One of the most annoying words in the English language may very well be apathy. When an individual, or group of individuals, becomes apathetic, it is very unlikely to change that fact. After what unfolded last week between Tuesday and Thursday, fans may finally be giving in to apathy. It has become pretty difficult to truly care about the NHL lockout to this point because of all of the emotions that have become involved. Fans want to see hockey, and any glimmer of hope gives them reason to be excited. Hockey fans have a tendency to be reactionary in any situation, so when there is even a slight chance that something may happen to end the lockout, fans rejoice. That is what occurred last week. Fans were beginning to announce “The lockout is over!” on Twitter. Twitter has become the medium of choice for the voice of the fans. I myself found myself pasted to my phone or laptop, watching my Twitter feed and retweeting every lockout update from Monday through Thursday of last week. It seemed as though the optimism was finally legitimate and worth getting excited over. And then, talks broke down Thursday night, and everything went from optimistic to… well, pessimistic. Fans are really hurting to this point, and it has come to the point where feelings of apathy are creeping ever so slowly into even the most diehard fans. I myself asked myself Friday morning, at around 2:30 AM a simple question; “Why care anymore?” After I had realized what I was asking, I was deeply saddened. My loyalty to the game, to the league, was in question. That is something I never thought would happen.
So what’s the point? Is this just about a hockey writer crying in pain because of this lockout? It is more than that. What about all of the other fans, who are not diehard fans? People like me, the other writers on this staff, and those crazy season ticket holders will jump right back into the NHL as soon as it returns. But the more casual fans are not guaranteed to return, and this is where the league is hurt. This past season saw the highest profit (which leads me to question why this is STILL happening in the first place), but that could very well be canceled out by this lockout. Diehard fans are easily outnumbered by the casual fans. Those casual fans are the ones who are not one-hundred percent dedicated to the sport, but spend money on games and league merchandise anyway. These fans are not as personally connected to the sport, or the team (or teams) they root for. However, these fans still play an enormously important role in the success of the league as a whole. Losing casual fans is easier to do because of the fact that they are not as heavily dedicated. If you as a league stop feeding the casual fans with games, you will lose them rather quickly. The diehard fans are guaranteed for the most part, but the turnout of casual fans is where the real profit will be seen. Some say common sense has been absent during the negotiations on both sides, while others say the two sides have just been too selfish to care about fans. Either of them may or may not be true, we might never find out. The reality though is that fans are in pain. The diehards are hurting, and the casuals are in the process of becoming apathetic. It may be a while before we see a plethora of fans all gathering around the Tampa Bay Times Forum for a Lightning game. Even after the lockout is solved and games have begun.