For those of you who know me or follow me on Twitter know how much I love the sport of hockey. If you don’t, let me give you a brief history.
I was raised in a hockey rink. From a very young age most of my time was spent at Sport-O-Rama in Monsey, N.Y., either learning how to skate or watching my brother play hockey. My weekends were spent at hockey rinks all around the northeast watching my brother’s travel hockey teams.
My dream was to be the color analyst for the New York Rangers; I didn’t know anything else. Yes, I love baseball and football, but there’s something about going to a hockey game: watching it, lacing up a pair of skates and the smell of a rink, of the ice. There’s just nothing else like it.
I might not attend a lot of games during the NHL season, maybe a handful when I can afford it or someone is nice enough to give me tickets. But I spend money. I spend money when I go to games. I seem to spend money even just walking past the NHL store on 6th Avenue in Manhattan. When I don’t go to games I go out with my friends to watch games at local establishments near Madison Square Garden.
Back in August, possibly even before that, the NHL Players’ Association offered to play under the now expired Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and continue to negotiate a new CBA. The NHL said no.
The CBA expired on September 15th with Commissioner Gary Bettman announcing the league was locking out the players. (Side note, I assume if you are reading this you know the difference between a lockout and a strike. If you don’t here’s the simple explanation: A lockout is brought on by the league/owners. A strike is brought on by the players.)
By the way, did you know that this is the THIRD lockout since Bettman became NHL commissioner? The second lockout canceled a whole season. No other professional sports league has seen the amount of games canceled than the NHL has under Bettman. I spent more time negotiating my Saturday night curfew with my parents when I was in high school than both sides have negotiating a new deal.
With today’s announcement of another month of canceled games, that’s money kept in my pocket, or spent other places. However, that’s money out of arena workers’ pockets because they work hourly and rely on these games for work. It’s also money out of the small business owners’ and their employees’ pockets around the arenas. Yes, we can all go and eat and drink at places around MSG and other arenas on a regular basis, but there is no way they would do the same business on a random Tuesday in November with no hockey being played down the street.
Many teams have already laid off staff, some teams laid off staff on September 17th, the first business day after the lockout announcement. Others have laid off staff since then, cut work days and of course salaries. A cut to the salary of an assistant or coordinator or even a director can be detrimental to a person’s livelihood. I’m not talking, ‘Oh now they can’t eat out every other night.’ I mean now people might have problems paying bills!
Fans are starting to call their ticket representatives asking for refunds and giving up their season-ticket-holder seniority because they are frustrated with what is going on. Those season ticket holders will now go and spend their hard-earned money somewhere else. Maybe on a vacation, on home improvement, or even on another sport. Who knows, but those who are pulling their money out are ones who might never come back.
Does the NHL realize that it has definitely lost the fringe fans? The ones that started watching because of that amazing triple overtime game between the Rangers and the Capitals during the playoffs last season? Honestly, what person who just became a fan would want to invest their time and interest in a league that just doesn’t seem to care? I know I wouldn’t.
If there was a season, tonight the Rangers would be playing the Carolina Hurricanes. Three of the four Staal brothers would be playing in the same game that mattered, probably for the first time since they were boys. What an amazing story! What amazing hockey! But instead, a good amount of the NHLPA is over in Europe playing, while many others are considering their options.
With the fact that a second month of NHL hockey is being wiped off the board, hockey fans everywhere are turning to other forms of hockey entertainment: NCAA, ECHL, AHL, OHL, Pee-Wee, Bantam or even pick-up games at the local rink to fulfill the huge hole. Hell, fans like me are even turning on our computers to watch the KHL and other elite European leagues while we probably should be focusing on our work. No matter what, none of these options are on the level of the NHL. As a NYC resident, it’s not easy for me to get to a minor league or NCAA game; the availability just isn’t there like it is for me to attend a NHL game.
The sooner all the owners and Gary Bettman realize they are hurting the sport and the future of the league more than helping it, the better. Unfortunately, I don’t see this happening anytime soon unless both sides lock themselves in a room until a deal is done. I’ll even volunteer to moderate.
What’s this attachment below? Well, back in 2006 my group NYU Sports Business graduate school thesis (myself and four other students wrote and conducted the research) was a 10 year overview of the NHL and what it needed to do to improve. Feel free to read: NHL: 10 Year Overview (FYI…It’s a Word document download)