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Insulting The Fans

from Roy MacGregor of the Globe and Mail,

He (Andre Richelieu, a Laval University professor) was asked, naturally, for his thoughts on the NHL lockout, now more than two months deep into what he believes is fast becoming the NHL’s blackest and bleakest season – one that, at the grassroots level, will take another turn for the worse this morning as Kraft Foods moves to cancel Hockeyville 2013 in favour of donating $1-million to Hockey Canada affiliated minor hockey associations across the country.

“The message the NHL has sent is that ‘we are stupid,’” he says. The NHL cannot possibly have any other opinion, he says, because the league has previous proof – two earlier lockouts – that the league can treat its fans in a cavalier way and they will always come back.

“That is the calculation they make,” Richelieu says. “When they say ‘We have the best fans in the world’ the presumption is that the fans will come back. That is the best example of insult and marketing myopia I know.

“From a sports-marketing point of view I think the NHL is about to realize that the last word is what the fans have. It is consumer power. When the consumers decide to act, to send a message to the organization, then the organization has no other choice but to change things.”

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Poor misguided professor, doesn’t he know that no matter what individual consumers do, it doesn’t matter. More people will replace them and spend more money than previously did. Hockey has an infinite number of fans that can be replaced when treated poorly by the league.  At least that is what I have been told by many that believe what the NHL is selling.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 11/20/12 at 10:33 AM ET

Red Winger's avatar

They blew up an entire season eight year ago, and have tripled revenue since.

The NHL may be wrong in thinking people will flock back, but as of yet we’ve not really given them a reason to believe they are wrong.

Posted by Red Winger from Sault Ste Marie on 11/20/12 at 10:35 AM ET

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Hockey has an infinite number of fans that can be replaced when treated poorly by the league. 

Wrong.  They have an incredibly finite number of fans that can’t be replaced, but who really don’t care long term about how poorly they are treated by the league.

They blew up an entire season eight year ago, and have tripled revenue since.

The NHL may be wrong in thinking people will flock back, but as of yet we’ve not really given them a reason to believe they are wrong.

Bingo.

Attendance went UP the year after the lockout.  Up.  As in, not down.  Not flat.  Not a sort of squiggly line that goes up then down then up then sideways.

Up.

North.

Hacia arriba.

Usque.

When people say ‘fans’ are going to leave the game, history tells us that not only is that not true, it’s demonstrably the opposite of what happened.

That said, there is always the possibility that this time it’ll be different.  Maybe this time people that have spent 10-30 years cheering for their local or childhood team will completely turn their back on all those times, good and bad, when they identified so strongly with the people who wore a jersey and played a game.

Maybe this time.

I don’t think so.

 

Posted by HockeyinHD on 11/20/12 at 11:45 AM ET

redxblack's avatar

My butt won’t be in a seat in an NHL arena any time soon, even if the lockout ended yesterday. I have stopped myself from purchasing licensed merchandise, because to me that is crossing a picket line (even though it is a lockout and not a strike). I don’t know if MILLIONS will feel the same way, but I suspect thousands will. If we rush back into the arms of the league, we’re going headlong into an abusive relationship with a manipulative partner who does not have our interests in mind when they act. That much is clear. The NHL will get the fans they deserve, and the fans will get the league they deserve.

Posted by redxblack from Akron Ohio on 11/20/12 at 11:51 AM ET

redxblack's avatar

as far as what “history says,” I can’t think of another sport that had two massive work stoppages within a decade and three within 20 years. The fact that this is the third, or 100% of every time a CBA expired, that we can say the situation is different enough to elicit a different response this time. Plenty of fans have only recently returned from the first season cancellation. I doubt they’ll be back soon.

I’d argue (as a professional historian) that history is far too dynamic to predict the future, but I will agree that it is disappointing that so many fans allow themselves to be abused by a league like the NHL.

Posted by redxblack from Akron Ohio on 11/20/12 at 11:57 AM ET

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They have an incredibly finite number of fans that can’t be replaced, but who really don’t care long term about how poorly they are treated by the league.

Maybe some of them aren’t so self-centred that a labour dispute between players and owners doesn’t result in a “ME ME ME, I NEED MY ENTERTAINMENT” mentality.

Maybe this time.

Yeah, maybe this time.  It’s totally reasonable to end a relationship because of a witnessing (not being a part of, just witnessing) a couple of arguments over the course of 30 years.

abusive relationship with a manipulative partner

Yeah, that’s absolutely what it is.

You can’t watch TV for a little while because mom and dad are arguing, therefore you’re being abused by your parents.

Posted by Garth on 11/20/12 at 11:58 AM ET

gowings's avatar

“They blew up an entire season eight year ago, and have tripled revenue since.”

