You’re Powerless, NHL Fans.

NHL fans are justifiably upset over the possibility of another lockout, but there’s nothing they can do to prevent it, and little to avenge themselves after the fact.

Regardless of how long a potential NHL lockout lasts this time, there is absolutely nothing the fans can do. That, folks, is a fact. Ultimately, it’s up to the NHL and NHLPA to decide if there will be another “work stoppage”, and no amount of prompting on our part will speed negotiations along.

It’s the distribution of the money we’ve paid them in tickets, merchandise, broadcasting and more that’s the sticking point, and I suspect it’ll ultimately be resolved by the PA accepting yet another reduction in its share (probably down to a “50-50”) split, while the league – or rather, the big market team owners, as they’re the ones truly calling the tune here – grudgingly accepts a system of improved revenue sharing.

The players believe they’ve given back enough, the owners believe they should keep giving more, and at some point, they’re going to have to meet in the middle – or something resembling it – to get a deal done, a process which could take weeks or months to finalize.

None of that, however, matters to NHL fans. It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong, only that, just over seven years after the last lockout ended, another one potentially looms on the horizon, as these two sides still can’t agree on how to distribute our money amongst themselves.

Some bloggers and pundits have called for the fans to show their displeasure by threatening to abandon the NHL, to turn away once and for all in order to punish the league for “failing to hold up its share of the bargain”, as one editorialist put it.

I’m not comfortable with the notion of those who make their living covering the league calling upon fans to stop supporting the NHL. In fact, I believe those of us fortunate enough to make a decent living covering the NHL  – especially those who’ll continue to draw full salaries during a lockout – have no business trying to stoke a fan “revolution”.

I saw and heard these calls for “fan boycotts” during the last lockout, which killed an entire season and was worthy of justifiable outrage on the part of the fans. If ever the time was ripe for the fans to get back at the league, the years following the NHL’s nuclear winter of 2004-05 was it.

But it never happened.

Yes, attendance was down a bit at first, but over time the fan outrage faded, and they came flocking back, along with a new group of fans attracted by young stars, improvements in the quality of the game, and the NHL’s magnificent job of exploiting new media and revenue sources over that period.

Oh, sure, this time could be different. This time, the fans might really, genuinely, honestly revolt. Another lockout, some observers believe, could put the NHL on the sure path to ruin.

But I also heard those lines during the last lockout. Again, a quick look at how quickly league revenue rose since then tells you all you need to know about how accurate those prophecies of doom were, and the accuracy of those portents you’ll hear now.

The NHL knows another lockout won’t hurt its fan support. The owners know it. Commissioner Gary Bettman knows it. The league’s CBA negotiators know it. The NHLPA’s negotiators know it, and so do the players.

If both sides were truly fearful of losing fan support, there would be a new CBA in place by now, and we’d be eagerly anticipating the start of training camp next month, rather than wasting our time with labor talk.

I’m not denigrating NHL fans. Hell, I’m one of you! I’ve been an NHL fan since 1970. It was my love of hockey which put me on the long path toward covering the NHL for a living.

If I were a casual hockey fan, honestly, I wouldn’t care about an NHL lockout. I’d follow other hockey leagues or other sports until the NHL returned to action, whenever that happened.

I enjoy watching pro football, but the threat of a possible NFL work stoppage last year didn’t concern me. I’m not a fan of basketball, so the NBA lockout didn’t bother me at all.

If another players strike or lockout occurs in major league baseball, which is currently enjoying its 18th year of labor peace, it won’t trouble me. Wake me when you return to action.

But hockey’s different. I love this game, always have. I was upset over the 1992 players strike, and worried over the loss of a season in the 1994-95 lockout. That was years before I started my career as a free-lance hockey writer. The 2004-05 lockout was the lowest point for me, as a writer and a fan.

As a writer, I’m concerned about my potential loss of revenue from a lockout, but at least I’ve taken steps to mitigate the possible financial hit. I’ll still be writing about the labour strife, just as I did during the last one.

As a fan, I’ll be upset over yet another partial or full loss of another season, and will grumble and snarl privately (for the most part) over the greed and stupidity of it all.

But like most hockey fans, I won’t burn my NHL merchandise. I won’t be part of any half-hearted rallies against the lockout. I won’t cancel my subscription to NHL Center Ice or the NHL Network. And if I were a season ticket holder, I wouldn’t return them with a letter to the owner of my favorite team telling him how far to cram it up his backside.

