"I can't wait to voice my displeasure with my team by buying another jersey."

Remember last Thursday when we were all excited at the prospect of the NHL and NHLPA meeting? Remember when they weren’t talking to the media? That was cool. Welcome to seven days later and the mood is anything but optimistic. It’s like the entirety of the hockey world has taken up residence inside of my brain. It’s awfully crowded in here. No, Matt Stajan, you can’t have another Hot Pocket.  Anyway, we’re all feeling the doldrums of this lockout and, with doldrums, comes theorizing.

Pierre LeBrun had a column today titled “The damage this time will be permanent” in which he said the following:

Know this: It’s too late to declare anybody a winner no matter how this plays out. The buzzer has sounded. Both sides will be declared losers. The long-term damage incurred by this league and industry can’t be undone at this point. There are corporate partners who might never want to reinvest in a sport that doesn’t play every time a CBA is up. There are fans who promise that they were fooled once, but it won’t happen twice. And there are markets that won’t rebound easily, not for a while, even with a shortened season.

First of all, it’s pretty unfortunate that, when discussing lockouts, the NHL is in a situation that necessitates the qualifier “this time.” Second of all, while there is no doubt that everyone is coming out of these negotiations as a loser (in more ways than one. Believe me, we can smell our own), the notion that there will be true, lasting damage to the league due to the lockout is, unfortunately, not true. And that is entirely the fault of us, the fans. I’m reluctant to blame anything on the fans as we so thoroughly get shit on by wealthy children but, as much as we’d like to deny it, we are at the NHL and NHLPA’s mercy.

This shouldn’t be the case. We should have more self-respect than this. I would love to sit here and tell you that I have “convictions” or whatever and that I’ll be looking elsewhere once hockey returns (I’ve missed you, Toronto Rock). Honestly though, the Argos are currently one win away from the Grey Cup and, even with the lockout currently happening, I can’t even begin to care. I want to. I honestly and truly want to. But I’m just not that strong. And it sucks.

In the early days of the lockout (God, I miss August) we were treated to this lovely soundbite from the smarm factory known as Gary Bettman:

We recovered last time because we have the world’s greatest fans.

I mean, just…argh, look at this. It oozes just…oh my God, I fucking hate you so much, Gary Bettman. Sorry. Deep breaths.

My hatred for Gary Bettman aside, the problem is that he’s 100% correct. Hey, what’s this red stuff coming out of my ear?

But seriously, though, LeBrun’s assertion is only true in some sort of fictional utopia where common sense prevails and people like Gary Bettman and Nickelback don’t exist (though, I suppose in this world the lockout wouldn’t exist in the first place rendering this whole conversation moot. PARADOX). Hockey fans enjoy having their little niche sport and the notion that there are some fans that have promised they won’t come back this time, while potentially true on the rare, individual level, just isn’t the reality anymore because the idea of the “fringe hockey fan” is no longer a thing.

I asked our esteemed editor, an ex-pat of supposed-fringe-hockey-town Phoenix himself, what the make-up of the soon-to-be Nordiques’ fan base is like. He described it as a homemade hockey ball with a core made up of tin foil, wrapped in Kleenex and surrounded with duct tape (fun fact: Justin Bourne actually doesn’t know any non-hockey metaphors). He then described the Phoenix hockey fans as just that core with nothing else surrounding them. That’s in Phoenix. The kind of “fringe hockey fans” that the NHL would lose are the fans they don’t care about because they only exist in cities like New York or Los Angeles which can sustain their markets without those fans because they’re New York and Los Angeles. Small markets will only fail in the post-lockout world because they are already small markets that couldn’t give two shits about hockey in the first place. The Columbus Blue Jackets are not a failing franchise because of the division of hockey related revenue.

This is not just relegated to small market towns, either. For all but one of my 24 years on planet Earth, I have been a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The one year I was not was that year where my head was too heavy for me to hold upright (9 was a weird year). Aside from the years and years of therapy this has cost me, the most common argument I hear in my city is the old chestnut of “if we just stop going to the games, maybe this will motivate MLSE to make some drastic changes and get us a winning team.” I have been hearing this for my entire life and it has never happened. It didn’t even kind of happen for a game or two here and there. It has never, ever, doubleplusever happened. We fill the ACC every goddamn game and absorb our punishment. Because we care. Even the average hockey fan that can’t get a ticket to a game (read: everybody) isn’t turned off and wears their jersey with pride shame.

When it comes to the consequences of the NHL lockout, we are all Leaf fans. We are all coming back. And it sucks.

