SUN Hockey Pool

Fans' TV habits to change

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

The fan landscape in Ontario could change dramatically by the time the National Hockey League resumes play.

A telephone poll conducted for Sun Media by SES Canada Research revealed that viewership of the NHL on the tube will be 21.8% less when the lockout ends. That was higher than any region in the country.

The poll was released on the same day that Hall of Fame netminder turned MP Ken Dryden opined that the lockout has made many fans re-think their priorities about rabidly following the NHL. Dryden, the minister for social development, spoke outside the House of Commons yesterday.

"I think that there are a number of fans in this country who have sensed over the last number of months that actually maybe it was more habit than it was passion," Dryden said. "I think for the great majority it's still a passion, but others have discovered that maybe it was something else. And so, as much as this can be problematic in the U.S. and that's where it's usually talked about, I think it's also a problem in this country."

There is no movement in the Collective Bargaining Agreement talks as the lockout drags into its 146th day, continually stuck on the issue of a salary cap. Negotiations broke off last Friday in New York.

The SES poll paints an increasingly bleak picture of fan apathy. The poll suggested that viewership of televised NHL games will drop by 16.4% post-lockout.

"You have to keep in mind what percentage of Canadians actually do watch hockey," said John Shannon, vice-president of programming and executive producer of Leafs TV. "On a good night, Hockey Night In Canada will pull in two million viewers. That's out of 12 million total viewers, so that number (of hard-core hockey fans) is already lower.

"But I think those people who say they are upset would come back. I can understand the layman being frustrated at what's going on, heck, those of us in the business share that frustration."

Shannon, a former executive producer of Hockey Night In Canada, said the NHL's long-stated goal of improving the flow of play in the game would be a major catalyst in restoring viewership.

"Anything that will open the game up and cut down on stoppages in play is going to help," he said.

The SES Canada Research poll was conducted by a random telephone survey of 1,000 voters across Canada. It is accurate to within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.


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