Sure, it would certainly get the league’s attention if tens of thousands of NHL fans publicly burned its merchandise, staged angry, well-attended rallies outside NHL headquarters, cancelled TV subscriptions and season tickets. It would likely scare them silly.

But let’s be honest, it’s not gonna happen.

We’re going to take it, because the league knows we will. It is cashing in on our love of the product, but we’re the ones who keep putting up with it, and will do so again and again.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t protest. By all legal means, do so, if for nothing else, it might make you feel a little better.

For those bloggers attempting to organize some form of fan protest, I wish you the best of luck, just prepare to be disappointed when your efforts count for naught.

In the latest “labour war” between the NHL and NHLPA, the fans are helpless to do anything about it. All we can do is hope the two sides can reach agreement on a CBA without any delay to the season. Failing that, we’ll hope it’s over before Christmas, so we can at least salvage half the season, enjoy the playoffs, and put all this unpleasantness behind us…until the next time.


  1. I think the one thing you are overlooking is the growth of social media since the last lockout. Facebook and Twitter allow fans to connect and air grievances like never before.

    If flash mobs can be organized in minutes via social media, fan protests can easily be organized days in advance.
    I suspect that many fan protest groups will pop up and be heard if a lockout truly happens – and THEN we’ll see if the fans really have no voice or power.

    After all, Hundreds of fans protesting on the street outside NHL Headquarters, Calling for Bettman’s ouster and highlighting fan anger over the owner’s greed – that kind of stuff plays great in the press.
    Will it happen?
    I hope so.
    It could definitely move negotiations along if it gets to a lockout.

  2. Rob, social media won’t have any impact upon these negotiations. At all. As for calling for Bettman’s ouster, that’s pointless. He’s the representative of the owners. Fire him, and they’ll replace him with another version. Besides, there’s a reason he made $8 million last year. The owners have no intention of firing him.

    Money talks. You want to get the league’s attention? Hit ’em in the wallet. Everything else is a waste of time.

    • I respectfully disagree.
      The power of the internet has been illustrated time and time again, and if we get say, a month into a lockout, with the league still making pie-in-the-sky demands, the media will eat up fan discontent.

      Social media makes it easy for fans to organize around a common cause – and I’ve seen social media do everything from find lost children to save a bankrupt business. Rallying around the players to “Save the NHL” from Owner’s greed would play very well north of the border, and would be a great 7th minute feature on most US news broadcasts.

      I think it would be very difficult for the NHL to ignore thousands of fans making their displeasure with the raping of the game be known. The PR black eye alone would not be worth it.

      And no, of course the owners don’t want to fire Bettman – half of them are owners thanks to him and another 4 or 5 are SUBSTANTIALLY richer owners because of him.

      But unless Bettman rolls back his own Salary (that has more than doubled since last lockout), then he has already lost the PR battle for salaries. And to be sure, the fan disenchantment with owner greed as led by Bettman is the biggest weapon the players have in their bag.

      Keep the fans on their side and get them vocal enough for the press to carry it, and then Yes – Social media very well could influence these negotiations – at the very least, it could speed them up and at best, perhaps get the owners to back off from ridiculous proposals that their own fans think is killing the game.

      • Sorry, Rob, but unless the fans put something behind their actions besides empty rhetoric and threats, social media will have no impact upon the CBA talks, or upon NHL revenue going forward over the next CBA.

        Again, money talks. If thousands of fans in every NHL city were refusing to renew season tickets, cancelling their season tickets and demanding refunds, cancelling their subscriptions to NHL Center Ice & The NHL Network, and refusing en masse to purchase NHL merchandise, that would have a significant effect upon CBA talks, and would definitely assure future negotiations would go far more smoothly than they currently are.

        Making noise on social media won’t amount to squat if there’s no financial clout behind it. That’s why the NHL owners can threaten another lockout. The fans returned in droves last time, and the league attracted new fans to boot. It’ll be the same again this time. If the team owners were genuinely concerned about fan unrest, a new CBA would already be in place and we’d be looking forward to the start of training camp.

  3. i for one would not support the nhl if there is another lockout they make way way way to much money as it is and its our money, without fans there would be no nhl.
    wake up idiots stop being greedy!