I am certainly in no way arguing that this lockout is the fault of the fans. Our dedication is not causing the bickering and the bullshit to continue. However, our dedication to the game has rendered us powerless (or even more powerless than fans usually are in these situations). There is no risk for the NHL owners here. The knowledge that fan revenue isn’t going anywhere allows the NHL to cancel the Winter Classic a month too early because they know that they can. We have no leverage. All we can do is wait for this thing to end and be ready to give them all of our money when they finally return.

Now where did I put the number for my therapist?

Comments (20)

  1. You’re right of course that the fans coming back last time is working *against* the fans this time. But I won’t be coming back whenever the lockout ends. Not for quite a while at least.

    The owners are giving the fans a big middle finger this time around. Once they end this foolishness I feel like it’s my duty to give ‘em the finger right back for a long time. The attendance drop-off after the last MLB labor stoppage seems to have scared that sport enough not to repeat its mistakes. The least I can do is to stay away for a year or more for the good of the sport.

    • I completely agree that this is what the fans should do, I just don’t think they will. As I said, I am a weak-willed man and will be back without question. Hopefully, others aren’t. I applaud your strength and I hope that there are enough like you to actually send a message to these fucknuggets.

  2. “Because they are already small markets that couldn’t give two shits about hockey in the first place.”

    Columbus filled to 81% capacity for that joke of a team last year. Take a look at historical numbers for say, the Penguins. Not even close in bad years. Teams don’t get the kind of fan support in awful seasons when they’re in markets that don’t “give two shits about hockey”. The Jackets take a lot of criticism, and completely fairly so. But just because it’s an expansion franchise doesn’t mean it’s automatically a failing franchise when they don’t win big.

    • Fair enough and you’re totally right about taking a look at established teams in horrible seasons (Pens are a great example. Take a look at 03-04. Yeesh). But that 81% was still 4th last in the league and 3rd last if you go by percentage. Those 14,000 or so clearly give more than two shits but I’m not convinced the surrounding population does. Or I just like to pick on Columbus because they’re the first team that pops into my head and I already wrote about Phoenix. Either/or, really.

      • Haha those are fair points. Obviously, the jackets aren’t even close to competing with Ohio State, and it gets harder and harder to fill the place up as they continue to suck. The feeling around town isn’t that they’re a failing franchise though. In Ohio, we’re reallyyy used to supporting bad professional teams. The Browns, the Bengals, the Indians, etc. The Jackets being mediocre is completely par for the course in Ohio.

        • What happened to Atlanta (part 2) is going to happen to Columbus if they don’t improve their team. Hockey fans or not, how long are you going to go watch a (terrible) non-playoff team year after year?

        • Dude, I’m from Toronto, I totally hear you on the mediocre franchise tip. Interesting that the feeling isn’t that they’re a failing franchise, though, is (or, I guess, was) there buzz about the All-Star game being there? I can’t claim to know I’m on the pulse of Columbus sports.

  3. Its inevitable that the fans will come back. We love the sport and if you are a hockey fan, there is no other product like the NHL. However, the momentum and revenue growth that the league has worked so hard to build since the last lockout, is lost. Sure, even the most obscure hockey towns will still have fans and will be able to fill a seat, but to Pierre’s point, how many B-list fans will be watching on TV, buying merchandise, talking hockey etc. Not many. Not too attractive if you’re a sponsor looking to invest millions.

    • I just don’t buy that there are enough B-list fans left for it to matter. I could be totally wrong on this point (probably am) but I really think that hockey has become this little inner circle of fans that truly care and the NHL is far more focused on that group than those that only have a passing interest. The B-listers will watch if the product is good, especially if they’re in a winning city. If they’re already B-list, they probably don’t care as deeply about the lockout as we do so they’re less likely to be affected by it. And if the NHL keeps putting up revenue like last season (doubtful but possible), I think the sponsors come back too. Again, I could be totally off on this but that’s just my assumption. Keep in mind that I’m an idiot, though.

