Editorial — Hockey diehards are getting frustrated

The game itself may be the long-term loser if NHL lockout lasts the entire season.

Diehard hockey fans are starting to get frustrated.

The NHL lockout seems set to go on for weeks, if not months, and there is still a chance that there may be no NHL hockey at all this season.

While this costs players a lot of money, it may be costing the game itself in more long-term ways. Surveys have indicated that a significant number of NHL ticket buyers are in no rush to go back to the arenas if the lockout is settled. This is particularly true in some U.S. markets, where hockey is the third or fourth most-popular sport in the area.

The economic climate in which this lockout is taking place is much different than it was in 2004-05, when the league lost an entire season to another work stoppage. At that time, economic growth in both Canada and the United States was strong. Good times seemed endless, and sports fans were quite ready to spend money on tickets to games. They were more willing to put up with a labour disruption.

In 2012, the U.S. economy remains abysmally weak, after more than four years of job losses and falling real estate prices. Many Americans simply don’t have the disposable income that they had in 2005. If there is no hockey for a year, chances are many of them will forget about the game for a long time to come.

While most Canadian fans are much more likely to be back in their seats when the NHL resumes play, there could be a significant drop in TV viewership. Many fans who watch hockey on TV don’t get a chance to get to NHL games. In markets such as Vancouver and Toronto, it is very hard to get tickets to a game, with many season tickets held by corporations.

However, there is still plenty of good hockey on ice now. Last weekend, the Canucks’ farm team, Chicago Wolves, played Abbotsford Heat before two close to capacity crowds. AHL action is almost as good as the NHL, and it wasn’t surprising that former Canuck Zach Kassian was one of the stars in both games.

Here in Langley, the Rivermen offer an exciting brand of hockey in an excellent arena at Langley Events Centre. Their games can be every bit as exciting as an NHL contest — and at a much lower price. Parking is free as well.

There are plenty of hockey options available to fans. Many of them are seeking out those options. The NHL and its players had better hope fans retain a keen interest in the game.