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Idle Threats

from Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Star,

There is no reason for Gary Bettman to fear a lockout, or even the loss of an entire season. History has already taught him that a year off is good for business.  A year off reminds his captive audience what they’re missing.

Despite the handwringing from the grassroots types and those who want to see the game thrive in the tropics, lockouts are good for the NHL.

We hear the same noise this time around that we heard last: “Fans will move on … they’ll be too angry to tune back in … the NHL will be replaced by — what? — the CFL?”

It’s nonsense and we all know it. Hockey fans aren’t going anywhere. They’ll linger around the locked gates for a month, or three months or a year, grumbling. And when someone removes the padlock and invites them back in, they’ll come.

They may be upset, and it may take a while, but they’ll all come back eventually. They have nowhere else to go.

The people who think a work stoppage can kill the love of the professional game are making this mistake — they think of hockey fandom as transactional, as some sort of retail experience.

continued

Filed in: NHL Talk, NHLPA, | KK Hockey | Permalink
 

Comments

Hank1974's avatar

Sad, but true.
It’s been said thousands of times before, but hockey fans - while not as plentiful as NFL or MLB - are the most loyal and rabid of them all.

The NHL could have a lockout every other season and most of the clapping seals would be waiting at the gates to purchase tickets.

That’s why the NHL has the ultimate hammer over the players. They know their careers are already too short and they all possess a small earning window.
Plus, that’s what hockey players do - they play hockey.

The only way the PA can truly get what they want is if they hold steady and force a 2-year work stoppage. Only then would things get very interesting.

But for the owners, a year lost is nothing. In fact, I bet there’s more than a couple of teams that would lose LESS money if there wasn’t a season.

I still side with the players. But the owners will eventually get their way.
I just wish hockey fans would have some dignity and truly stick it to the league.
Nobody should show up to one game or tune into one game for a whole season once they return.

Posted by Hank1974 on 08/22/12 at 12:30 PM ET

Keyser S.'s avatar

IMO the increase in interest in the game is due to parity, less clutching and grabbing, and removal of the red line. It’s just a better game now.

As a wings fan, before the salary cap only 1 maybe 2 games a week were interesting/competitive. Now every game is.

The only thing I’d change now is the prison sentence for throwing octopi on the ice. C’mon man!

Posted by Keyser S. on 08/22/12 at 01:03 PM ET

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The owners have the ability to hold out much longer then the players do.  The NHL is not the primary revenue stream for most owners, but it is for the players.  Nearly all the old fans will return, despite what they say now.  If the owners decide on a lockout, the only chances the players have is if the owners feel that canceling the Winter Classic is too much and that locking out for a full season will hurt their TV contract and result in the lose of corporate partnerships.  The league came out on top after the last lockout, but it cemented the NHL’s status as a second tier league and the lack of a big TV deal was an embarassment.

Posted by henrymalredo from Lansing on 08/22/12 at 01:14 PM ET

Hank1974's avatar

Good points henrymalredo.
Another piece of ammo for the players is that with LA, a huge TV market, winning the Cup, do the owners really want to lose the momentum for the Kings?

Although, I guess with the local media confusing the Kings with the Sacremento Kings, some might argue that nobody outside the small hockey circle in LA cared to begin with.

Posted by Hank1974 on 08/22/12 at 01:16 PM ET

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I can’t believe there are people out there who only like one sport!

Posted by Alan on 08/22/12 at 01:22 PM ET

hiero4life's avatar

If there is a year long lock out I will take my money elsewhere.  Money I set aside for a family of 4 to go to games will not come back, my Center Ice money will be gone too.  They don’t need to fight over my few thousands of dollars, I’ll take them away.  I will follow the Wings and watch games online and not pay for it. 
The lock out will not change my obsession with the Wings, it will just change my where my money goes to.

Posted by hiero4life from anywhere i am on 08/22/12 at 01:29 PM ET

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The fans are really powerless @ this point.  The two sides are not focused on the fans and to a certain extent don’t care about us.  Unless you are really going to walk away, there’s nothing to do but wait.  We can say we’re leaving, but it’s hard.  I watched a lot of college hockey the last go around, but was right back in my seats and in front of the tv when the nhl returned.  I’m sure it will be the same this time.  My season tickets are already paid for and even though I can ask for a refund, I won’t.  I also may decrease the amount of NHL “stuff” I buy, but I’m sure that won’t last long.

Posted by Greg on 08/22/12 at 01:57 PM ET

Hank1974's avatar

I can’t believe there are people out there who only like one sport!

Honestly Alan, that was exactly me up till about 2 years ago.

I’m a chronic cry-baby when it comes to how much I dislike where the game has gone in the past few years; too many blocked shots, goalies are too large, reintroduction of obstruction, the turtle-defense - which all lead to way too few quality even-strength goals. I’m sick of all garbage goals that come from rebounds/deflections/screens/tips - and most of those on the PP no-less.

