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May 29, 2007

[Business Day One] In Memoriam

Filed under: Business Day One,Hockey — Tags: , — Serpico @ 11:34 am

Technically speaking, readers, today (Tuesday) is Business Day One of the workweek. So though I didn’t post on Monday, I don’t think I’m entirely in default for my weekly commitment. Thank the good lord for sweet technicalities – they’re the only thing that keeps me going. Anyway, let’s do this.

NHL LogoI logged on to ESPN this morning and was legitimately stunned that the front-page article up was about Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. I was half-expecting news about Roger Clemens’ minor league start or something about the Spurs-Jazz series. But no. There was an honest to goodness hockey article up there. There is in-depth analysis around this now-marginalized sport on one of America’s most frequented websites, and it is putting me in a very odd place, sportsmotionally.

I grew up in New Jersey, and pulled for the Devils about as hard as I pulled for the Football Giants. That is, dramatically less than the Yankees but vastly more than the Van Horn-era Nets. I went to Devils games with some regularity, despite the astonishing ticket prices. I attended the parking lot celebrations after they won their Stanley Cups. I revered Martin Brodeur as a supernatural being of nigh-unstoppable power. Back then, being an actual hockey fan was rare, but never unheard of.

Lord Stanley’s CupNowadays, it seems, the only hockey fans in Jersey are sitting in shacks in the Pine Barrens, emerging once a week to watch a game on Versus at their local moonshinery. Up here in Boston, home of one of the most storied franchises in the sport’s history, the Garden is 20% empty most nights. “It’s Called Bruins” is now a punchline. And one that I use often, by the way.

So what caused this? The simple answer (and in sports, simple answers are so rare that this is actually refreshing) is the strike/television coverage debacle. Losing a year’s worth of hockey and then throwing it onto the Outdoor Life Network (which has about 20 million less subscribers than ESPN) is not a great way to keep a fanbase. We’re dealing with the aftermath of the hockey apocalypse. And the NHL brass needs to scrape and claw to win back the support it lost. Sure, the die-hards are still there, biding their time in their Pine Barren hovels, but the casual fans have been replaced by empty bench seating.

I’m not really sure how I feel about the whole thing. I still check Devils scores, and an vaguely aware at any given point that the Bruins are in the midst of a three game points-less streak. But considering I’m a 24/7 sports fan and all I give to hockey is about 15 seconds out of my day, that doesn’t bode well for the league. On one hand, I’m enjoying my extra free time. But on the other, I feel for the kids in Minnesota and Michigan whose lives revolve around a sport that very few people care about anymore.

The old Serpico is glad that the Ducks had an amazing third period against Ottawa and the world gets to read about it. But the new Serpico could stand to see a bit more NFL off-season coverage.

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