Are NHL fans really cheering the lockout is over?
NHL fans are a different breed. They really are. They are immensely loyal, intelligent, and passionate about the game. They understand even the most subtle nuances of the game and they love the speed, skill, and physicality of their sport. Their passion makes them boisterous to the point of almost being combative, and they often do not hesitate to aire their disdain for poor play or paltry efforts. I do not believe any other kind of fan is as fanatic as hockey fans are; I really don't. I consider myself a football fan of both college and NFL levels, I've spent plenty of time in the stands of the NBA and MLB over the years and not one of them can hold a candle to NHL fans. I am not saying NFL, MLB and NBA fans don't care about their teams; of course they do but I've met lots and lots of fans of those sports that don't fully understand what they're watching the same way most NHL fans do. So with the news of the end of the NHL's Lockout with play resuming somewhere between January 15th and the 20th, but will fans return to support the league and the players that put fans through 113 days without NHL hockey and caused the elimination of 625 games so far? I think that is the ultimate question right now; far more so than which NHL team is primed to win the Stanley Cup in a 50-game or 48-game season. As a lifelong hockey fan, I find myself really torn with this news. Part of me is glad the lockout is over so I can watch NHL hockey again, but the other part of me feels if I do so then I'm giving the league and the players exactly what they were counting on. An undying loyalty that will not hold them accountable for disrespecting its fans, and the communities and local businesses they've hurt by not playing. Like many NHL fans, I've felt as though I've been taken for granted, as well as being used and abused by the lockout. Now is the best time for the fans to act, what should I do?
Campaigns like Just Drop It really do resonate with me. I agree entirely with what this group stands for and I've encouraged fans to participate in the campaign. For those of you who are not familiar with the campaign this is a group of NHL fans who have vowed to boycott spending any money (tickets, merchandise, watching them on TV) for as long as the lockout lasted after December 21st. So how many of these fans are going to follow through with the pledge? As of right now, fans who are participating in the campaign have committed to not watch or spend any money on the league for a duration of 10 games. It may not seem like a lot but in a 50-game season that's effectively 20% of the season. Will it be enough for the owners and players to take NHL fans more seriously?
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Will NHL arenas look like this when play resumes?
We (as fans) can only hope so. However what damage has already been done? Many millions lost in potential revenues are the numbers players and owners might be most concerned about right now; which compelled both sides to make an agreement but could that possibly pale in comparison to the apathy they created within its fanbase. The NHL is a league driven by gate receipts; butts in the seats. So if you see dwindling attendance you see teams really hurting financially. Will we see a true backlash this time? In 2005, there was no backlash at all as fans returned to arenas in droves, happy that NHL hockey was back. The fan sentiment during that lockout was much different. It was a fanbase that for the most part sided with ownership and did not feel as though their fanaticism for the game was being exploited. This time the feeling is anger and resentment with equal amounts of disgust over the behavior of both sides. However I think the true level of damage the league and the NHLPA have done remains to be seen. Major League Baseball took many years to recover from its lost season, and if the fans really do let their disdain be known by not buying tickets and merchandise the effects could be pretty long lasting.
I know for myself I'm particuarly torn. Part of me understands people read my blog because I'm covering the team but part of me feels as though I need to do my part and let the league and players know we (fans) should not be taken for granted. I really have fought over this decision a lot. However I think a statement is necessary so I am going to withdraw from the first 10 games of the season when it resumes. I am not saying you have to join me or that I'd be angry if you chose not to boycott. However I'd ask you consider the message that is sent by just returning to the arena as if though nothing happened. What does that tell ownership and players? What message would you send by not showing up? The State of Hockey News is still going to do its job. My partner in crime Theresa Ferries will carry on the duties of covering the games.
Recently I was interviewed by Minnesota Public Radio's Rupa Shenoy asking me for a fans perspective on the conclusion of the NHL Lockout. I hope that I spoke well for hockey fans out there as we all come to grips with what happens next.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman
One of the questions she asked was a statement from St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman who asked hockey fans not to boycott because of how it would continue to hurt local businesses who really were the collateral damage of the labor dispute. I'll admit it I haven't given it much thought until that moment when Ms. Shenoy asked me the question, but to fans who still want to hold the league accountable but don't want those local businesses to be hurt (i.e. nearby bars and eating establishments near the arena that are hangouts for the fans) I'd recommend those fans go to those places to watch the games themselves instead of spending the money to buy tickets. Spend your ticket money on the meals (and you'll still probably save a few bucks in the process) but do not give owners and players the satisfaction of your attendance. Now if going to the game is something you feel compelled to do I'd like to suggest one other alternative that makes a statement even if you are in fact spending money back on NHL tickets, merchandise, concessions, etc.
I'd like to call it the No Cheer Campaign. In many ways it is a mild alternative to the Just Drop It campaign. If you feel that you have to return to the NHL; whether its because you really miss NHL hockey or you don't want to further hurt the businesses and workers at NHL arenas my suggestion is that when you go there you don't cheer when goals are scored. I know that is counter-intuitive to being a fan of any sport, but if you're a Wild fan and Zach Parise scores just stay silent. Don't stand up. Don't clap, don't high give a high five to the people next to you, just do nothing at all. A moment of silence if you will. Letting the players and the owners know the lockout was unacceptable. Let's face it, the moments a goal is scored where teams make their commercials from; where they try to 'sell' the excitement of going to a game by showing a goal being scored and fans exaltation of that moment. But as a fan you can take that away from them. You can deprive the teams and players of that appreciation for the selfish way they squabbled over your hard-earned money. Don't give them that moment, that last 'payoff' they enjoy from fans that they in turn use to promote themselves. Take that away from them. So please, if you are willing sign my No Cheer Campaign pledge in the comment box at the end of this article. Where you as fans pledge not to cheer for goals scored for the amount of games the Just Drop It campaign is currently planning on boycotting which is 10 games. I know it would be tough to hold back. However what is the cost of doing nothing at all? I think its too high. We've been ignored for too long.
The other story that is often ignored and will also be tough to calculate is how many fans the labor struggles have turned away for good. NHL Player Agent Allan Walsh seemed to take particular joy on Twitter re-tweeting frustrating fans blaming the NHL for the lockout and saying how now they're going to watch football instead even when it was over. I honestly thought Walsh's tactic was disgusting because fans jilted that badly not only hurt the league but the players too since they're all sharing from the same revenue pie. I responded to Mr. Walsh's antagonistic tweets and they soon stopped. I am not going to take credit for that; but perhaps someone realized that both the players and the owners truly lose if a fan decides to completely turn their back on the game of hockey.
So is it too little, too late for the league? Has the league irreparably damaged itself with the fans. How long will it take for it to mend that damage? Over the next two weeks it takes from the signing of this new CBA to the resumption of play NHL fans have a lot of tough personal choices to make. Do fans choose to lockout the NHL or don't they. I think we'll find out soon enough.