  4. Once the season starts, whenever it starts, the fan’s will return. Let’s be realistic, there’s really no substitute to NHL hockey. AHL, juniors, college etc. just aren’t the same calibre and when your used to watching the best. Be assured given time we’ll return…

  5. A pox on basketball. There, I said it and I’m standing by it.

    We’re consumers, not shareholders. We have no right to direct the way the league and players do business with each other. We can either pay, or not pay. If we don’t pay, at some point someone else will.

  6. Junior hockey may not be the same calibre as the NHL, but at least they play for the love of the game and not just money. If there is another lockout, I am turning my focus more to the WHL and other junior leages.

  7. I for one have already done my share of protesting. I have yet to buy another NHL ticket or jersey since the last lockout. I will not, if I can help it, put another penny into their pockets. But by all means I will continue to watch on tv (my insignificant one household certainly won’t earn them more in ratings) and yet I continue to be able to enjoy the sport I love for free. I’ve seen enough live hockey that watching on HD makes almost no difference to how I enjoy the sport. Have fun splitting the enormous financial pie owners and players, but none of it will be my money.

  8. 1) Unfortunatly its true that fans have ZERO direct say in these talks. Any of the fan organizations are nice but pointless here. As Lyle mentioned the only time the owners wil listen is if it hits their bottom line.
    2) Sadly since fans returned after the last lockout in droves, the owners feel emboldened to lock the players out once agin thinki g the suckers(us) will come back once again. We all can belly ache and complain, but we all know 98% of us will be right back watching/buying tix once play resumes

  9. Lyle’s post sums up the situation perfectly. And Chaas is right as well. It was our money, until we give it to them, when it became their money. I’m one of those that can’t give up the NHL. It’s the best sport on the planet, played the the best players in the sport.

  10. Completely agree with Spector. Unfortunately it doesn’t matter much to them that the fans are the ones that suffer. We pay for the product but don’t get compensated for our loss. The players and the big wigs do though, must be nice to get paid while arguing about your large wages. Wish I could do that at my job :)

  11. As the name indicates, I am indeed a flyers fan. I am privileged enough to have grown up in a city that loves its hockey and supports it both emotionally and financially. That having been said the answer I am about to propose is one that is unpopular with owners of the big market teams and the league. The only way for this league to continue to survive and improve is to adopt some sort of revenue sharing system. If it does not do this, then the only other hope is for the league to contract. The players do not want this, as there will be less jobs for players. Obviously the players will need to concede something as well, but it is not entirely the fault of the players either. As a fan I would love to see the players out there trying to connect with the fans.

  12. Agree 100%!!!
    Can someone start a blog or website to start mobiling fans.
    Assuming we have 1 million fans per team, there is potential 30 million fans out there. If each fan put up one dollar, a fund of 30 million dollars could be raised to hire lawyers, advertising, organize rallies, etc…

  13. Since I started going to NHL games in the sixties, I’ve seen the fan base present at games change from a mixture of blue and white collar people and kids who were very informed about the game to mostly people who just come to be entertained, many of whom who know little about the sport. I mean, who boycotts the circus?

    However, like some of the folks above, I abstain from going to games or from buying merchandise to support millionaires. I liked it better when the boys had to drive beer trucks during the off-season because they got paid the same as the rest of us working stiffs. Don’t get me wrong, a million, maybe… but after that…..

  14. Lyle, I’m sure you remember this. When the WHA was founded, it was suppose to grow and Rival the NHL. We all know what happened to that idea. The bigger and more powerful NHL, ate them for lunch. The WHA idea was not a bad idea, except it did not have $$ backing it thought would. If it had, I’m not sure we would of had a strike in 1992, a semi-lockout in 1994-95 or a full lock-out in 2004-05.

    The problem is, that unlike other industries in our capitalist system, major sports in North america have no real direct competition. If Pepsi-cola goes on strike, other soda companies will gladly take over, Pepsi would settle quicker, as not to lose their market.

    So, I do understand, what you mean, The NHL not being worried about losing their fan base, as there is nowhere else to go, opposed to Pepsi-cola, Coca-cola, or even beer companies, they can’t afford a year lockout, like major sports. They have us by the you know what. We are there version of Paplov’s dog.