Lockout affects all hockey ranks

"The question might be whether the NHL lockout is actually good for society rather than a drag on the economy."

The question might be whether the NHL lockout is actually good for society rather than a drag on the economy.

It may be hard for some to pick sides among the two combatants, the NHLPA and the NHL, but is becoming easy to see that there are some winners in the socioeconomic mix.

Junior Hockey and minor pro teams are almost uniformly reporting higher attendance at their games, and businesses that do not rely on NHL hockey are issuing similar comments on their revenue streams. There isn’t much doubt that other high level sports are also having improved ratings and attendance, chief among them soccer and curling here, all because two decades of NHL squabbling have at least partly turned off former partisans.

We can expect that the world junior championships, partly because of rosters enhanced by top class young players formerly unavailable because of pro committments, will attract a lot more eyeballs in North America despite the sleep deprivation European time zone scheduling will require.

So, there is some good for some, coming out of the NHL’s inability to figure out its business.

The main downside, and that may be partly upside, too, of the NHL being AWOL (L being permission from fans) is that the sport will take a hit in its overall participation rates – rates already impacted by the cost to parents and communities of supporting young players and teams.

After all, if excelling through the amateur ranks is going to be a less likely ticket to fame and fortune in one sport, why wouldn’t parents who foot considerable bills for their charges to take part encourage those charges to try different ventures towards that goal.

Hockey participation rates have been shrinking for a while now, and if trouble appears always to be on the horizon for the parents of aspiring stars in the sport it seems natural the shrinkage will accelerate. With powers-that-be in the sport already at odds with medical science, and many parents, over the damage young bodies and brains incur from the full contact game, the shrinkage might be serious.

Another downside for many Canadians will be that the reduced numbers of players working their way through minor levels will increase the taxpayer cost (subsidy) for ice facilities that are already closed more than they are open in many cities and small towns. Those facilities cannot easily be re-purposed, nor can their maintenance costs be much diminished.

It’s a mixed bag of outcomes, and there should be many mixed emotions among spectators, but if the people seriously enriched by our national game can’t get their acts together, those of us who pay their way throughout their lives should begin considering alternatives.