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Kukla's Korner Hockey

A Different Feel This Time

When the last NHL lockout came about in 2004, I knew the game needed fixing and in some cases a major fixing.  Even though I backed the players I understood the NHL's points and learned to live with them.

This time around, I can't grasp what the NHL is trying to sell to the NHLPA. Tweak something here, agree on certain numbers and guess what, we have a puck drop as scheduled.

The NHL believes the fans will come back but I am doubting that more and more each day.  Like me, other fans knew the NHL needed major changes back in 2004 and this time around, fans can't understand the hard-line the NHL is taking.

When talking to the casual NHL fan it is almost embarrassing telling them the NHL is about to lockout the players, and yes, most casual fans don't realize the hammer is about to be dropped.

Will I still be a die-hard fan, of course I will but I will look at the NHL and the owners in a different way.  Instead of thinking they have the fans on their mind while going through this process, I will now think of the as only having dollar signs on the minds.

That feeling will never change unless the puck drops on the regular season as scheduled.

Filed in: NHL Talk, | KK Hockey | Permalink
 

Comments

Red Winger's avatar

I believe what we are seeing is a complete makeover of the NHL. It will not be the league we all knew once the dust settles, whenever that is.

The owners are daring the players to pursue a career in the KHL or elsewhere. If you want to play in tomorrow’s NHL, it will be by the owners’ terms, period.

Posted by Red Winger from Sault Ste Marie on 09/14/12 at 08:32 AM ET

Nathan's avatar

Paul, I’m wondering if you feel the same way I do.

I feel weird about the situation because I am undoubtedly behind the players, but at the same time, I have always been more of a “Red Wings fan” than an “NHL fan.” This puts me in an odd position because while I was willing to give the Ilitch family a pass in ‘04, I don’t see how they can be given one again. At this stage, either you’re part of the problem or you’re part of the solution.

So I want to always be a die-hard “Red Wings fan” no matter what, but it is hard… certainly, as Wings fans, we owe a lot to Mr. I, but at this point, I think we’d be naive to think he doesn’t deserve a share of blame for this situation.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 09/14/12 at 09:13 AM ET

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Do people feel as strongly about the 2005 lockout now as they did at the time?  Of course not.

Will people still feel as strongly about the 2012 lockout in 2019 as they do now?  Of course not.

Are NBA fans still as exercised over their lockout?  Of course not.  MLB?  Of course not.  The NFL?  Of course not.

Time heals all wounds, especially in sports..

All of that aside, the owners are clearly trying to take money from the players, and they are pretty much guaranteed to be able to do so.  The only questions are how much and how long will it take for the owners to win.

Bettman and owners may or may not care what kind of short term damage they are doing to the NHL, but their stridency belies a shift in their overall strategy with regards to the league, IMO.

If in the past 5-10 years Bettman’s strategy of expansion had paid off dividends in the form of vastly increased popularity and exposure (which would result in increased TV deals and other revenue streams), they wouldn’t be clawing the players throats out for HRR now.

45ish% of a huge pie is better than 52ish% percent of a smaller pie.

In the absence of that success, however, all the league has left is whatever pittance they get from small TV deals and fighting over the carcass of gate revenue.

So the NHL and NHLPA each put one hand around each others throats, one hand around the throat of the fans and they both squeeze as hard as they can, hoping the other guy is the one that passes out first… and that they do so before the fans do.

As far as blaming any one owners or another for the situation… I don’t agree.  There’s really very little any one owner can do to change the course of this particular river.  Any public criticism would result in millions in fines and nothing else.

And, really, let’s be honest here for a minute.  The Wings made 100’s of millions of dollars from the cost savings brought on by the last lockout, and they stand to make nearly as much from a big shift in HRR after this one.  It would take a really, really big pair to spit in the face of a nine figure payday.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 09/14/12 at 09:35 AM ET

Nathan's avatar

I’m not blaming one owner. My point is that by going along with the gang, you’ve chosen to be a part of the problem instead of solution.

