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The Sabres Observer

The Fallacy Of Fan Backlash

So here we are again, being taken for a ride by corporate entities and professional athletes who can’t agree on how to ration all of that ridiculous money they get from our generous spending on overpriced tickets, lamp-heated arena food, and jerseys that seem to become obsolete every other year.

Last time this happened, the players turned a blind eye to the state of league economics because they had it made and didn't want the party to end.  In this current episode, the owners absurdly want to undo the deal that they themselves forcefully imposed on a fragmented union seven years ago.

Most of us who’ve been around the block a few times understand that the NHL will survive this lockout just fine, but some angry fans are proclaiming that there will be a backlash with enough impact to put a huge dent in the pocketbooks of the owners.

While their passion for this great game is admirable, their sense of history seems to be lacking.

I’ve personally lived through 17 of these “catastrophes” in the 4 major pro sports.  Each strike or lockout that lasted an extended period of time was accompanied by forecasts of wailing owners and players on their knees in front of empty arenas and stadiums, begging for forgiveness.  In every single instance, with no such tearful pleas being necessary, the fans sooner or later came back in full force.

Diehards love their hockey and will always return in droves.  Casual fans enjoy a night out with a cold beer, high tech video and loud music on the jumbotron, and a game being played in the background.  Strikes and lockouts have no long-term effect on the former and mean little or nothing to the latter.

Gary Bettman doesn’t earn his $8 million salary by not taking full advantage of this reality.  Unconditional fan loyalty is most certainly in the back of his mind as he continues to tighten the screws on an NHLPA that will inevitably have no choice but to give in to the Evil Empire once again.

The excruciating 2004-05 lockout, so we were told by many, would diminish fan interest and cause permanent damage to the league.  Instead, it was followed by four straight years of record overall attendance.  That’s a result of leverage that owners have over the fans, not the players.  We’ve proven time and time again that, regardless of our disgust over the behavior of the wealthy stewards who control it, we need the game.

There’s no reason to believe that Catastrophe Number 18 will be any different.

Related reading:

“Thank Goodenow For The Long, Dark, Cold Winter Ahead” – Dave Davis, New York Sportscene magazine, September 2004

“The NHL bounced back last season after a yearlong lockout, but what’s next?” – Shelly Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 2006

“Hockey fans: there is nothing you can do to prevent a lockout” – Harrison Mooney, Puck Daddy, September 2012

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J.J. from Kansas's avatar

We’ve proven time and time again that, regardless of our disgust over the behavior of the wealthy stewards who control it, we need the game.

The important lesson to anybody ballsy (and rich) enough here is that fans need the game.

We don’t necessarily need the NHL.

Not saying we won’t watch the NHL when it comes back, because that’s kind of the whole point here, but if there’s a North American league where the best players gather to play and compete for the Stanley Cup, we fans don’t particularly care what that league is named nor who owns it.  We’ll go to whichever league is producing that which meets our demand.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 09/04/12 at 10:33 AM ET

NIVO's avatar

Agreed JJ. And I also think that our dollars are what IS keeping these teams afloat as it is. Because apparently their business sense side of things isnt doing them any good. If it was doing well, we wouldnt have this b.s. of them screaming for money. Until they solve their internal problems of how to generate money and grow their company(team) this will never go away. CBA’s arent anything anymore but a temporary band-aid until the next expire date. Track records speak for themselves.

Posted by NIVO from underpants gnome village on 09/04/12 at 11:34 AM ET


We’ll go to whichever league is producing that which meets our demand.

1)I fail to see what the point of that position is.  There’s not going to be another big time professional hockey league in North America.  The buildings are already all contracted out to existing teams, there aren’t nearly enough investors to start new franchises, etc.  For goodness sake, 30 people can’t even be found to function as primary owners for the franchises that already exist. 

I mean, sure, if there was already some direct competitor to the NHL in place NHL fans would likely just go there instead.  But there isn’t, and the infrastructure required to set something like that up is so costly and intricate that it’s just not going to happen.

And even if, somehow, some kind of league was cobbled together from the dead pieces of the NHL a la Frankenstein’s monster…

2) I think you underestimate the loyalty of fans to ‘the NHL’ while they aren’t exactly loyal to the people running/owning or operating it.  There’s a lot of habit that supports fandom, so there’s a rather longer road for a fanbase to start cheering anywhere close to equally for the ‘Motown Blue Bolts’ to win that years ‘Murphy Chalice’ than there exists for the Wings to win a Cup.

Depending on your perspective, fortunately or unfortunately the NHL is the only game in town for elite-level hockey and it’s going to remain that way.

This is why the owners usually win going away in these deals absent some kind of significant external force like, for example, Congress.  They realize they have a monopoly on this specific form of entertainment so they can leverage that scarcity against the angst what they decide to do generates, and so end up with a fairly (or at least comparatively) secure bargaining position.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 09/04/12 at 01:17 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

I fail to see what the point of that position is

No surprise there. Must be all those trees in the way.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 09/04/12 at 02:06 PM ET


The idea that the NHL can take advantage of their hardcore fans and know that they will come back is what makes the NHL a distant number 4 in the big four of sports.  The NHL doesn’t have to compete for hockey fans, but it does have to compete for entertainment dollars.

Relying on the rabid fan base is no way to grow the league and will ensure that the league will remain gate driven and a regional niche sport. So yes, the hard core fans will be back and just like boxing it doesn’t need a whole lot of new fans since boxing fans still exist. Boxing can at least say it was once the world’s most popular sport.

Posted by hockey1919 from mid-atlantic on 09/04/12 at 03:14 PM ET


No surprise there. Must be all those trees in the way.

So nothing of merit to add, I take it?  Rather than engage in a substantive discussion about the topic you choke out… that?  Yikes.

HD,  if only there was an infrastructure already set up that already had decent talent levels and arenas to play in… hmmmmm.  With all the hard parts you mentioned, infrastructure and such, already in place.  All it’d take is a league “renovation” to boost the AHL to the predominate league if there’s a vacuum left by an NHL lockout this year.

Were AHL teams in NHL cities, that idea would have a shred of a chance.  Unfortunately they aren’t, so it doesn’t.  Now, we could make the AHL a whole lot more entertaining, and that’d be great… just great for fans in Grand Rapids, Albany, Hershey, Peoria and Houston.

Realistically if there were investors willing, it could easily happen.

Well, like I said, the NHL can’t find 30 guys to own teams now.  Are we talking about getting a bunch of second and third tier ‘investors’ Boots DeBaggio style?  Again, we’re not really talking about a doable long-term plan.

Posted by HockeyinHD on 09/04/12 at 09:44 PM ET

J.J. from Kansas's avatar

Rather than engage in a substantive discussion about the topic you choke out… that?  Yikes.

Since there wasn’t much substantive or new to your original comment, I didn’t figure that a discussion of the sort was likely.

I was right.

When you stop mistaking difficult for impossible and come up with ideas of your own, we can have a substantive discussion. Have a great day, kiddo.

Posted by J.J. from Kansas on 09/04/12 at 09:52 PM ET

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About The Sabres Observer

Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003.  He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene.  Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.

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Email: dd@kuklaskorner.com Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]