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Frozen Over: Why the NBA and NFL Lockout will make the NHL America's Winter Sport in 2012

Written by Daryl Velez
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Earlier this month it was made clear that the NBA would lock out its players for the second time in twenty years. This news, along with the pained negotiations between NFL players and ownership in pro football, make the winter of 2012 a bleak one for many sports fans. No football. No basketball. No baseball come November. What else is there?

On the other side of the sporting universe there lies a quizzical game called hockey. As the Boston Bruins celebrate their 2011 Stanley Cup victory, the NHL simultaneously is celebrating their best TV ratings for the Final since 1999. Coming into the series, the Vancouver market was predicted to shove Stanley Cup ratings numbers into the toilet. But with the rabid fans in Boston and the apparently violent fanship in Vancouver, Gary Bettman's NHL claimed victory over 4.6 million television viewers during game 1 alone (a 3.2 rating overall). 

Those numbers are completely dwarfed by the NFL and NBA, with the former of those two sports really locking in American TV viewership. This could be due to a number of factors, including but not limited to the Superbowl being one game and not one of a series, its customary halftime show, etc. The bottom line is that while the NFL enjoyed a viewership of 111 million for last years' Superbowl (and thus the highest rated television program in history), the NBA also garnered one of the highest viewership ratings for its sport ever.

Americans are watching more TV. They're watching more sports while watching their increased amount of TV. If there is no NBA or NFL, what will America watch in the fall and winter of 2012?

One might say that Americans will likely just turn away from sports altogether. After all, the musical comedy "Glee" drew out 26.8 million viewers for their post-Superbowl show. But I'm not here to debate the merits of "Glee" and I dismiss this argument on the basis that I even left my TV on after the big game this year to go to the bathroom while showtunes blared in my living room. Hey-it wasn't up to me.

No. Instead I think that should the NBA and NFL really not play their games in 2012 sports fans will turn to what they covet most: sports. For me personally the NBA has lost its luster. I thought when I was a kid that watching pro basketball was awesome. But as I grew older I learned to love a good defensive game. I learned to hate soft players. I learned to dislike the NBA's brand.

As far as football goes, it fills the void between the World Series and Opening Day. However, it only does that once a week. The NFL is a lot like visits with one or the other of your separated parents. You get to see that person once a week, every week. They give you a fancy toy to play with or take you on a little adventure. But sooner or later you have to go home to the land of no sports, no fun, just cleaning your room.

Maybe I'm basing my claim too loosely. Maybe the 111 million viewers who watched the Superbowl this year aren't interested in ice hockey. Not on its face at least. No I don't think that ice appeals to people in Atlanta (see newly reappointed Winnipeg Jets). I don't think that fast skating and pretty goals are what most of this country is after. But I will tell you what will draw the people of Texas, Mississippi, California and New Mexico to hockey: hits.

I am more a hockey fan than a football fan. When my Bruins don't play on a Sunday in the middle of winter what do I do? Answer: watch football. These guys get their teeth rattled too. There's just something about bone-crushing hits that I can't avoid as a sports fan. It's the rubbernecking effect. Everybody loves a train wreck.

So football fans, please watch some hockey highlights this summer and get ready. I don't believe that the NFL will really lockout, but in the event that they do, you should be prepared to get your hits somewhere, and I guarantee that somewhere isn't in the NBA.

But back to the NHL: the Boston Bruins are already sold out of their season ticket packages for next season. I know this because as a ticket holder in the past I get emails about when tickets go on sale, prices ahead of time, etc. In any case let me repeat: the Boston Bruins have sold all of their seats to all of their home games next season. The NBA is poised to lockout. The Red Sox will not be playing in December. What's a Boston sports fan to do but watch his or her Stanley Cup winning team? I'm certainly not going to be watching "Glee."

On the flipside, in Vancouver people died after their hometown team lost the Cup. Do you think those fans are passionate? I don't know, maybe.

The NHL has teams in big markets. There's teams like Chicago and New York that people think about as your typical big market but there's also Montreal, Toronto and now Winnipeg in Canada poised to watch an increased amount of hockey. Winnipeg just got a team after years of asking for one after all. They just might watch their Jets on television. Its just a guess.

And what about Detroit, Chicago and LA? Those places all have NBA teams which all might not play in this coming season. Those fans will want to watch something, won't they? Or will "So You Think You Can Dance" be good enough for them?

We'll see.

Just like the owner's attitudes in both the NBA and NFL leading to their respective lockouts: We'll see.

We'll see hockey.

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