In September of 2004 the NHL decided to shut down all league play because it was time to negotiate a new labor contract with the player’s union and the union was, in the league’s opinion, not cooperating in the negotiations. Ice hockey is traditionally a sport for northern people in northern cities but this geographic restriction has always been a huge boundary to the NHL management. The NHL management has always felt that the NHL needs to put teams in the warm climate cities in North America in order for it to survive. In recent years teams have been added to warm climate states such as California, Florida, and Texas just to name a few. The problem is that the NHL has never really had a major television contract and the lack of a television contract is the revenue needed for the league to survive an expansion to territories that may have never seen a hockey game before. The NHL was looking for that strong hockey match in cities not normally known for ice hockey. But even though the southern cities started winning championships the NHL could not attract a major television contract and soon the economics of paying players National Football League type salaries while not generating the money to cover those salaries caught up with the NHL and they needed a new deal with their players’ union. When the union wanted to keep things as they were the NHL management decided that if the league was going to survive then they needed a better deal with the players and shut down the league until that deal was negotiated. After almost an entire year of being shut down, the league and the players finally put together an agreement and play resumed for the 2005 season.
A financially strong NHL means that they can continue to do the work they do in the cities they have teams in. One of the ways the NHL tries to build a fan base in their new southern homes is to establish a youth hockey network in those cities. If the kids can get behind hockey by wanting to play it then they will want to go to NHL games and maybe even play in the NHL one day. In many cities the NHL is solely responsible for giving warmer climate children the chance to play the game of ice hockey for the first time and it is something that has helped many kids stay out of trouble. The NHL also donates a great deal of money to charities within the cities they play in as well as setting up online auctions to auction off players’ jerseys and sticks used in the games with all of the proceeds going to charity. The NHL and its players do a great deal of work for the communities they play in and many players wind up becoming permanent fixtures in their adopted NHL homes.
The best way the fans can return the NHL’s generosity is to continue to support the NHL with the enthusiasm that is rivaled by few professional sports leagues in North America. One of the best recent examples of fan enthusiasm was during the 2007 Easter Conference Final playoff round where the Buffalo Sabres were playing the Ottawa Senators for the right to go to the NHL championship round. In Buffalo not only was every playoff game the Sabres played sold out inside the building but there was also a huge crowd, and party, outside the building every game. Inside the Sabres’ arena there were over 18,000 fans enjoying the game and outside the arena there was nearly 10,000 more fans watching the game on huge televisions and adding to that NHL enthusiasm. The NHL and their fans are a perfect hockey match.