A few days ago I logged onto the official website of the Los Angeles Kings to purchase a mini season ticket plan that a few friends and I were going to go in on.
We are longtime King's sufferers. The highlight reel of Wayne Gretzky playing for the Kings during the 1993 playoffs was wonderful, but after a while we realized we'd never really go deep in the playoffs -- yes, "we". When you are a fan of a team that never meets expectations and you continue being a fan, you then become one with the team.
After pooling the money together it was time to make a splash for some tickets. I'm a frugal fan. I buy my tickets the day of most games on Stub Hub or eBay with the idea in mind that I will be getting my seats for 75% below face value. To actually get the money together and make a commitment for a decent amount of games is a big deal for me.
The mini plan we had decided upon was selected and the "purchase tickets" button was pressed. I was greeted with a screen that said "Sorry, the mini-plan you have selected is sold-out". I repeated this process four more times until finally the only option was to select a full season plan. Of course, that is well beyond the time and financial commitment any of us are able to offer.
I bring up this experience because Los Angeles has finally become a hockey town of sorts. The fans are passionate and the game experience at Staples Center is phenomenal. This was brewing before the Kings won the Stanley Cup. If you were fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to be a Kings fan for at least the last decade then you know the swell of momentum I'm referring to with regard to the Kings fan base.
My story is echoed across the country. The fans are showing up to the arena in record numbers for many teams. In fact, only two teams (Dallas and Phoenix) averaged less than 80% capacity for their home games during the 2011-12 season. Even more impressive is that 21 of the 30 teams saw their arena filled to at least 96% capacity on average for all their home games combined.
The NHL was able to capitalize on the lockout the NBA went through. Hockey also captured the attention of sports fans who may have not otherwise given the sport a chance. Should the NHL have a lockout next month they will lose every bit of momentum they gained...even here in Los Angeles.
Hockey gives fans the feeling that the players are a group of blue-collar workers going through the daily grind to give people some entertainment. They throw their bodies around more in a calendar year than the other major sports do, and fans are drawn to the selfless attitudes each team projects night in and night out.
The sport has finally captured the attention of fans in a way they've been trying to for years. Once the entire 2004-05 season was canceled many people left hockey in the same way baseball fans left the ballparks in the mid-90's.
The NHL can't afford a lockout of any kind. Sure, fans would miss the sport, but with the NBA, NFL, and NCAA Football seasons all in full swing, hockey no longer becomes a necessity for the average fan.
OS Voice: Will the fans come back to the NHL if there is a lockout?
Joe Chacon is a staff writer for Operation Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeChacon.