Absence makes the heart grow just as fond as it was before – the puck drops…

By Sam Richardson 08/01/2013

In major news for those familiar with what many consider to be the fourth North American major league sport (and Canada’s premier sport), the NHL (the league) and the NHLPA (the players association) have agreed upon the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement which will end the third labour stoppage of the NHL in less than twenty years. See this link for an excellent story which features comments by two prominent sports economists, Rod Fort and Victor Matheson. The issue at hand: what effect will the labour stoppage have on the NHL in future? Will the fans not come back?
From Rod Fort:

“They will come back,” said Rodney Fort, a sports economist at the University of Michigan. “And in fact, we may not even notice any difference.”

Rod summarises much of the research in this area concisely in this one sentence. There may be short term impacts (playing a truncated 48 game season is bound to ‘hurt’ when compared with what is usually an 82 game season) but the evidence shows that attendances bounce back very shortly afterwards. I especially like Victor’s quote:

“Sports really depend on getting people hooked on the drug, and the NHL has now given hockey fans three opportunities to go through detox,” said Victor Matheson, a professor of economics at the College of the Holy Cross. “There’s a real question about how much you can do that before you have fans say, ‘You know, I have a lot of things I can do with $1,500 besides buy a season-ticket package.’ “

But they keep coming back. I guess that’s why sports has such longevity and is regarded by some as ‘recession-proof’ – perhaps absence really does make the heart grow fonder (or maybe that fans have long memories). I wonder if the relationship between labour stoppages and attendance differs between cities with perennial contenders (Detroit and Chicago, for example) when compared to less successful franchises? It would sure be interesting to analyse.