse League (NLL). Pro indoor lacrosse offers a similar product to pro hockey at better value. Players even got active trying to convince the public to give lacrosse a go, including on social media with the #NLLoverNHL hashtag.

In a great article here on IL Indoor, Marty O’Neill also suggested sport fans may be able to better relate to well-grounded lacrosse players, rather than pro athletes making exorbitant amounts of money.

The NHL lockout began in the summer of 2012, and continued past the NLL’s opening 2013 Face Off. And that lockout received daily media attention by Canada’s top sport stations – it was pretty ridiculous – while the NLL received little to no mention.

Then less than 12 hours after the NLL held its opening game of 2013, the NHL and NHLPA came to terms on a new CBA and ironed out the formalities over the week following.

Polls – like the Globe & Mail’s above showing 70% of responders ‘won’t be watching’ NHL hockey – indicated fans may boycott the NHL as a result of the league’s third labor strike in 18 years. But that hasn’t really happened.

Sport Business Journal reports NBC saw its highest NHL regular-season TV audiences yet, and up North, CBC television set records for its opening week back. 3,317,000 viewers caught the first 2013 ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ game, up 16% from the previous record. CBC added that marquee game had a reach of 9.2 million viewers, meaning 27 per cent of Canadians watched at least one minute reports the Globe.

22 of the NHL’s 27 teams who have hosted games in 2013 are averaging more than 17,000 fans at the gate, with all but Phoenix bringing in 15,000+.

NHL franchises have been active and smart in marketing to fans to win them back. And it appears the NLL hasn’t been able to convert on any potential resentment from NHL fans.

Here’s a look at the 2013 NLL attendance numbers, in comparison to last year’s averages.

Team – 2013 Home Opener (2nd Game) VS. 2012 Avg
Buffalo 15,238 VS. 15,918
Colorado 13,148 VS. 15,239
Toronto 11,703 VS. 11,173
Minnesota n/a VS. 8,596
Calgary 11,653 (8,221) VS. 8,313
Philadelphia 9,096 VS. 8,212
Edmonton 6,523 VS. 7,039
Rochester 7,834 VS. 6,833
Washington 7,023 (3,766) VS. 3,893
YouTube 10,797 unique visitors

As O’Neill noted, there were and are challenges trying to leverage the lockout and lacrosse in general. Independent teams are tight on budgets and NHL-owned NLL teams in Buffalo, Colorado and Calgary don’t want to cannibalize their money making NHL franchises.

Trade media are also slow to jump on board and nearly 70% of you voted they won’t in 2013, so it’ll be on the teams to push.

It would have been nice to have seen a bigger marketing and sales push from the league during the lockout. Beyond a short mention on Ellen, not necessarily the target demographic for the league, the NLL didn’t get much publicity during the lockout or subsequent boost at the attendance gate.

Toronto may have the league’s most aggressive and successful campaign advertising the Rock as the ‘Best Ticket in Town’. Buffalo say their season ticket holder base is on par with last year with no significant uptake from the lockout. Colorado adds hockey fans tend to be hockey fans and there’s not a significant cross-over in their market. Calgary did have a nice bump in their home opener but that’s in large part because season ticket holders had an opportunity to bring friends to the opener. Ditto for Washington who saw a drop in attendance for their second game of the season without extra comps. Edmonton’s home opener was low despite the anticipated debut of top draft pick Mark Matthews. Of note, Calgary and Edmonton have agreed to terms with Sportsnet to again televise their divisional battle. Led by ‘11 No.1 overall pick Kevin Crowley, can Philly continue to be a surprise on and off-field?

We’ll crunch the attendance numbers again later this season.

In the next business time feature we’ll take a closer look at franchise values, and give you the current asking price for an expansion NLL franchise.

An All-America at Simon Fraser and a decorated Jr. A player for Coquitlam, Kojima began covering lacrosse in 2003 and started working for Inside Lacrosse in 2007. Email him at steve.kojima@nllinsider.com or go to www.laxfuj.com.

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