Andre Richelieu’s is known as an international expert in brand management and sports marketing, and today found himself the topic of a column by Roy Macgregor of The Globe and Mail titled “Professor rips NHL for treating fans as ‘stupid.’” It’s a great read, and once again raises the question on the minds of many: when the NHL returns, will the fans do the same in decent numbers? Or even, in a decent mindset? I’ve cribbed a few choice quotes, but you should check out the whole post to get a real feel for his opinion.

“A disaster.”

Pretty much.

“A nightmare.”

For sure. On to the good stuff:

“The message the NHL has sent is that ‘we are stupid.’ The NHL cannot possibly have any other opinion, 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. 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.”

Ouch. If anyone else needs to google “myopia” as I did, it means shortsightedness.

“You have to take care in relationships. Even a flower – if you don’t put water on it, it will die. And this applies especially with the Superfans. If you don’t take care of them, if you don’t nurture this love that they have for your team, your sport, they give so much that they will feel betrayed. And they can react in such an extreme way that they can decide to walk away, at least for a certain period of time, and say, ‘Look, I can live without the NHL because the NHL has accustomed me to live without it. They have broken my heart and caused me to spend my disposable income on other options. Well, I will stick with that.

“There are some Superfans who are blind. But today, with $100 the price of a ticket, people might take a step back, have a cooler head and say: ‘Enough is enough.’”

I won’t bite any more of Macgregor’s column, but I do want to talk about what I think is the best point Richelieu makes here: “Look, I can live without the NHL because the NHL has accustomed me to live without it.” Isn’t that bang on?

For fans around my age – I’m 30, by the way – we’ve been through (and cognitively aware of) four work stoppages. We’ve seen that, if given the choice between worrying about the game or worrying about the money, it’s not even a debate – money, money, money. We’ve been asked to spend plenty of months without hockey when it should be on, and we’ve found other things to do. We’ve missed it, but nobody died because of its absence.

Yes, we’ve come back in the past. But after the last lockout, there were reasons to – obstruction was being stripped from the game, and we were promised a new, faster product, which was delivered. It was the best hockey we had seen in years. Then the league introduced the Winter Classic, which has become its flagship event. Hockey was awesome, and we thought it was fixed. Finally, those guys got it right.

But here we are, after watching an awesome Los Angeles Kings team win the Stanley Cup after a great playoff run in a season where the players and league all made bank, and it’s still not good enough for those greedy fucks.

People my age and older – hell, even a decade younger that’ve been through multiple lockouts – are the people who truly put money into the game. We buy the tickets and suites and 12 dollar beers. The ones they need to come back are the ones who’ve seen the worst of it. And this isn’t to say that all hockey fans aren’t affected, because they are. I’m just saying – the kids can be won back. They can possibly as cynical as the rest of us have become (give them time, though!).

So “I can live without the NHL because the NHL has accustomed me to live without it” should be words that strike fear into the heart of the league. That Macgregor column says a whopping 60% of surveyed Canadians are saying they don’t miss hockey, which as he notes, is astounding for a country obsessed with it.

I’ll be back, because hockey is part of what defines me. I can’t suddenly give myself to cricket. But for others who are learning that “hey you know what, I can function without pouring thousands into the NHL this year,” there’s no promise of their return.

The NHL thinks we’re stupid, and there’s a very real possibility they pot is sitting on the stove right now, staring the kettle in the eye, pointing a finger and yelling “BLACK.”

Comments (31)

  1. Lowering prices and all NHL related stuff is the only way they will not lose a ton of fans. I am done, I won’t be buying another thing with NHL on it or even go to their website for that matter. I’ll likely watch some playoffs but that’s it. There is nothing to suggest this lockout pattern every 5 years is going to stop and I have had enough! fuck all of them!!

  2. I’ll be back – but I will make every effort that besides the ticket I purchase to go to the game not a single extra cent will be spent in that building – I will watch the hockey but make my effort to hurt their beloved “HRR”.

    I will ensure I have a meal before the game, not drink a single beer inisde the arena and either get dropped off or use public transit to avoid parking at the game.

    My son and daughter will just have to live with the Oilers gear they already have – there will be no purchases at the store.

    I will now watch the sport but do everything in my power to not support the business.

    • you already failed, you either commit or you dont.This is why there are lockouts, because guys like you cant pull the damn needle out of their arm and show some guts!I will not watch a single second for everyday the lockout exist, i will match…period!game for game,month for month,season for season.WE OWN THE LEAGUE, not the players not the nhl.OUR MONEY pays their salary and this is how we get repaid every couple of years?if it happens again, we can only blame ourselves.

      • easy to say now when you can’t go, but when they’re back, I bet you change your tune.

      • dude you are a consumer to a product nothing more – nothing less… the level to which you consume is your choice. The “SPORT” is played outside the NHL brand, I’ve watched 8 year olds play the sport and seen some entertaining plays.

        once you realize the Fan is outside this equation – they OWE NOTHING to you – the better your life will be – they are not important to me becasue I know darn well I’m not important to them.