  4. Gotta say I don’t agree. And the main disagreement lies in the belief of “fringe hockey fans.” I believe for every sport the majority of fans are always “fringe hockey fans.” They may not be the ones that pump the most money into the game, probably don’t go to see many live games or buy much merchandise but still contribute regularly in smaller aspects such as TV ratings etc.
    But this sport isn’t heroine. People aren’t completely hooked and constantly scratching their arms, going through withdrawls, waiting for their next fix (when the NHL and NHLPA finally come to an agreement on a new CBA.) Fans can move on, they can still be fans of a team, the sport, but still become less attached to the game and league. I was a die hard habs fan, and still love the team and have a deep rooted interest for the organization but I won’t be drooling over every transaction or point like I was previously. I’ll still go watch highlights, see all the dangles, acrobatic saves but I probably won’t be spending too much time at home on Saturday nights to watch a Leaf (live in the GTA and games are much more accessible) or Habs game. I’ll find something else to do with my time.
    Last year was the first time I saw Leafs vs Habs game and it was their home opener (not such a great night). But I didn’t buy tickets from ticketmaster or at retail price (because we all know that’s impossible) So i ended up buying tickets from a scalper. I spent $500 dollars, as a broke university student, on two tickets to watch the game I love at one of the most exciting and invigorating times. I can safely say I will never be doing that again. Until the league shows signs of stabiltiy and makes some sorts of reprimands to the fans. I’d like to believe that their are many others like me that will not show the same level of commitment to the NHL as they once did.
    Also hockey fans, if they have a general deep interst in sports can fill that void with another sport. For me that happened to be the Toronto Blue Jays. I am now just as interested in the TBJs as I ever was the Canadiens. Other fans can do this as well and simply switch sports, or switch the majority of their loyalty to another sport.
    Besides from losing the people that don’t contribute as much and making some di hard fans more of casual fans, I feel this greatly stalls the development of the sport. Children just developing an interest in sports won’t have the NHL for an entire year allowing them to watch and venture into other sports. Personally I feel this time the NHL will regret the decisions they have made.
    Like seriously how do you play in the last year of your CBA without having contract extensions going the previous off-season and throughout the year. Then you have another offseason to iron out the details. Can they honestly say they were trying for that period of time and still were not able to come up with an agreement?!?! This is clearly just a bunch of bull shit and I urge you to be stronger and convince others like yourself, who are seemingly willing to go crawling back to the NHL whenever they call for you, not to do so.

    • Hey, I completely agree with all of this (except for the liking the Habs part…boo). The league is absolutely not deserving of the fans coming back and has done nothing to earn the dedication that we have to the game and the league. In a perfect world we’d have fucked off in 2004. It’s going to happen here and there, of course, as my opinion is strangely not a universal truth (someday…) but, if I’m being totally honest with myself, even though I hate the league and the PA and think they’re all a bunch of whiny children who are screwing over the game that I love so much, at the end of the day, I just really want to watch NHL hockey. Maybe I’m just in withdrawal right now or something but I really just want to see the Leafs flail about like idiots. Tomorrow, if possible. It’s dumb and it’s equally as childish (I WANT IT NOW) as the NHL/PA nonsense but, despite my morals or convictions or whatever you want to call it, I want to watch some goddamn NHL hockey. That’s not going to change despite how I feel from a moral/human standpoint. I’m not saying that’s how everyone feels, but I do think that hockey is unique in the fact that, at least compared to the other 3 major North American sports, it has more fans that feel the way I do than you’d think.

    • The sport is heroin. I think that’s one of the main points of the article. Spectator sports are an addiction for the hardcore fans. Fans are also like children, as the writer points out, complaining and demanding immediate gratification, except as adults they are choosing to be infants.

      People do kick their addictions, but not too many and usually not for long. My requests to fellow fans are 1.) at least try. Don’t just say you’re helpless and drain all your anger away in a minute when the game comes back. 2.) get your hockey fixes elsewhere. Do it long enough and it will help you fight the urge to go back to the NHL. 3.) Cut back. Don’t buy any merchandising. Go to half the number of games you used to. Don’t eat and drink when you’re at the rink.

      It’s shameful if you can’t at least put up something of a fight. Imagine yourself sitting in your seat at the rink, another $200 night in the owners’ pockets, and Bettman is sitting next to you laughing in your face. Surely one has to have a least a little self-respect, no?

  5. The reason most fans will go back to following NHL hockey once it comes back is simple: It’s entertainment, it’s an escape, it’s a hobby.

    For me, following hockey (and baseball, during the spring-summer-fall) is part of my daily routine: check the score(s) and watch the highlights at night before I go to bed, check the news/blogs with the breakdowns in the morning, occasionally check in for any news of trades and ‘other’ news during the day if I have a few minutes to myself and I’m bored. Watching the games constitutes the ‘entertainment’ part of the sport with me, though I miss a fair portion of games during the year due to school, work, or other engagements. But I’ll wind up seeing anywhere between 1/2 and 2/3 of Leaf games.