Anyway, because of that, I’ve rediscovered my love for baseball and have even started watching more basketball.
Last year, for the first time in about 30 years, I didn’t go to one Wings game and didn’t spend one freakin dime on any NHL-related products. NOTHING. Not even for stationary.

With another lockout coming our way, I’ll continue voicing my displeasure for what’s happened with the NHL on and off the ice with my wallet.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love the sport of hockey, I just despise the form of hockey the NHL has told us is the best and can’t be improved upon.

Posted by Hank1974 on 08/22/12 at 01:57 PM ET

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I think most sports fans like multiple sports, but have one that “stands out.”  I follow the NFL and like some other sport, but hockey to me is the most exciting sport to play and watch.

Posted by Greg on 08/22/12 at 02:06 PM ET

awould's avatar

We hear the same noise this time around that we heard last: “Fans will move on … they’ll be too angry to tune back in … the NHL will be replaced by — what? — the CFL?”

.... said the Canadian.  In the USA, we have the NFL and college football for the first half of the NHL season. Then the NBA can tide you over and baseball picks up at the end.

I personally am a huge college football fan and get into the NFL a little bit. I actively hate the NBA and baseball holds no interest for me. So, with no NHL, I’d have to weather February through August with no sports. But heck, every two years I’ll get either the Summer Olympics or the World Cup, both of which I love.

The point is, I’m a huge NHL fan but I’ve already decided I can live without it if they screw us again. I’ll probably always follow the Wings but I don’t think I’ll ever pay for Center Ice again, or drive out of my way to pay money to attend a game.

And if I feel that way, what about all the casual fans the sport has picked up the last couple of years? They’re gone. Another lockout will lose all traction the league has gained to pick up new fans, and will make the sport a laughingstock again. It will relegate the NHL to a 2nd tier sport for a generation longer. The NHL will suffer if they lockout again.

Posted by awould on 08/22/12 at 02:14 PM ET

bezukov's avatar

The fans are really powerless @ this point.

Is it over the line for me to point out that it takes the same number of keystrokes to type “at” as it does “@?”

This dude has it dead on.  I’m already set to pay for center ice.  I’m a hopeless addict.

Posted by bezukov from the kids are alright. on 08/22/12 at 02:23 PM ET

IwoCPO's avatar

Is it over the line for me to point out that it takes the same number of keystrokes to type “at” as it does “@?”

Boom

I’m already set to pay for center ice.  I’m a hopeless addict.

Same here. I’ll pay for it too. I’ll watch the Lions, UM, the remainder of the Tigers’ season (and all will crush me). I’ll continue to hate the NBA, but I’ll watch college basketball.  I’ll see what it’s like to actually be a dad during the fall and winter, instead of watching or obsessing about hockey.

And then I’ll be back when the league comes back.  Hopefully it will be a league without Bettman. That would be neat.

Posted by IwoCPO from Sunny San Diego, bitches on 08/22/12 at 02:43 PM ET

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But maybe this misguided reliance on hard core hockey fans is what makes hockey number 4 in the grand scheme of things. Those that are addicted always come back, but they are hurting growth by being seen as a second rate league by the NHL’s many detractors who have a vested interest in not seeing it grow.

If you are serious about being a “big time” sport like the NBA, NFL or MLB then you need stability in the market. Personally, I could care less if the NHL ever became any bigger.  From a selfish perspective, I have more than enough teams that even contraction would allow me to follow 5 or 6 teams all within driving distance, but that isn’t true for the casual fan that the NHL needs to attract if they want more money.

The mistake is always trying to carve up the same pie in different ways when you should be figuring out how to make a bigger pie. Are the NHL/NHLPA trying to grow the game or figure out how to re-distribute the existing revenue?

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 08/22/12 at 02:57 PM ET

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f there is a year long lock out I will take my money elsewhere.

Unless you just started going to games in 2007, you are a liar.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 08/22/12 at 03:05 PM ET

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I also would have to think that another drawn out labor battle would damage the NHL’s ability to attract quality ownership.  For every Illitch, Snider or Dolan the league has is a team ran by some by some patchwork ownership group that had enough money to pay the up-front fees, but not enough to make a serious investment in running a team, especially in small or non-traditional markets.  I think the league’s reputation has kept it from being able to attract NFL and MLB level billionaires and another lockout certainly won’t help that.  I can’t think of any other major sports league that has had as many shady owners like John Spano, Boots Del Baggio and Len Barrie in it then the NHL.

Posted by henrymalredo from Lansing on 08/22/12 at 03:25 PM ET

Hank1974's avatar

hockey1919, you said it perfectly.
Because of all the off-ice problems, the NHL really has shutout any potential fans that aren’t currently in the ‘rabid’ category.

This won’t help.
But part of me feels the owners are fine with that and have accepted it.
It’s why they’re so slow to make any decisions to help things on the ice - or even attempt to get ESPN back into the fold.
They don’t want to alienate their small, but dedicated, fanbase so they just keep things as is and continue to lose games during every CBA negotiation.

