How will we survive without NHL hockey?

Professional hockey is threatening another work stoppage because of a dispute between the wealthy owners and players of the 30 teams

Here we go again.

Professional hockey is threatening another work stoppage because of a dispute between the wealthy owners and players of the 30 teams that make up the National Hockey League. Their last lockout occurred back in 2004 when the disgruntled owners claimed they had lost $273 million in the previous season because they were paying the players 76 per cent of their revenue. The heated dispute finally resulted in the total cancellation of what would have been the 88th season of the world’s best professional hockey league.

For those of us who are fanatic sports fans it was tough for a while but somehow we survived and life went on as usual. Personally, I got off the couch and spent more quality time with my family and friends. I went down to the rink to watch some great minor hockey games, mostly for free, and I took in some exciting junior and senior hockey games around the area, where you were sitting right on top of the action with a ticket cost less than $10. With all that extra time available I also did more exercising and walking, I took on some more volunteering, and I joined a community club.

With another lockout looming, I went looking for some statistics about the current National Hockey League business profile. Did you know that in the 1990-91 season the average player’s wage was $271,000, but by the end of the 2010-2011 season that figure had zoomed all the way up to $2.4 million. Average ticket prices for National Hockey League games last season ranged from $35.66 (Dallas Stars) to $123.77 (Toronto Maple Leafs), but that of course does not include premium and box seats and the playoffs. A ballpark figure is that close to 24 million fans attended NHL games last season, and as well as the admission cash, the owners also receive revenues from television rights, souvenirs, concessions — including $6.94 for a glass of beer.

I have a tremendous respect for the spirit and skills of all professional athletes and teams, as well as the owners who give them a place to play, but I really believe that the price has gotten far too high, especially in this precarious economic atmosphere in which we now live.

In my humble opinion, most major league franchises have priced themselves far beyond just providing a great game for spectators of all ages to watch. Somewhere along the way they have managed to create a glitzy dynasty of multimillionaires, which likely now those owners and even some of the host cities obviously can’t afford anymore.

Many of my fondest memories, like yours I’m sure, came from hitching a ride downtown and taking in those thrilling Ponoka Stampeders games for $1 admission, and those amazing 25-cent hamburgers and hot dogs.

On another magic winter night our dad piled the whole family into the Fort Mustang and treated us to an Edmonton Oilers game.

If there is another lockout it is the loyal fans I really feel sorry for because many of us can’t afford to go to these pro games anymore and now will likely be denied the great opportunity of relaxing and enjoying the games in the comfort of our living rooms. Among the many others who will also really suffer from a strike are the referees, the officials and the countless men and women who make their living by working at the rinks or serving the teams for 2,460 games each season, not including the exhibition and playoff schedules.

Most of us have proudly been involved for countless decades in many areas of our great Canadian game of hockey, beginning with the grassroots of our communities where all of our hockey and many other sports and recreation programs started. We must never forget the hundreds of volunteers who have and always will give freely of their time to help coach, sponsor, organize and promote any number of year-round sporting activities and teams. Their goal, with the support of avid parents and fans, has always been to give thousands of participants of all ages the opportunity to have fun playing a game of their own choice, at their level of competition.

Wouldn’t it be a shame if the exciting lustre of good sportsmanship and participation became tarnished because of too much greed and power in the board rooms of the elite? All successful athletes at both the professional and amateur levels need to realize that they are being idolized by millions of fans, young and old, and the example that they should be setting should not always have to come with a price tag.

Please drive carefully because the kids (our future) are back in school, and also, make sure that you have a great week, all of you.

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