NHL lockout gives Monarchs an attendance boost
While it's been a source of major frustration for fans, the National Hockey League lockout has had one positive ripple effect for New Hampshire's only minor league hockey team — increased attendance.
"We're up quite significantly (in attendance), about 10 percent in the first nine games," said Darren Abbott, president of the Manchester Monarchs, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings.
NHL owners imposed the lockout on Sept. 15, when a collective bargaining agreement with the NHL Players' Association expired. Despite ongoing negotiations between the two sides, two months have gone by without a resolution, potentially jeopardizing the entire season.
While the lockout has played a part in the increased attendance, Abbott said there are other factors also at play. For starters, the Kings are coming off a championship year, breaking a 45-year dry streak to win the Stanley Cup last season.
On top of that, four NHL players from the winning championship team — Dwight King, Andrei Loktionov, Slava Voynov, and Jordan Nolan — have returned to the Verizon Wireless Arena to play for the Monarchs this season because of the lockout — "and that's been exciting, especially for our real hardcore fans," said Abbott.
To keep that win top of mind for fans, the Kings brought the Stanley Cup to Manchester in mid-September — which drew a crowd of more than 2,000 people, said Abbott.
Plus, there's still lingering momentum from the Boston Bruins' championship win in 2011. Two of the Monarchs' early games were against the Providence Bruins, which are always popular events and may have also played a factor in the increased attendance seen so far in the season, he said.
The team witnessed a similar phenomenon in 2004, when the NHL lockout lasted the entire season.
"The Monarchs were early in their existence then, but they had a really good year that year," said Abbott.
Abbott added that while the lockout may help the team from a business perspective, it will hurt it from a hockey perspective.
"We're going to see a little bit of a bump because hockey fans are hockey fans, but I wouldn't say it is a game-changer, and long term, we want the NHL to get back in (session) because it's good for the game."