As we look toward a truncated NHL season now that a new collective bargaining agreement has been established Jeff Klein has an interesting article in today’s New York Times – Shortened Season Is Only the Start of N.H.L. Hurdles. In it he states that the league has a whole lot of repairing to do in the wake of missed games and fan anger.
Kraft Foods walked away from a lucrative N.H.L. sponsorship in Canada. Molson Coors is seeking reparations for lost business. The Winter Classic, the league’s biggest marketing tool, was canceled. A Facebook page started by an angry Los Angeles fan calling for a 10-game boycott on N.H.L. tickets and merchandise, called “Just Drop It,” generated more than 21,000 “likes.”
Klein has done his math and worked out that in Gary Bettman’s 20 years as commissioner almost 10% of regular season games have been cancelled due to labor disputes.
All this looks like an uphill battle for the NHL, but will it really have a problem, or are the threats idle? Keep in mind that in many solid hockey markets, in both Canada and the United States there are large, well established fan-bases. And the key word there is “fan”: Merriam-Webster, the Oxford dictionary and other sources define it as a shortened version of the word fanatic. The league may well lose some casual, curiosity-seeker attendance, but I’m afraid the true Hockey Fanatic will, no matter how annoyed they may be, return to the game they love. There may be some boos to greet the teams as they return to the ice, maybe an octopus or two flung on the ice, but those boos and octopi will be coming from fans in paid for seats in various buildings around the league.
More proof that fans will return? According to Forbes, the Toronto Maple Leafs are the highest valued NHL team, coming in at $1 billion. They have a solid local fan-base as well as many fans across the country, yet this franchise hasn’t won anything since 1967! How can such a dismal record generate such a high value? Fanatics!
So let’s not get worked up over how to inflict our anger on the league; they know fans are peeved, but they also know fans will return – it goes with the turf. Just enjoy the game that we’ve been missing and look forward to a late-June Stanley Cup to bring to a close an asterisk-filled season.