National Hockey League players have officially been locked out and commissioner Gary Bettman would have his adoring public believe a lot of things, including, in no particular order:
1. Hockey in Phoenix and in the Sun Belt really can work, but first we need to further alienate each franchise’s few remaining fans.
2. The last lockout in 2004-05 was so crucially necessary to fix the game’s problems that we need to do it all over again to fix some more.
3. Evidently, logic, just like that pesky Players’ Association, cannot be trusted.
4. The NHLPA is being about as realistic in its negotiations as a Michael Bay film (forget the Transformers themselves; Shia LaBeouf getting Megan Fox and then that other girl to fall for him? C’mon now).
5. My personal favorite: the NHL has the greatest fans in the world, as if those greatest fans in the whole, entire world don’t see the slime oozing from his mouth as he utters that stock phrase.
The bottom line is this: The NHL is a business. The players are its employees, the fans are its clients and, regardless of whether or not the game is broken and needs to be fixed, the NHL is taking its clients for granted for the second time in eight years.
It’s actually probably more often if you take into account ticket prices, which went up from an average of $43.13 the year following the last lockout to $57.10 last year (via statista.com). Care to guess which teams have the absolute highest? One clue: They’re all Canadian (this is the part where you’re all left in shock and awe; I’ll give you a second to collect your thoughts).
The Montreal Canadiens are actually second with an average of $86.44 (Toronto Maple Leafs, $115.96; via The Globe and Mail). That means, with an arena capacity of 21,273, Montreal, which pretty much only wouldn’t sell out if cybernetic, space-alien dinosaurs invaded, makes $1.84 million in ticket sales alone at each home game.
Compare that to, say, the Columbus Blue Jackets—who sold tickets at $47.95 on average in 2011 (via BlueJacketsXtra) and made approximately $702,947 each home game—and, superficially speaking, it’s becoming clear Montreal owner Geoff Molson has relatively a lot to lose this coming lockout, but that’s only half the story.
ESPN The Magazine’s recent Ultimate Standings 2012 placed Montreal 111th on a list of all 122 pro North American franchises (via ESPN; Columbus placed 116th).
These standings take into account a wide range of factors including affordability, stadium experience and bang for the buck. Evidently, after placing 68th last year, finishing third to last in your league doesn’t endear yourself all that much to the fine people at ESPN.
However, Montreal’s on-ice performance is irrelevant in terms of fan loyalty. In economic terms, it’s inelastic (of course, no games taking place kind of changes things).
No matter what happens, no matter how badly the team sucks wet concrete through a thin straw or much more it blows than a blue whale coming up for air, the fans will come back. But that’s only in Canada.
See the earlier comment about cybernetic, space-alien dinosaurs invading for more of an idea as to just what it will take to keep Habs fans from showing up, and even in that unlikely event they’ll still really want to go to a game but won’t out of fear of being zapped or eaten or whatever cybernetic, space-alien dinosaurs do.
As such, based on the ESPN rankings, Montreal’s value as a franchise is very much predicated on the perspective of the outside world and that perspective is based on the Habs’ on-ice performance. That’s why a lockout, especially one that doesn’t take up the entire season will be beneficial to the Habs.
The shorter the schedule, the more chance Montreal has to succeed. And if Montreal somehow is able to overcome the odds and become a winner, all of a sudden they’re once again one of the best sports franchises in the world, right up there with the New York Yankees and Manchester United (New York has 27 championships, Montreal has 24).
The Canadiens are already profitable. Winning will make them more so. And clearly that’s what matters most to the Molsons, right? I mean it’s not like they have a family mom-and-pop outfit on which to fall back, right?
The Molsons were successful before the Habs came along, and they’ll continue to be during this lockout, however long it lasts. They can lose a season here and there and not, for lack of a better term, care. Because, haven’t you heard? Montreal has the greatest hockey fans in the world. You just can’t buy the kind of loyalty (but you can profit from it).
The question isn’t how the Habs and all the other Canadian teams will fare following this lockout. It’s how the game south of the border will be able to recover. It’s how will a team be able to stay in Phoenix with even fewer fans showing up?
So all that Bettman has to say, take it with a grain of salt, each and every line. He may be cutting off the league’s nose to save its face at this point in time, but he is the league’s face, isn’t he? And his poor attempts at lip service? They’re just pissing everyone off.
A lockout may be necessary, at least to save the teams you, Mr. Bettman, helped to bring into the league, but don’t talk to us like we understand why a bunch of multi-millionaires can’t work out how much more millions of our dollars each side will make in the future. It’s insulting.