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.