Kukla's Korner

Petshark: Talking Stick

Stray cats are the best

All signs point to an NHL lockout.  The CBA negotiations are on hold, no talking scheduled.  I have that feeling you get when your favorite new tv show gets cancelled.  That "oh yeah, I forgot that TPTB don't give a crap about me or good taste or quality or... I'm cancelling my cable.  I'll watch what I want when I want and none of your damned ads.  So there,"  feeling.

Some Sharks fans are really angry. A lot of hockey fans are unhappy.  Some are proud to say "I'll come back no matter how long I have to wait, I'm one of the greatest fans."  My sense is that the NHL doesn't worry much about such fans, how can they not take them for granted?

I'm not angry anymore.  I feel like I was just wrong.  Wrong like when you think you're going to be great friends with someone and then you find out they lack the most essential virtues you require in a friend.  They forget to feed their pets or pick up their kids.  All the time.  They burn down their business to collect the insurance money, even though they don't really need it.  They opt for a lockout on the off chance that they can guarantee a few more bucks without having to really work for it.  Stuff like that.

I was angry beyond words for a long time.  Now I just think it's stupid.  Now I'm engrossed in other work, more gratifying things like trapping the neighborhood's feral cats and hoping one turns out to be a good mouser for the barn.  I'm enjoying the serenity that comes from not having regular access to television broadcasts.  I'm finally getting some unbroke horses broke, and doing work people pay me for.  Stuff like that is all more interesting than why NHL owners would consent to or seek a lockout.  Heck, cleaning up horse manure is more meaningful than that.

I still wonder if the NHL is satisfied with choosing quality over quantity.  That's what they are doing if they rely on the devotion of those who will come back, again and again, every season, after every lockout, no matter what.  Like hungry cats, we'll show up every day just to check, even if the food isn't there every time.  Unlike stray cats, having our numbers continue to grow really is a good idea.

The "best" fans pay the same as the drive-by fans, they watch the same ads, eat the same hot dogs, pay the same parking fees.  Maybe the best fans buy better fan gear, maybe they boo or cheer at the right time instead of randomly.  Maybe the best fans make better signs, but there's no reason to assume only the best fans have the best assets for flashing the opposition.  The best fans are very low-maintenance, they tolerate neglect very well.  The NHL could not get rid of the best fans if they tried.  This is why the NHL should turn its attention to finding the most fans even if it means the best fans have to rub elbows with the rabble.

You do not get the most fans by going on unexpected hiatus.  Most viewers will move on without blinking.  In a well-crafted marketing campaign, you do not want to give the viewer reason or opportunity to change the channel, look away, or think about something else.  Life gives people plenty of other things to think about without your signal going dark.

The owners argue that the players are the ones who should give up money and negotiating freedom in order to pay for the losses of those cash-strapped teams.  Ignoring the fact that the owners determine the value of any given player, that they are the ones agreeing to those "crippling" terms... ignoring that, the viewers only see the players.  The players don't pay the bills but they generate the cash to pay them, by bleeding and getting banged up and being quizzed on camera.   They are the faces of the NHL.  Other things are needed to sustain the industry, but ultimately the only thing the NHL is selling is the players.  Tell fans that those players aren't worth what owners are paying them and we conclude that we should be paying less for the privilege of watching them, or that the complainant is a greedy bastard who is trying to steal from our guys.

No matter.  The NHL owners are letting Gary Bettman be their voice.  I take this as an indication of how much they don't care about charming the public.

Most fans don't know or care about all this, because most sports fans aren't hockey fans.  Most fans still need to be rounded up.  Delay the start of the season until an unspecified date and the casual fans will buy tickets to arena football.  While you're bickering with your players, it's open season on your audience.

Of course the NHLPA is doing its part to allow a lockout, but the NHL isn't even challenging them.  The NHL is playing right into Fehr's hands, letting him paint a most virtuous, selfless picture of his clients.  "They just want to play, they just want to get to work, these owners are trying to take advantage, they want a lockout."  As far as the PR war goes, I give the players full credit for winning that.  They aren't likely to win much else.

As for the fans, we'll be culled by scavengers like an abandoned feral cat colony.  The best will remain, the rest will be spending their money elsewhere.

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About Petshark: Talking Stick

Native of Northern California.  Hockey fan since 1998... sort of... there's a hiatus in there that I still can't explain.

I want to know about anything and everything related to the sport and the spectacle.  I watch, I react, I write it down.

My interest in the Sharks was initially a matter of geographic convenience and regional loyalty because that seemed to be how it worked.  I had no prior interest (at all-- AT ALL) in professional sports of any kind.  When I met hockey, it might have set off a chain reaction of general sports fandom.  It hasn't, I don't think it will.  At all.

Since then, that interest developed into full blown (mostly sort of usually almost completely) exclusive loyalty to the Sharks.

I started blogging a couple years ago on wordpress. I still occasionally put things there that I don't think fit here because they are not about the Sharks. Wherever my words wander, here on Kuklas Korner, they will (usually) hang on to a teal thread.

I can be found in cyberspace on Twitter @petshark47, or emailed at talkingstick@petshark.net