Now to be fair, publicly the owners are standing united, and so it may only appear that they are all part of this issue. Behind closed doors, there may be a lot more real talk about meeting in the middle and increasing revenue sharing, for example. But we aren’t privy to that, so what else can we think?

The NHL has had three of these things (unless there’s an 11th hour solution) since the mid-‘90s. That’s one big difference between the NHL and the other leagues. Not to mention, those other three sports have almost always been vastly more popular on a national scale than the NHL, which makes it easier for them to sustain some fan anger. And in the case of baseball, it took time, but fans came back, and unlike us NHL fans, MLB fans have been rewarded with an incredibly prosperous and peaceful labor situation and a steadily growing game where even without a cap, the “have-nots” have been able to field some good teams.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 09/14/12 at 09:48 AM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

So the NHL and NHLPA each put one hand around each others throats, one hand around the throat of the fans and they both squeeze as hard as they can, hoping the other guy is the one that passes out first… and that they do so before the fans do.

I like this metaphor because it places one hand on the throat of the owners, one on the throat of the players, and two on the throat of the fans.

Maybe we WILL pass out first.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 09/14/12 at 09:58 AM ET

Paul From Cali's avatar

Those of us die hard hockey fans will always watch, no matter how angry we get at the league.  Yes, if they do lock out we’ll all be pissed and we’ll all scream about how stupid it is and we’ll all vow never to spend another penny on NHL hockey.  And when the puck finally drops we’ll all be in our arenas or glued to our TVs.  The NHL and the NHLPA know this, which is why they aren’t worried.

As for the “casual fan”, I’m not even sure there is such a thing.  Yes, there’s that group of people who only tune in when it’s playoff time and couldn’t even tell you where the Blue Jackets or Blues play or if there’s even a difference.  But in their own way they’re still hockey fans or they wouldn’t watch.  “Casual fans” are people who turn on a game and don’t even know what sport they are watching.  Anyone who does that with an NHL game instantly gets hooked and starts watching, even if it’s just enough to learn about the game, thereby becoming a hockey fan.

And besides, even if there are “casual fans”, the NHL and the NHLPA doesn’t and shouldn’t care about them, and neither should we.  Their dollars aren’t the dollars that support this sport.  It’s our money that does.

As for the reasons and motivations behind this lockout, I’m not on either side.  I can’t believe that the owners are taking such a hard line stance considering how successful they’ve claimed the league has been since the ‘04 lockout.  But I also can’t side with the players who are getting 57% of the pie.  Their stubbornness to stick to their guns shows that the owners aren’t the only ones with $$$$ in their eyes.  Then I consider the two leaders of these entities.  The only thing I fear more then Gary Bettman is Donald Fehr.

Bottom line:  We’ll all complain, and we’ll all come back when the sport does.

Posted by Paul From Cali on 09/14/12 at 09:59 AM ET

Avatar

MLB fans have been rewarded with an incredibly prosperous and peaceful labor situation and a steadily growing game where even without a cap, the “have-nots” have been able to field some good teams.

MLB fans are also rewarded with the worst on field product and teams that go decades without being able to compete. God help us from that misery.

Posted by timbits on 09/14/12 at 10:00 AM ET

Paul From Cali's avatar

BTW I still have some sort of weird feeling that this will get settled at the 11:59th hour and a lockout will somehow be avoided.  No idea why I feel that way but I do….

Posted by Paul From Cali on 09/14/12 at 10:01 AM ET

DocF's avatar

The NHL owners should be made to pay for this wrong-headed move.  The sole reason there will be a lockout this year is because Bettman and Daly screwed up the expiring agreement.

My suggestion to all fans:  Do not boycott the first game when/if this is ever settled.  Boycott at least the first dozen games.  Do not buy tickets.  Do not watch/listen to broadcasts.  Do not buy souvenirs.  Do not even read the box scores.  This will bankrupt the weakest teams (read Phoenix and New Jersey) and hurt even the most financially secure.

Make it hurt to be stupid.