    It’s annoying and frustrating that every 6-7 years, a season of the NHL is cancelled. But I do not have an inherent right to have NHL hockey, I have the right to choose whether I want to follow it or not. And, frankly, I don’t care that much that there’s no hockey this season. I have far too many, actually significant things to worry about: getting enough hours at my job to pay for my car and for school, working hard enough at school so I can get a good career from it, dealing with the recent change of 4/5ths of the management team at my job, etc. So when hockey comes back, I’ll welcome it with open arms.

    Because missing one season of one professional sports league is probably the definition of a “first world problem”.

  6. As a Coyotes fan I’m not sure if I should be offended by that or worried that the cold of Canada has started to effect Justin’s brain.

  7. I sincerely hope this isn’t the case. But I agree with you Jake. Hockey fans have stigmatized their game to the point where the casual fan is such a small target group that huge revenue loss in future seasons is simply probably not going to be the case. I dearly hope the NHL feels the pain of this one for years, just can’t see it.

    On the other hand, during the last lockout when I was 14 years old, my dad vowed to never give them anywhere near the kind of money he previously had. (We had season tickets for years, hence why I became a huge fan, hosted his business christmas parties in suites, etc). After that lockout ended, he went from being a devout fan to a casual-at-best fan. I think he’s been to exactly 4 games ever since, whereas I have been to ~30-40 (senators games). I was obviously young and didn’t understand (see: didn’t care) the business end of it as intricately but am hoping that this time I’ll be able to stick to my guns like he did. Still, probably won’t happen.

  8. And, also speaking as a broke university student for 4 years, I literally cannot add up the total sum of money I have spent on tickets, regular season and playoff (including 2 games in round 1 vs the rangers last season), $10 cans of beer and hats. Well, not that I can’t add it up, I’m just afraid to. There were times I literally struggled to eat because I was too stubborn to beg my parents for money, but still i managed to get to sens games.

    It really does feel like a betrayal that at times I gave up eating to put my money into the hands of people far richer than I, only to have them turn around tell me to fuck off. (I know that was melodramatic, but we have all earned the right to be pissed).

    • Highly recommend Minor Pro or Jr hockey if money is a concern. The games are still good times and you’re helping guys that really need it.

  9. A transplanted Flyers fan here — living in southern California where, despite the Kings win, no one I know gives a rat’s butthole about hockey except for one guy at work who occasionally wears a Ducks shirt because he actually plays the game in an amateur league.

    I detached mostly when I moved out here in 1989, and detached COMPLETELY when they blew it in the 90s to Detroit in 4 straight. And I mean completely. I have no clue what was going on with the Flyers between about 1997 and last December, when I randomly saw about six seconds of the WC on a TV in a restaurant out here and saw Bernie’s smiling, hairy mug with a tipped-up goalie mask on his head. I absolutely melted and remember thinking with little enthusiasm, “Oh, cr@p, I’m going to start giving a damn about hockey again, aren’t I?”

    LESS THAN A YEAR LATER, it’s eff you from the league, and I’m watching Claude and Danny burning it up in the DEL, and as nice as it is to see them do so well in Berlin, it’s galling. I already don’t spend any money on the Flyers or hockey only because I CAN’T go to any games as I live three time zones away.

    I had only just begun to get reoriented after a nearly 15-year total lack of giving a damn. Now I’m sliding right back into the complete failure to care that characterized my relationship with hockey since 1997. Even when they got into the finals in 2010, I didn’t care. My mom told me they were in the finals over the phone, and I went, “Oh. Well, we all know how that’ll turn out, right?” She wasn’t feeling any more enthusiastic than I was.

    I’m really sick of it. I’m 2,800 miles away from the team, I failed to give a damn for 15 years already, and just when I started to get back into it, I get a boot in the face.

    Bite me, NHL. I’m happy to watch the DEL games and enjoy them anyway. It’s a bigger rink with no trap, a more open game, rough enough but less stupidly violent, and I can just enjoy the game without it feeling like a life-or-death thing.

    Ask me how I feel at the end of the DEL season though, when Claude and Danny are hoisting the wrong cup over their heads. Apathy may give way to seething, ungovernable rage.

    Anyhow.

  10. I totally identify with this, both as a Leafs fan and a hockey fan. I’m in the minority in that I’d like to see the league stick with 30 franchises (and they were all healthy and the sport was super popular. I think those are good things…) however, I’m not sure we’re powerless.

    We may not be able to abstain from going to a game, but we can probably withhold a few of our own hard earned dollars from the NHL’s corporate sponsors. If the league is already primarily gate driven, pushing the revenue stream to be even more closely tied to gates (aka – our bucks), should add a new degree of urgency when (and you know it’s a matter of when, not if) the next CBA expires and we have to go through this all again…

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