Posted by Hank1974 on 08/22/12 at 03:56 PM ET

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Plain and simple, Ed Snider and the big market owners are driving these talks, and a subsequent lockout. The only way a deal gets reached is if Fehr includes provisions that satisfy the power players of the league, so that they don’t lose money if revenue sharing is increased more.

Posted by Jeremy on 08/22/12 at 05:12 PM ET

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“If there is a year long lock out I will take my money elsewhere.”

Unless you just started going to games in 2007, you are a liar.

This isn’t an all or nothing proposition. After lockout 1, I said I would lockout the NHL for as long as they locked me out. So I traded half a season and did not return for the remainder of the season. It broke my string of season ticket deals and I never again bought a full season package again (and I’ve had some great seats at places like the Forum and dumps like the USAir).

After lockout 2, I didn’t spend any additional income on the NHL for an entire season (basic cable covered plenty of hockey at the time and I had other interests).  I then gave up my partial 20-game plans (at the Phone Booth) plus travel to other arenas to sporadic games for special events. I’ve been comped seats to try to get me to purchase season tickets again, but thanks for the freebie, no sale.

We’ll see if after lockout three if I go from casual attendance of about 10 games at 3 or 4 arenas (MSG, Verizon, NVMC, Air Canada, Bell) to only a handful when I can visit my home town. The NHL doesn’t need all of my money, nor do they really want it, so my passion for the sport hasn’t waned I just choose to watch locally (even pee wee) and lace the skates up more myself.  I’ve come to realize having season tickets started to become a chore anyway. Maybe Center Ice goes away too since I’d rather not be tied to watching games in low definition either.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 08/22/12 at 05:37 PM ET

Avatar

hockey1919, you said it perfectly.
Because of all the off-ice problems, the NHL really has shutout any potential fans that aren’t currently in the ‘rabid’ category.

This won’t help.
But part of me feels the owners are fine with that and have accepted it.
It’s why they’re so slow to make any decisions to help things on the ice - or even attempt to get ESPN back into the fold.
They don’t want to alienate their small, but dedicated, fanbase so they just keep things as is and continue to lose games during every CBA negotiation.

Posted by Hank1974 on 08/22/12 at 01:56 PM ET

That’s certainly possible judging by some of the NHL’s behavior, but if the owners are fine with having a niche league, then there’s really no point to propping up non-traditional markets.

Posted by henrymalredo from Lansing on 08/22/12 at 05:47 PM ET

Hank1974's avatar

That’s certainly possible judging by some of the NHL’s behavior, but if the owners are fine with having a niche league, then there’s really no point to propping up non-traditional markets.

Good point.

I’ve always felt that the NHL rides somewhere in between.
They want the bigger audience, but don’t want to do anything to get them.
So they make small moves and choices that usually end up ticking off the hardcore and do almost nothing to attract the non-fan.

I think they should go all in one way or another.
Either jetison 4 to 6 weak, non-traditional markets and go full-guns for the hardcore (low scores, lots of fighting, no penalties), or make drastic changes like bigger ice, larger nets, more even-strength goals (and possibly eliminate fighting altogether) to attract a larger audience.

That’s a debate for another day and I apologize for derailing the conversation.

I just get the feeling that with all these work stoppages, the owners don’t really care about growing the sport and only care to keep the diehard fan around - which most will remain regardless of how many lockouts there are.

Posted by Hank1974 on 08/22/12 at 05:57 PM ET

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Posted by bezukov from the kids are alright. on 08/22/12 at 12:23 PM ET

haha, I’m fixing to cancel my NHL channel as soon as I hear there’s a lockout, sure as hell wont pick up center-ice.  I’ll stream games online and deal with that crap before giving a dime to the owners IF they win this CBA battle and rape the players, again.

I can’t get over the fact we’re about to lose games because the NHL doesn’t want to play anymore under the CBA they locked us out for last time.  How f*ckin’ crazy is that?

Posted by HTO from F*ckin' work on 08/22/12 at 07:00 PM ET

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Posted by HockeyinHD on 08/22/12 at 01:05 PM ET

Doesn’t make him a liar just because he came back after the last one.  Just like in real life, if someone screws me over once fine, there’s still room to reconcile.  If you repeatedly do it, f*ck you.

3 in 17-18 years.. means I get to miss a year or partial year of my fav team every 6 years with Bettman in charge?  No thanks.  I agree, I’ll still find a way to watch and I’ll still be die-hard for The Red and White, but I’m not putting one red cent towards Bettman’s 8m salary.

Posted by HTO from F on 08/22/12 at 07:06 PM ET

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We love the game. we’ll be back.  I hate all this CBA talk just stop obsessing about it.  When it’s done we’ll go back to the games.  If some of you don’t that’s fine with me.

Posted by 13 user names on 08/22/12 at 08:24 PM 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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