Doc

Posted by DocF from Now: Lynn Haven, FL; was Reidsville, NC on 09/14/12 at 10:07 AM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Posted by Paul From Cali on 09/14/12 at 10:59 AM ET

I’m not sure I agree with your definition of a casual fan or with your claim about how important they are.  Your definitions kind of only leave room for a fan or non-fan break and that all money comes from people who are at the maximum-possible level of involvement.

I am a die-hard hockey fan.  I can’t bring myself to sign a boycott petition because I don’t know if I’m going to boycott. The league knows they have quite a few fans like me who are very likely to come back unless something drastic happens.  They can probably turn a buck based solely on those numbers.

However, I’m a casual tennis fan. I won’t watch the sport just because it’s on TV, but they’ll grab a few bucks in advertising dollars when it’s a matchup that interests me. If it’s a game close enough to me, I might go just for the fun, but I do so as an observer.

There may be fewer of my dollars in play than those of a hard-core fan, but all of those dollars are worth the same amount.  If professional tennis ceases to exist, then I’m not going to go railing against the reason (and helping to keep the sport in part of at least a local if not national conversation).  They’re simply going to lose my dollars.

Besides, you CAN grow new hard-core fans as those you already have do that thing that nature intended them to do (build nacho fountains), but new hardcore fans don’t turn from a disinterested observer into somebody willing to pay for your $180 annual coverage package over the course of one night. It’s a process from turning a casual fan into a hard-core and they risk stunting the growth or killing the process altogether.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 09/14/12 at 10:21 AM ET

VooX's avatar

I’m enjoying your recent articles which are your own thoughts on the game.  Keep it up and thanks for the hard work.

Posted by VooX from Behind the Bar in the Hasek Club Car on 09/14/12 at 10:34 AM ET

Evilpens's avatar

well Multi Millionaires/Billionaires fighting with Millionaires with the Economy in the shitter & the Religion of PEACE exploding in the Mid East. Both sides won’t get much sympathy

Posted by Evilpens on 09/14/12 at 10:34 AM ET

awould's avatar

they risk stunting the growth or killing the process altogether.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 09/14/12 at 11:21 AM ET

This is my thoughts exactly. The fans Bettman talks about are die-hards like us. But the tv deal and all their excitement over the growth of the revenue and the potential of “non-traditional” markets is hinged on growing the fanbase. The process of growing a new fan is basically this.

A) I am a non-fan, but I became an interested observer who tuned in to watch the WCF because the Coyotes were in it.
B) I will watch the playoffs if Phoenix makes it. I may even follow the progress in the news in anticipation.
C) I bought a couple single regular season game tickets, maybe on a whim.
D) I check the schedule and plan to buy a few more tix next season and go out of my way to watch their televised games.
E) I buy a mini-pack of tix and Center Ice
F) I fu**ing love hockey.

So it takes more than a couple of years to make a real fan. A lockout will cause them to lose every person who has not made it past point C. Which is a lot of people. They will lose a lot of D and E as well. The only ones they probably won’t lose in any meaningful way are us idiots who qualify as F.

HOWEVER, I intend to cancel my Center Ice the moment the lockout is really real for reals, and probably will not renew for a few years. Partially because I have a toddler at home and a new baby due any day so I anticipate less time for watching games, but the thing that motivates me to do it is the crassness of the owners in this process. They literally do not care about the fans. At all. So while I will follow the Wings and watch some of the national games, and probably all of the playoffs, I won’t be buying Center Ice, game tix or merchandise. And since I usually watch the games on DVR, their ad dollars are wasted as well.

Go Wings :(

Posted by awould on 09/14/12 at 10:56 AM ET

Vladimir16's avatar

Those of us die hard hockey fans will always watch, no matter how angry we get at the league.  Yes, if they do lock out we’ll all be pissed and we’ll all scream about how stupid it is and we’ll all vow never to spend another penny on NHL hockey.  And when the puck finally drops we’ll all be in our arenas or glued to our TVs.  The NHL and the NHLPA know this, which is why they aren’t worried.