        NHL is no different than choosing to watch a Movie, going to restaurant, hit the bar for some drinks, spend you money playing Blackjack. Pick your level of entertainment and the dollars to spend it… or don’t – the NHL DOESNT CARE!

  3. i live in Kitchener where the rangers have always been the dominant sports team let alone hockey team. there is also two competitive junior b teams and not to mention a Waterloo midget team that has proved its worth year in and year out. personally im a die hard blackhawks fan, and go every time their in Toronto. ill support the nhl when it returns, because like you i have lived in rinks my whole life and support hockey at all levels. this being said i am a dying bread. my peers would rather watch a ranger/knights game than spend copious amounts of money on the leafs. i can easily afford to go to buffalo or detroit but the idea of going to watch the leafs has become ridiculous so i have to think when it returns teams will have to appeal to the fans by lowering prices, at least you would hope so. i do believe it has lost its casual fan here in canada, more and more of my peers have turned their heds to the nfl and junior hockey. again a bills game is beyond affordable and accessible. i really do believe once it returns the fate of some of the fringe markets may be lost which in turn could prove to be a positive for canadian cities like quebec city. this lockout is a grape juice stain on our white game, no amount of tide is gonna get this one out without leaving an ugly reminder.

  4. The problem is I want to watch the best. Until there is alternative, there’s no choice.

    • Still love the name.

    • there are plenty of choices. go out and support your local minor league team. or junior. or midget. you get the point. i don’t miss hockey at all. there’s plenty of hockey on tv and in local rinks.

  5. I’ll always follow the NHL, but as far as tickets and such – I’m probably going to go with Jrs or Minor Pro from here on out.

  6. I’m studying abroad in Sweden next semester. Can’t wait to pour all the money I’ve saved by not attending Oilers games into the Elitserien and Hockeyallsvenskan. And at least I’ll get to see some of my favourite NHLers again!

  7. There will be short term pain, but I think the NHL is right, most people will be back. Even looking at the couple of comments here it seems clear, ‘I’m still going to buy tickets but I won’t buy beers (sure you won’t)’ isn’t exactly the type of sentiment that is causing any panic.

    I’m 30 and grew up in western Canada before moving to the US, so I have the same experiences as you do, and I really don’t miss hockey right now. Occasionally I think it’d be nice to go to a game, but between the Knicks, Nets, Giants, college football/basketball and a ton of concerts I barely have time as it is. That said, if the NHL were around it would be at the top of the list, and it will be when it comes back. I think that goes for a lot of people, they don’t miss it because they’ve found other things, but at the end of the day hockey will jump back into that mix next year.

  8. The NHL knows we love NHL hockey, and to a certain extent they are acting like anyone when they know someone loves them whom they don’t really love back. They might say they love us, “we have the worlds greatest fans,” but there is a certain palapable contempt.

  9. I may be waaaaay off-base, here, but the only way I see the NHL reclaiming fans (under the current scenario) is to offer them the promise of a new beginning. A “game-reset”, if you will.

    I believe that would entail what one might call a “sacrificial goat” – Namely: Gary Bettman.

    I’m not saying it would work (100%) but, it might send a message that ownership has chosen another direction; acknowledging the repeated insults delivered to the “best fans in the world” under the incumbent commissioner’s failed stewardship.

    I, for one, have quite independently decided (regardless of any formal “Fire Bettman” movement) that I shall not engage NHL Hockey in any way shape or form until and unless Bettman is replaced (and not with Daly, either.)

    That the “Commissioner’s” position was created (and the “President’s” role extinguished) in an attempt to bolster ownership ambitions, rather than preserve the integrity and well-being of professional Hockey at its’ highest level, has become the most egregious source of all this nonsense.

    Hockey’s misstep in such a matter — marginalizing fans and their perceived legacy to the sport, through sweeping changes motivated solely by venal interests — is reaping the bitter fruit of an avaricious dumbing-down, watering-down and over-expansion, driven by Bettman’s carnival-barker-cum-shyster, take-the-money-and-run mentality.

    Myopic, indeed – As well as corrosive and dissipative.

    Bettman has managed to do what a Great Depression, a Second World War and several decades of political, social, technological and economic upheaval have failed to bring about in any other sport: Shut down OUR game for the third time in under two decades; and at the height of its’ popularity and prosperity.

    Fuck him, hard, with Rosie O’Donnell’s dick.

    • you can go on blaming bettman all you want. he’s just a mouthpiece to the owners. he isn’t going anywhere soon. what i don’t like about bettman is his changing the division names. what the hell was wrong with having names from historic figures from the NHL past?

      • Thats like saying you cant fire the manager because its the players fault they suck. It may be %100 true, but its also %100 beside the point. 4 stoppages under his stewardship. That. Is. All.

      • Fuck, but you are a retard, Chris, aren’t ya?

  10. I think most, if not all, fans will come back. I think the discussion about whether the fans will come back or not is pretty exaggerated. Maybe the sport loses a few of those fringe fans that were just taking notice (Los Angeles comes to mind). Where I think the league might be over estimating things is in revenue from product. I was going to say, and the thought seems to be widely echoed by other posters above and in other articles, that i wont be purchasing NHL product. I won’t be buying season tickets. The luxuries i was starting to consider for the upcoming season aren’t in my plans anymore. I’ll still watch the game on tv. I’ll still attend some games. But I think the league will likely see a reduction in expected revenue for a little while… maybe years to come.