I do believe that hard core fans will be back..the same fans of the same teams that generated that boost in revenues. As for the “usual” teams that are struggling, I think that the fan base will go away. The problem in my opinion is that about 10 teams (where the fan base is) are willing to spent more and more money no matter what. Although I am a Wing fan, I live in MTL and the prices to attend a game a the Bell Center has increased of almost 50$ per ticket in the lower sections and the “Business section” per year!!!!. We pay 10$ for a small beer and you would not believe the prices of hot dogs….and yet, like in Toronto, the fans always come back (especially in Toronto….the team has failed for years). All that being said, these teams will continue to make A LOT of money while other teams are still suffering. ..and fans don’t see it, because the teams that are doing so well are still increasing the revenues. I do not have a solution (well if I could I would eliminate at least 2 teams and relocate 2), but I think the NHL is correct, the hard core fans will come back and they will still generate a lot of money from these fans…

Posted by gowings from MTL on 11/20/12 at 12:20 PM ET

Keyser S.'s avatar

Attendance went UP the year after the lockout.  Up.  As in, not down.  Not flat.  Not a sort of squiggly line that goes up then down then up then sideways.

Up.

North.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 11/20/12 at 10:45 AM ET

I think that had more to do with the game itself. Rule changes. No 2 line passes. The elimination of the trap. Curiosity about how the salary cap would have on parity. I think fans were more curious. This time around there’s no rule changes to make folk want to come back.

Posted by Keyser S. on 11/20/12 at 12:34 PM ET

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these teams will continue to make A LOT of money while other teams are still suffering.

Which means revenues will increase at the top and the NHL will ask for a bigger share of HRR when the next CBA expires, creating another lockout. I do think that with the increase in prices, the downturn in the economy, that the NHL/NHLPA will eventually start to pay the price and not as many fans will return.

Not even the NFL can maintain its attendance anymore and they rely on TV deals that the NHL cannot hope to match. Once the NHL has maxed out the price of seats in the major markets, the system will start to collapse. Fans will continue to flock to a winning product and in traditional markets, but the hope of gaining in non-traditional markets is getting worse and worse with each lockout.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 11/20/12 at 01:02 PM ET

SnLO's avatar

When the consumers decide to act, to send a message to the organization…

I will not be spending $.01 towards anything that becomes NHL revenue until such a time that a CBA can be negotiated without a stoppage in play. So, it will be a while before these clowns get any more money from me. My vote as a consumer is my dollar; I will be voting with my dollars on something else for a while.

Don’t get me wrong, I will not be abandoning hockey. I will continue to coach, play and spectate; but there will be none of my money going to the NHL for quite some time.

 

Posted by SnLO from the sub great-white north on 11/20/12 at 02:13 PM ET

redxblack's avatar

I’m not making an analogy to child abuse, Garth. It is a direct statement, not a metaphor.

Posted by redxblack from Akron Ohio on 11/20/12 at 02:18 PM ET

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Posted by redxblack from Akron Ohio on 11/20/12 at 01:18 PM ET

I’m not making an analogy either.

You are being abused by your parents.

See, we can all make ridiculous statements.

Posted by Garth on 11/20/12 at 02:47 PM ET

redxblack's avatar

With such wit, you ought to change your username to Oscar Wilde. Maybe I should to with that zinger. You don’t find the league to be manipulative? You don’t see them crapping (metaphorically) on their fans? The NHLPA was willing to play a full year contract extension to work out the problems, but the league put that aside and locked out the fans with the full expectation that they’ll take whatever the league dishes out and come back for more. That’s abusive behavior. If we were clients of any other business treating us this way, we’d go elsewhere. We pay lots and lots to be treated so shabbily by people who make their money off the sweat of someone else’s brow.

Posted by redxblack from Akron Ohio on 11/20/12 at 02:59 PM ET

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I thought for the longest time that both Garth and redxblack were on the same side of this argument. Where did it all go so wrong? Can’t you reconcile, if not for the NHLPA, then what about for the children?

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 11/20/12 at 03:07 PM ET

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I do believe that hard core fans will be back..the same fans of the same teams that generated that boost in revenues. As for the “usual” teams that are struggling, I think that the fan base will go away.

This is the biggest problem I have with the lockout.  Its basically driven by the smaller market teams, who are not or not as profitable.  And they are the ones who are most likely to be affected by the lockout. 

The big teams still wont want to share revenue, and the small teams will continue to struggle, and in another few years, the only answer the league will have is to lock out the players and demand 60-40.

Last time i think more fans saw problems with the game that needed to be fixed, and we’re willing to go along with the lockout, and thought the game would be improved.

This time, more fans are feeling the only problem with the game is with Bettman and the owners.  They cant seem to make it work for all 30 teams even though league wide profits are at record levels, and the only answer is to lock out the players and demand concessions.  All while making absolutely zero attempt to share any responsibility for fixing the problems they created.

If this is the only answer, then i have little faith that the problems will be fixed long term.  I love the game, and obviously miss it, cause I’m here everyday still following the details.  But if the only answer to the problems with the system are to blow it up every 5 years, but not actually fix the real problem, then this is starting to be a bad joke, and i dont think i can continue to invest my time, money and energy in it.

Posted by jwad on 11/20/12 at 03:29 PM ET

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Maybe some of them aren’t so self-centred that a labour dispute between players and owners doesn’t result in a “ME ME ME, I NEED MY ENTERTAINMENT” mentality.

