NHL Lockout Thoughts: Who Is Going to Make the Fans Whole?
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The NHL lockout has entered day 60. Thanksgiving is one week away and we are again in danger of losing an entire NHL season, seven years after having already lost an entire season.
That statement in and of itself is so out-there ridiculous when you consider what exactly is at stake here.
Both sides are content to sit and play to the press, to toe the line and tell the public that it's not their fault, that the other guy is wrong.
A lot has been said about 50-50. Split all of the revenue down the middle, and let's play hockey. After all, there can't be an NHL without the teams, and there can't be an NHL without the players.
It seems like the NHL and its players' association are in the same boat, a $3.3 billion boat, and are arguing over which stateroom to call their own.
Meanwhile, the fans just want some hockey to watch, especially in times like this. I live on Long Island. This area was just ravaged by Hurricane Sandy and for the fortunate ones who still have homes, things are slowly returning to normal. For those who lost their homes, well, it's another story. They're staying with relatives, Good Samaritans, shelters and hotels while waiting for insurance money or FEMA assistance.
Think for a minute how it must feel when everything you've worked for is floating in the Atlantic Ocean, while two spoiled children are fighting over a $3.3 billion pie. Maybe if the NHL was in session, it could give those who have lost so much in this tragedy something to think about other than how they are going to recover from a disaster.
Will you spend money on hockey if they lose another season?
Another casualty of the NHL lockout is jobs. There are many people out of work right now, directly because of the NHL lockout. Arenas have cut back staff. Teams have laid off workers because, right now, the NHL is out of business.
You can take it further than that. What about the popcorn vendors, concession workers, team store employees, box office workers, security personnel and arena ushers?
Take it further than that. How about local small business owners? The bars, hotels, restaurants and shops who are doing no business thanks to the lockout?
Those people are all fans of the NHL. They may not be hockey fans, but they make all or part of their living off of the NHL. Just not while this joke of a lockout continues.
So much has been made of "make whole" provisions to make sure players get every cent of every dollar they have coming to them.
That's understandable, but who is going to make everyone else whole?
The NHL owners do not care about fans; they know they'll never want for anything. I can't feel bad for those NHL owners who basically keep franchises as toys, whose lives aren't really affected if the teams play or don't play. If the NHL folded, they would write off the loss and move on, looking for another multimillion-dollar toy to play with.
The NHLPA also does not care about the fans; most of them are millionaires many times over and have risen above the normal life of the 99 percent. They play hockey for a living. Granted, players are under intense pressure from the media and fans. But at the end of the day, they play a game for a living.
Do you think the drop in attendance and ratings prevented future stoppages in baseball after 1994?
I know not all of the NHLPA are millionaires, but a very high percentage of them are. If the NHL went out of business tomorrow, players would do as they are doing now: Go find hockey to play elsewhere.
Will their lives be affected? Sure. Will they still play a game for a living and make millions? Yes they will.
The fans of the NHL are its bread and butter. Unlike the other three major sports, the NHL does not make a tremendous amount of money from TV. They need to build the game without major TV money.
You do that by putting an entertaining product out on the ice, drawing as many people to the games as possible and building a strong fanbase. The bottom line in the NHL is: If you do not draw at- or near-capacity crowds over a season, you do not turn a profit.
Let me repeat: The fanbase is critical.
And you can't grow a game's fanbase when you shut down the league every few years to argue over more money than any fan will ever see in a lifetime.
NHL fans without a doubt are fiercely loyal (myself included). So why does the NHL and its players treat their fans so poorly? Damage is being done to the fanbase of a league that depends almost entirely on that same fanbase to spend big money at the 30 arenas in the NHL.
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After the 2004 debacle, I stopped spending my money on the NHL for a long time. Why should I? I watched games on TV, sure, rooted for the team, sure. But I was not going to spend my money on a league and players who would cancel an entire season of hockey.
Time heals all wounds, right? I came around eventually and started buying tickets, jerseys and other NHL things again. I will go on record and say this: If they lose another entire season arguing over money, I will not spend my money on the NHL again. There are other people who will go right back, but they should not.
If another season is lost, the fans of the NHL should band together and boycott this game.
Imagine this: The NHL loses another season as talks break down. There is no time to fit in even an abbreviated season.
Next summer, the NHL and NHLPA hunker down and get a deal done. They both write long, drawn-out, meaningless apologies to the fans and take out full-page ads in the newspapers to apologize for losing another season. They open their doors and finally start playing hockey.
The Rangers open at Madison Square Garden in front of 2,500 fans. The Toronto Maple Leafs face the Montreal Canadiens in front of 3,000 fans. Edmonton and Calgary open in front of 2,200 fans. The Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings open against St. Louis and raise their Stanley Cup banner in front of 2,000 fans.
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Do you think they NHL and the NHLPA would get the message?
This would be the NHL fans, the equivalent of the skinny wimpy kid, punching the bully of the NHL and NHLPA right in the nose. The message would be received much like it was received by Major League Baseball when attendance and ratings were down huge after losing the second half of the 1994 season. It took years for baseball to recover from the strike of 1994.
Granted, the NHL fanbase is not nearly as large as baseball's. That is no excuse. If the NHL loses this season, and if attendance and ratings are not down by a large margin afterwards, then we as fans are accepting this treatment by the NHL and the NHLPA and are just inviting the same in the future.
NHL fans, there have to be repercussions. There has to be payback.
If not, then we are just as bad as the NHL and the NHLPA for accepting it, and you can bet your bottom dollar that it will happen again.
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