Kiss 'em goodbye

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:18 AM ET

Are you mad enough to never go back?

Will you return right away? Or will you wait, let them twist in the wind, hoping for your support before finally darkening an arena?

It's certainly something the NHL's players and owners should consider while they waste away the season debating back and forth whether they can live with or without cost certainty.

They should consider that long and hard.

Yesterday's Sun online poll provides a glimpse of what fans think and quite possibly a preview of the future.

Almost 60% of respondents said they are angry at both sides and don't care when or if NHL hockey returns.

Of course, the resentment is strong because fans here are passionate and want their NHL hockey back. But imagine how much more resentment there will be if both sides fail to save this season.

Think of how livid those fans -- who pay the bills in a league that relies on ticket sales for the bulk of its revenues -- will become when NHL hockey returns after becoming the first professional league to wipe out a full season over a labour spat.

Many believe a lost season will be catastrophic for warm-weather teams -- Nashville, Carolina, Anaheim, Florida etc. -- where hockey is just a blip on the radar.

That may be true and some teams may go the way of the dinosaur if it takes too long to find a solution.

Yet there will be a serious backlash in cities where the game is loved, too.

With the way both the players and owners seem determined to derail the league, they're certainly risking a crime of passion.

Calgary fans care deeply about their team -- just as fans do in Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa -- and with that emotion comes reaction.

What's to say those fans will invest their money and love again? More than a few fans will wonder why their hard-earned cash should go to people who have more than enough yet fight over pennies.

Don't think it'll happen?

Look at what history has shown.

According to an ESPN.com article this week, the Major League Baseball strike of 1994 that wiped out the last two months of the season and the World Series sent attendance spiralling down the toilet.

In 1995, the average attendance in baseball stadiums was down more than 5,000 per game from the year before. The 1998 home- run chase helped the average attendance climb back above 29,000 but that was still 2,200 fewer than pre-strike 1994.

Hockey's 1994-95 season, the 48-game campaign that came after the lockout, saw an average of 14,798 fans per game, which was actually up 50 people per game from the year before. However, they salvaged a season back then. Going a full year without NHL hockey is uncharted territory.

Yesterday's meeting in Toronto between both sides ended with both sides speaking the same language. Both NHLPA president Trevor Linden and NHL vice-president Bill Daly admitted their philosophical differences were still prominent.

Nice to see after four-plus hours of discussions, they agreed on something.

However, if they keep talking in circles long enough to kibosh the season, they'll have another problem.

They'll need to find a way to cajole fans -- who've made them all very rich men -- into returning.


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