Eyeroll.

You’re the resident psychoanalyist, Garth.  I’ll leave you to your field of expertise.

his is the biggest problem I have with the lockout.  Its basically driven by the smaller market teams, who are not or not as profitable.

The thing is, I don’t think that’s right.  The last lockout made Detroit tens of millions of dollars.  It made every big-revenue team tens of millions of dollars.

When what you’re doing is cutting costs without hurting revenues, you’re making more money on the bottom line across the board.  The teams that made 20 mil are making 25 and the teams who were losing 5 are breaking even.

Big market, small market, they all did better.

In this CBA negotiation it’s a little different.  In the old one the NHLPA went from 76ish% to 54-57%.  That’s a drop of around 30% from them and an increase of around 80% (from 24ish% to 46%) to the owners.

That’s big money, as we saw.

Now we’re talking about a 12% drop from the players and a 18ish% increase to the owners.  Still big money but not nearly as big as it was in the last go-round.  That’s why the NHL is less willing to blow the whole season up.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 11/20/12 at 03:57 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Big market, small market, they all did better.

The Forbes numbers you love so much don’t support this.

If those numbers are correct, the last time the Blue Jackets ran at an net operating profit was 2004; they haven’t done better than -$4M since.

The three years before the lockout, Forbes says the Panthers averaged an operating loss just under $6.5M. In the six years since the lockout, their average annual operating loss (according to Forbes) has been $8.1M

2 of 3 pre-lockout years, the Predators claimed profits; they haven’t claimed one since.

The Atlanta Thrasher’s biggest pre-lockout loss in those three years was less than $1M (with two positive years). After the lockout, they bled $33M worth before heading to Winnipeg.

Tampa Bay’s margin got turned upside-down.

Minnesota’s operating income dropped.

Of course, those are six teams which didn’t actually cut player costs in the last lockout, but saw them go up as a result of the new floor, which is obviously the biggest problem of this whole mess.

Last time there was a lockout, the league implemented a system that was incredibly beneficial to the big-market clubs, marginally beneficial to the mid-markets, and downright harmful to the small-markets.  Their solution to that system has been to propose a group of fixes that is incredibly beneficial to the big-market clubs, marginally beneficial to the mid-markets, and only arguably beneficial to the small-markets.

I echo the sentiment that it seems odd that the small markets are this gung-ho about doing this without being much more interested in fixing the problems not associated with the players’ share.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 11/20/12 at 04:24 PM ET

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I echo the sentiment that it seems odd that the small markets are this gung-ho about doing this without being much more interested in fixing the problems not associated with the players’ share.

Yes. 

Regardless of what the percentage is, without changing the floor, or revenue sharing, or some other change to the system, we’ll be right back here again in a few years. 

The NHL has made no attempt as far as I am aware to be active partners in solving any of these problems with the system they forced with the last lockout. 

 

Posted by jwad on 11/20/12 at 04:35 PM ET

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Last time there was a lockout, the league implemented a system that was incredibly beneficial to the big-market clubs, marginally beneficial to the mid-markets, and downright harmful to the small-markets.

This is the neglected elephant in the room, many pundits keep saying fans understood why the last lockout had to happen because it was neede to “fix” the league economics. The last CBA and its affect on small market teams is what has broken the league. Nothing was fixed and the last lockout was a sham forcing small markets to pay to a floor they couldn’t afford and allowing large markets to flex the artificial cap hit in a way that it came out of escrow instead of their bottom line.

The last CBA was designed to make the rich teams even richer, not much else.  So if the fans understood it to be necessary to fix the economics of the league, they understood something that wasn’t true. This new CBA will be designed to ensure that the profits from the last CBA remain in the rich teams pockets, while small market teams become marginally more viable.  There probably isn’t as much solidarity among the owners this time around because the hawks fattened themselves up pretty well on the last CBA and can earn a nice profit if the games are played. Some,  let’s just call them - Jeremy Jacobs, will never be satfisfied no matter what they get.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 11/20/12 at 05:24 PM ET

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I do believe that hard core fans will be back..the same fans of the same teams that generated that boost in revenues

I have mixed feeling on this. Those that follow this mess of a process are more likely to be angry and hold back. Not all, but at least some. The casual fan couldn’t care less and will spend when the mood strikes. It is entertainment that isn’t really missed when it is gone. There may be less interest among the casual fans since it it the diehards that support the team in lean times, but they’ll be back when there is something to see.

The big risk is the corporate support and sponsors. Canadian markets won’t feel as much of an affect, but in markets where corporations are deciding where to spend there advertising money or on luxury box seats it may have bigger affect. Will a company in Nashville put aside the luxury box money for the Predators or will they opt to put that money someplace else. Corporations don’t have loyalty to a team, they pay to entertain clients and they can just as easily entertain in other ways. It takes a lot of convincing to get corporations to buy a box, and there are plenty of other industries waiting for the opportunity to fill the gap and provide entertainment more reliably.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 11/20/12 at 05:33 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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