  11. to repeat myself in case you don’t read daniel’s excellent post:

    corporate sponsorships they’ll lose
    (not to mention sales of booze)
    although it seems they do not care
    for revenue they cannot share

    perhaps i’m missing something here
    the issues not exactly clear
    both sides are losing money now
    but more of this they will allow

    for bottom line the stakes are high
    so thus they’ll let the season die
    as in their minds they know full well
    we’ll once more watch the NHL

    ergo we wait and wait some more
    as us the fans both sides ignore

  12. Firstly I’d like to say I consider myself as part of the long-term, hardcore grouping of fans. I catch 75+ Bruins games every season and usually watch a game close to every night of the week.

    I’l be back, but my money, directly, will not. I’ll continue to watch the same amount of games, but for the forseeable future I will not invest in team gear, tickets or anything else.

    Maybe it’s not much, but as someone who can’t stay away, it’s the only stand I can make. And I feel obligated to take it.

  13. My son is a NHL first rounder and I’m not a stupid fan… I will return to the NHL very slowly and in the least profitable was possible. The NHL will not make a penny off of me for at least a year (Unless they fire Bettman) I’ll watch the AHL, CHL and ECHL games until I can stomach going back to a NHL venue. That is my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

    • why are you blaming bettman? he’s just a yes man to the owners. and not to mention that the players have their share of blame in this lunacy. they’re not innocent in all of this. the keep spinning it as they want a “fair” deal. i call BS on that one. they don’t want a “fair” deal. they want the status quo to stay the same…..where they get a bigger share of cash than the business owners do. so, to summarize, they’re ALL greedy bastards.

      • Why do you DEFEND him?

      • No, no he’s not just a ‘yes man’.

        Bettman has his own agenda. He’s trying to build a legacy that will remember him as the man who took the game from Canada and made it into a US-based profit machine.

        If he didn’t spearhead the expansion into the Southern US, then we wouldn’t be in this mess (i.e. the tradional markets wouldn’t have to be bailing out the insolvent ones).

        Remember that Bettman passed the rule so that only 8 owners approval is required to lock out the NHLPA. You have to wonder why he did that?

  14. I am a new fan to the NHL (just the last 4 years) but this year I purchased season tickets. I will continue to watch on television but after purchasing tickets to non-existing games over who gets a bigger cut of a HUGE pie I don’t see me buying more season tickets. Have gone to a couple of ECHL games that are much closer to home and although they are not as good as the NHL they are considerably cheaper. I could buy season tickets on the glass for the price of nosebleeds in the NHL. I hope they figure it out soon before they lose too many fans!

  15. I am a hockey fan and a NHL fan but I think too many people (Bourne included) conflate hockey and the NHL. I am loving the WHL and AHL stuff I”m seeing these days. Especially the junior. The good thing is that going to a junior game is much cheaper and is a less cynically corporate atmosphere (although that has changed alot in the last decade or so). So I will say that I am not missing NHL hockey. If there was no hockey, that would be a problem but there is just no NHL which is not a problem.

    In a way I prefer junior because as with college football, they make more mistakes than in the NHL and it is more unpredictable. Seems to be more passion on a night in-night out basis too.

    82 games is too much and maybe in the future the league may find that reducing the number of games actually increases revenue because they would be more enjoyable to watch on tv. The players would be more rested and there would be less fan fatigue.

  16. Cricket’s awesome and you’re missing out. Just sayin’.

  17. The G&M piece is right bout the “Superfan”, I was born and raised a Steelers fan and was a die hard for nearly 30 years. Went to tons of games and spent thousands on merch over the years. But my disgust for the NFL’s gradual transition to a politically correct, glorified fantasy football league eroded my allegiance. I pulled the rip cord 2 years ago. Haven’t attended a game, spent one red cent on merch, have probably watched a combined 10 hours of pro football over the last 2 seasons, and I intentionally buy my copy of Madden used so that the NFL does not even indirectly get any of my money. The NFL lockout only re-affirmed my decision for me.

    For me the NHL lockout is different. I play hockey 3 nights a week so i’m not having to go without the game. Been checking out some of the KHL games and I love watching hockey on the larger surface. So it’s not a big deal for me. I actually hope it does wipe out the season because I think the owners are completely in the wrong on this one and I love seeing Donald Fehr smack Gary around. Seeing Gary practically reduced to tears and barely concealed rage/frustration is absolutely priceless. I want this lockout to cost Bettman his job so i’ll be happy to go as long as it takes without NHL hockey. I’ll just continue watching other leagues and continue playing EA’s NHL series.

  18. And no, Gary Bettman is NOT “just a mouthpiece for the owners”. But don’t take my word for it.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/30/sports/hockey/on-hockey-bettman-is-the-undisputed-nhl-enforcer.html?_r=2&

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