Posted by Paul From Cali on 09/14/12 at 10:59 AM ET

To some degree this is correct. But, I’m hearing a lot more people who will remain die hard hockey fans, myself and many of my friends included, BUT our shift is gonna be from the NHL to the AHL and CCHA. Are we in the minority? Probably but we are stubborn SOB’s and could stand to save some money by not watching 2-10 games live, buying gear every year and having to watch every damn game on tv. I really think a lot of “fans” and the NHL either don’t realize this or aren’t taking us seriously.
If they don’t realize this they are ignorant. If they aren’t taking us seriously they are arrogant. Either way FUCH THEM!

Posted by Vladimir16 from Grand River Valley on 09/14/12 at 10:57 AM ET

Avatar

The casual fan is a tough nut to crack. I don’t think the lockout really affects the casual fan much at all since they aren’t waiting for the season to start and the NHL is just a matter of convenience. If it is on and available, they’ll watch, but don’t miss it too much if it isn’t around. Having your games on a national broadcast means it is easier for the casual fan to find you.

What I find problematic for the league is that dire hard fans do not happen over night either. You need that infusion of casual fans to become the dire hards that this gate driven league requires. So a casual fan isn’t going to boycott, they will be indifferent, if something exciting happens they may take a look. If you take too many long breaks, there is just less of a chance anyone notices when you are playing and few fans are willing to invest in a product whose availability is intermittent at best.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 09/14/12 at 10:58 AM ET

Matt Fry's avatar

When I hear a player take their salary loss from 3 mill a year to 2 mill a year and compare it to a fan going from 60 thousand to 40 thousand a year, that turns me off from the players perspective.  It’s not even close.  The way I see it, some of the players are selfish brats who whine about not getting enough money.  Well, learn to live within your means and you won’t have a problem.

As a fan, I will always watch, no matter what.  But when this “lockout” affects thousands of people (workers, security, concessions, maintenance staff, etc), then I get angry at these people squabbling over a few million bucks.

That’s not to say the league is blameless in this.  They’ve had plenty of opportunities to talk to the players and work this out well before a month ago, if the association had been willing to talk as well. 

But I am NOT on the players side on this one.  If they were getting completely screwed over and making like a couple hundred thousand for their top players, that would be fine.  But they’re arguing over millions of dollars, salaries that would have been guaranteed if they had signed NHL’s proposal.  Stop thinking about yourselves for a second and think about all those millions of fans, crews, tv networks, and cities they’re in and maybe remember why you’re playing this game.

You can disagree with me if you want but that’s how I feel about it.  I’m just mad at both the league and the players association for acting like children.

Posted by Matt Fry from Winnipeg on 09/14/12 at 11:07 AM ET

Avatar

HOWEVER, I intend to cancel my Center Ice the moment the lockout is really real for reals, and probably will not renew for a few years.

I posted this in another thread, but with budgets being tight, I had to make a hockey choice and chose to spend my usual Center Ice budget on my 4 year olds skating lessons instead. As I did with my older child, I could have taught him to skate poorly myself, but I figured I’d spend the money on grass roots hockey locally and still get my hockey fill. 

If I had any confidence that there wasn’t going to be a lockout, I would have waited, but sign-up time was near and I knew that if the money was in hand I had an outside chance of spending it on Center Ice. Instead I’ll spend my time at the rink and have him ready for mite hockey next year. Matter of fact, with the cost of mite hockey I may have already spent my next year’s budget on Center Ice.  Normally these aren’t the decisions I try to make when it comes to hockey, but the whole CBA discussion has me looking at how much money I spend on the sport and I have to fix my budget.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 09/14/12 at 11:11 AM ET

Hank1974's avatar

What’s not to understand Paul?
The owners know that they own the puck and will take it away and go home whenever they feel like it.

They’ll break the union every time because unlike the players, owning an NHL team isn’t their livleyhood, it’s their hobby.

If there’s no season this year, guess what? Illitch is still going to be a billionare with his empire.
What about Brandon Prust? Where else is he going to earn $2.5M/year? He’s no brain surgeon and last time I checked, burger joints don’t pay that kind of wage.

So no matter what, the NHL knows they have the players where they want and will take whatever they want when they want.

