Why the only sure loser in an another NHL Lockout is the fans…

NHL Fans, Lockout
School has started again and it does not take very long for the school drama to return to the forefront.  Whether its the fleeting high school relationships or other foolish friend misunderstandings the students bring that baggage into the classroom.  If it isn’t their own drama, they are consumed by their friends’ soap operas become the fodder for speculation and rumors.  Its a lot of ‘he said’, ‘she said’ and the silly bickering over minor details can be nauseating.  The truth of course is somewhere in the middle, but no one will give an inch.  Friendships may be torn apart over a few petty issues, but don’t tell those kids that because they’ll think you’re picking sides and they’ll resent you for it.  The best thing one can do is to try to steer clear of it.  Funny, that sort of ‘he said,’ ‘she said’ drama is eerily similar to the ongoing negotiations between the NHL and the NHLPA.  Both sides seem to be through trying to ‘talk’ and are basically at a point where they’re making public statements about “well, all they have to do is call” which in relationship language is saying.  We don’t really have anything to say anymore, but if you want to give in to all of our demands just call.  I don’t really think you can quantify that as a dialogue.  

Bettman / Fehr 

A little over a week ago, I wrote an article about who the fans should root for in the CBA negotiations.  I more or less left it open to the reader’s interpretation as to which side they should support.  In retrospect, perhaps I shouldn’tve advocated fans to pick either side.  Because the way it looks to me, the only side sure to get screwed over is the fans themselves.  We buy the tickets, the merchandise.  We purchase satellite TV packages to guarantee we can see each every game.  But do the owners and NHLPA really care about the very group that gives them the opportunity to make billions of dollars? 

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For the players, its much like the classic scene from the cult classic film Slap Shot.  Johnny Upton, a player sick of being forced to participate in strange promotions in an effort to thrwart flagging ticket sales decides to rebel and turn the promotion into a disaster.  Without question, if a player were to do something like this today he would be fired and likely not hired by another NHL team ever again.  Teams are more often very quick to rid themselves of players who they feel will provide bad press with their antics.  Does Sean Avery ring a bell?  He was able to get a few chances after some of the foolish things he said off the ice, but as his on-ice contributions began to slide the patience teams showed in dealing with him diminished and eventually evaporated altogether.  With no takers for Avery’s ‘sloppy seconds’ of a hockey career he really had no other choice other than to retire. 

However, are NHL players really being pushed out to the public in various events that are tantamount to a human petting zoo where instead of feeding animals some dried corn in exchange for some up close and personal times with the livestock the players are compelled to give out hundreds or even thousands of autographs and pose for a countless number of pictures with complete strangers.  Or is promotion to the benefit of the player themselves and the teams simply provide opportunities for the players to enhance or diversify their own wealth.  Not to pick on Wild fan favorite Cal Clutterbuck, but hasn’t he padded his bottom line a bit more by appearing in those Trane Heating commercials that are shown over and over again during Wild games?  Does this really help fans at all?  Is anyone really that naive to believe that Cal Clutterbuck or any player that endorses a product is really looking out for fans?  I doubt it. 

Where do fans come into this equation?  Does it come from the ownership?  Again, another scene from Slap Shot comes to mind.  The scene is of Ned Braden playing a game of poker with his teammates during a road trip.  The stakes of this poker game were exceedingly high as goaltender Denis Lemieux handed over his contract during one of the hands.  Braden commented, “Don’t worry (towards Denis Lemieux) I’ll pro-rate your losses!”  Head Coach / Player Reggie Dunlop chimed in with a level of condemnation, “You would!”  Braden continued, “That’s the plan, I want all of your contracts, that way I’ll own the team and I’ll run it my way!”  Is that really what NHL players want?  Currently, they collect 57% of the league’s $3.3 billion in revenues.  So do the players really deserve to be collecting the lion’s share of the money and should they have that level of control over the league?  This photo shopped cover of Electronic Arts‘ NHL ’13 for XBox360 I think hits the nail right on the head. 

NHL '13

Will NHL ’13 replace the hockey portion of their game for a high stakes round of poker between the NHL, NHLPA and the fans?  Doubtful, even if it may sort of depict the situation to a degree.  Yet if revenues are as gate driven as fans have been told, then it would be interesting to see if we (as fans) decided to just step out of the game altogether.  That doesn’t mean reject hockey, but more rather perhaps its time the fans started flexing its own financial muscle.  If the league is as dependent on our fan dollars keeping them going, then maybe its time we (collectively) held back those funds until they solve the problems. 

Columbus Blue Jackets fans protest  Should fans protest the NHL & NHLPA negotiations?

Afterall, we’re essentially a stakeholder just as much as league ownership and the players are.  I think fans want what is best for the game.  What is being forgot is that much of the money the two sides are squabbling over is from the fans.  Most of us, do not make millions or billions.  We love the game of hockey.  Minnesota fans have plenty of hockey outlets outside of the NHL as do many other places that have NHL teams. 

Last time this happened, the NHL didn’t get much of a lesson from its fans who returned in greater numbers than ever before after the lockout.  Maybe the owners and players took the fans for granted.  In 6 NHL markets, the team did not even offer those fans who returned a discount of any kind.  So much for gratitude for loyalty huh?  One of those 6 markets that didn’t offer their fans any kind of discount coming out of the lockout was the Minnesota Wild (Toronto, NY Rangers, Philadelphia were a few of the other 6 clubs that offered no discount).  Perhaps its time the fans make it hurt.  Without a lasting consequence why would they change what they do. 

Maybe its time for the fans to start exercising its muscle, by withholding the precious fan dollars either side can ill-afford to lose.  The NHLPA wants revenue sharing to help struggling markets?  I don’t have a problem with that, I just hope both sides remember where most of those revenues are coming from and treat it with respect.

And just like the 2004-05 lockout had a soundtrack of sorts, the potential lockout of 2012-13 may have one as well.  From ScaryPete.com, you once again can enjoy the “Shut the Puck Up” song in all its glory. 

http://www.scarypete.com/Scary_Audio.html

There really isn’t a better anthem around when it comes to the plight of the fans as well as the little people in professional sports, such as the concessions workers, box office staff, and the people with businesses in the area of an arena who depend on fans to help their bottom line.  So while the players and owners grumble over millions in revenue, there are people where much smaller amounts of money are much more critical to their household budgets.  But hey, this argument isn’t about us, right?  Gary?  Donald?  Anyone?

 

Jack Jablonski & Jenna Privette 

About Derek Felska

I am a lifelong hockey fan from Minnesota who loves and appreciates the game at all levels. I have been blogging about the Minnesota Wild since 2005. I cover just about every aspect of the organization from the team itself, its coaches, its management, its broadcast as well as its AHL affiliate the Iowa Wild and the club's pool of prospects. In addition to the NHL I occasionally time time to cover college and high school hockey as well. We are the State of Hockey and I want to make this blog informative and objective from the eyes of a fan. I am a fan of the Minnesota Wild, but I am no homer. I hope what you read reflects this approach!

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