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NHL isn’t going anywhere



I recently bought Duran Duran's new album, Astronaut, and I feel ripped off. It's not very good.

I should have known better. For the past 22 years, I've been buying Duran Duran albums, hoping the music will somehow live up to the band's 1982 masterpiece, Rio. In 1986, when I was 14, I bought Notorious, and after a few songs, I was really embarrassed. The music was awful and the songs made me question my manhood. But I keep buying Duran Duran albums anyway... and I keep questioning my manhood. I guess I'm a sucker for entertainment, like so many Americans.

Since September 16, National Hockey League owners have locked out their players and prevented the season from starting in an effort to force them into accepting a salary cap. The league has already missed nearly one-eighth of its schedule and it just canceled the All-Star Game.

The work stoppage has many experts predicting the NHL's ultimate demise. They say the league is already the US' least popular major team sport --- proven by poor TV ratings --- and that the lockout will only rush it into oblivion.

But the experts exaggerate the charges. The league could lock its players out for 10 years, and there'd still be fans when play commences. The work stoppage will certainly anger people, but the NHL isn't going anywhere. Too many kids play hockey, and too many people have enjoyed hockey's past.

If the NHL throws together a well-planned, well-executed marketing campaign when play resumes, all will be well with the fans.

You only have to look at how America embraces comebacks to know there will be plenty of support for the NHL after the lockout. Generally, we love when something once popular makes a successful comeback. It validates the past, confirming that all the hours we spent devoted to the enjoyment of that entertainment weren't a useless pursuit. So we give the past countless chances to reprove itself.

Besides entertainment history is not easily forgotten. The other day, there was a Dallas reunion on TV. I thought we buried Dallas a long time ago. I even remember someone shooting J.R.

Don Henley sang in Dirty Laundry, "We all know that crap is king," and that's only partially true. We also allow ourselves to be treated like crap. The entertainment industry takes us for granted and abuses us for its financial gain, and we keep watching and sitting in the seats. Evidently, we have little else to keep us occupied.

Major League Baseball survived the 1994-'95 players' strike that canceled the World Series and shortened the 1995 season. Since 1972, baseball has endured eight work stoppages. NFL players struck twice during the regular season in the '80s. Owners locked NBA players out three times, most recently in 1998, which cut the '98-'99 regular season.

But those leagues still flourish. Owners occasionally claim poverty and are often dissatisfied with their profitability, but the teams usually increase in value every year. After a team has been sold, the ex-owner's financial windfall would seem to solve world hunger.

Daniel Snyder bought the NFL Washington Redskins for $750 million in 1999 and now the franchise is worth $1.1 billion, according to Forbes. And Ralph Wilson purchased the American Football League's Buffalo franchise for $25,000 in 1959. It's now worth $637 million. That's a pretty good return on investment.

Still, some experts predict gloom for the NHL, even though sports history suggests otherwise. When the NHL season starts, there will be reports of a few fan protests here and there, and some nasty signs in the stands ripping the players and owners for their greed. The media, of course, will speculate about the league's survival. But after a month or two, everyone will forget, and everything will be totally hunky-dory.

Basically, North America's major leagues are indestructible. They can cut seasons, cancel championships, raise ticket prices to exorbitant levels, do just about anything to their fans, and we'll keep coming back. I guess a country without major pro sports is too scary to comprehend. My God, we might even question our manhood.

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