Players and owners are expected to meet this morning to try and bring an end to the 66-day-old National Hockey League lockout. If they don’t work things out and there’s no season, it would be another setback for a sport that’s still feeling the impact of a canceled season eight years ago.
One place where the lockout is being felt particularly strongly? Los Angeles, the home of the Kings, last year’s Stanley Cup winners. And nothing brings out fans (and their wallets) quite like winning.
Chris Tsangaris knows this. For eight years, he and his brother have owned the hockey-themed Redondo Beach Café in Southern California, where signed Kings jerseys and posters cover the walls. During the regular season, Chris says they got 20, maybe 30 people in. But that all changed during the playoffs.
“We’ve got a capacity of about 170, and we were packing it in, easily,” Tsangaris said. “On the big days — the cup run — we were literally turning people away, unfortunately.”
That hockey fervor was pretty new to LA. For years, there’s been little love leftover in this town for the Kings.
“Los Angeles fans generally like great teams such as the Lakers,” says Courtney Brunious, assistant director of the Sports Business Institute at USC. “They get behind the Dodgers, you know, when they’re really good. The Kings haven’t had that history of being that really great team.”
But now they are that really great team, and this post-championship season was supposed to build their fan base.
That’s important when you consider that last season, the NHL took in a record $3 billion. There’s a lot of money for established franchises. Unfortunately for the Kings, the lockout’s already kept them from capitalizing on their win.
“Everybody having the excitement about seeing the Stanley Cup again — all of that leading up into the season was washed out by the lockout,” Brunious adds.
Back at the Redondo Beach Café, Chris is confident that fans will be there if and when the season starts. He talks about a dynasty.
“I can’t wait for them to drop the puck again. I can’t wait to be a part of it, to watch them move forward, because it’s pretty special.”
It’ll also mean getting more fans into the restaurant. Right now most of the seats are empty.