They don’t care if this lockout lasts a decade. You know why? Because 99% of the fans that came rushing back in ‘05 will be right back in line buying tickets once this lockout ends.
Fans and players will eventually crack and the owners know it. That’s why they’re doing this and it’s why we can expect a lockout anytime the owners feel like flexing their muscles.

Posted by Hank1974 on 09/14/12 at 11:48 AM ET

Avatar

I’m not blaming one owner. My point is that by going along with the gang, you’ve chosen to be a part of the problem instead of solution.

Now to be fair, publicly the owners are standing united, and so it may only appear that they are all part of this issue. Behind closed doors, there may be a lot more real talk about meeting in the middle and increasing revenue sharing, for example. But we aren’t privy to that, so what else can we think?

Absent any knowledge or information regarding which owner says what or which owner agrees completely with Bettman and which owners would rather just make a deal, I suppose I don’t see how it’s very fair to Illtch (or any single owner) to ascribe them a particular portion of ‘blame’ with regards to negotiations.

I guess the question is, what do you want Illtch to do, anyway?  He can speak out in public and obliterate Bettman, ring up a couple million bucks in fines, and nothing changes. 

He can be silently disgusted with the process but in complete realization he’s powerless to impact the trajectory of things.

He could feign disgust in private, yet quietly rubbing his hands together in evil glee at the thought of another easy 100 million bucks in families pockets over the next 6-8 years.

Any of those could be true.  It could be something in between.  It could be something else none of us have even contemplated.

This is why emotionally investing in this issue is a path fraught with perils.  Who should you be angry at?  Who should you be angry at more?  Who is driving this?  Who is resisting this?  Who’s not doing enough?  Who is doing enough?  Who shouldn’t be doing anything?

The issues surrounding this CBA negotiation are too big and too complex for easy answers and ready targets.  We can be fairly certain that Bettman is a large factor in the crafting of the owners strategy and that Fehr is likewise involved on the PA side.

Beyond that, everything is wreathed in smoke, wearing cloth-wrapped shoes, and carrying knives.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 09/14/12 at 12:16 PM ET

LivinLaVidaLockout's avatar

“I’ve been planning a season long lockout for a while now - how do you think I could afford Prince Fielder just like that?”
~Suddenly-turned-evil Mike Ilitch

Posted by LivinLaVidaLockout on 09/14/12 at 12:53 PM ET

Vladimir16's avatar

Posted by Matt Fry from Winnipeg on 09/14/12 at 12:07 PM ET

You might wanna get caught up on what the negotiations have actually been about. You may just change your tune.

Posted by Vladimir16 from Grand River Valley on 09/14/12 at 01:11 PM ET

Avatar

He can be silently disgusted with the process but in complete realization he’s powerless to impact the trajectory of things.

As blasphemous as it may sound to many of the red and white fans, it could just be that the Illitch’s realize they are closer to being a have not than a have team.  Take into account that Joe Louis Arena is currently the second worst facility in the NHL.  There are a sea of empty red seats in the lower bowl every night, corporate seats. The arena lacks modern revenue making features such as modern suites, clubs and restaurants. The Michigan economy is not good, the star players are retiring and it is getting more difficult to recruit new stars. Add this all up and Mr. Illitch may need a new economic system more than you think.

Posted by timbits on 09/14/12 at 03:43 PM ET

Flashtastick56's avatar

I’m enjoying your recent articles which are your own thoughts on the game.  Keep it up and thanks for the hard work.

Posted by VooX from Behind the Bar in the Hasek Club Car on 09/14/12 at 11:34 AM ET

For the first time in the history of everything, I agree with Voox.

Saying…errrr…typing that made me feel really dirty.  I’m going to go shower then drink a whole bunch, now.

Posted by Flashtastick56 from Meriden, CT on 09/14/12 at 06:40 PM ET

Baroque's avatar

Posted by awould on 09/14/12 at 11:56 AM ET

Congratulations on the new baby. You are correct in assuming that your time will be much more limited, and I suspect you will have more fun playing with your toddler than you think.  smile

Posted by Baroque from Michigan on 09/15/12 at 04:17 AM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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