Opinion: don’t give the NHL any of your money
It’s been said many times before, but I think it bears repeating: at this point, when games return to the NHL calendar, it would do fans a lot of good to not show up at the arena.
On November 16th, Pierre LeBrun shared with his readers an intensive series of fan tweets stating that they will stop giving the league its money, stop watching hockey altogether, or flat-out stop being interested in the sport, considering this autumn’s ordeal. It’s obvious that everyone who follows the NHL wants the season back, and there may still be a short one, such as the one that followed the lockout of 1994-95. Still, these types of labor issues run deep in the NHL over the last two decades, and the loss of an entire season is still fresh in many memories – owners, players, and fans alike.
When the puck drops again at an NHL game, however, it won’t be anyone’s words that tell the league “you better not do that ever again.” It won’t be communicated effectively in tweets or pub talk that the NHL has to earn back fan trust. No, the only way that you can communicate that to big business is with your wallet. If you want the NHL to even make the smallest effort to better manage their industry, you can do that by not putting your hard-earned dollars back into the league so soon.
The NHL won’t likely have any trouble with advertisers, their other major source of revenue, once the season returns. The fans still have the power to say that this type of business is unacceptable, and it starts with not purchasing merchandise directly, in any way that would profit the NHL. Whether games begin by the end of the year or not, buying jerseys, t-shirts, hats, and even simply Christmas stocking stuffers will prove to the NHL that fan commitment is purely superficial, and that they can still gain us back. In the same way that you might not support a business that you believe is unethical, you can make a statement to the NHL by not making purchases that carry its logo.
Smaller, that is, than tickets themselves. Many fans are vowing to not attend games when they resume, or are giving up their season ticket packages altogether. Continuing to watch on television is always an alternative, and the biggest statement, in my opinion, especially in mid-market NHL cities, will be empty seats. A lot of teams habitually play to sellout crowds. Canadian teams will likely continue to fill seats, the same way that NFL teams do in the United States regardless of team performance or business practices, because their interest in the sport is more inherent to their culture.
But a lot of the people who sit down in the stands in the United States are highly dedicated fans who make a specific effort to seek out hockey. It’s that dedicated fan base that has made the NHL blossom in nontraditional markets. Empty seats at arenas used to selling out every night will not only make a financial statement, but a visual one, and a symbolic one. Announcers comment on empty seats. Players see empty seats. Owners see empty seats more clearly than anyone else.
I love hockey and my team and want to see them succeed. As a Penguins fan, I have great respect for Mario Lemieux and everything he has done for the team as co-owner, and hope there is even a grain of truth to recent dubious reports that Lemieux and Ron Burkle will collaborate with Flyers’ owner Ed Snider to come up with a potential end to the labor dispute. I want to keep supporting the Penguins and Lemieux, but I will not purchase tickets or merchandise that will benefit any NHL team until significant steps have been made to improve the business side of hockey and its relationship with fans.
Professional hockey is meant to entertain and strengthen communities while making money–not just to make money. Insist that the NHL works for it. The NHL is currently losing millions as the season slips away not for your benefit, but for its own.