PETER CONRADI/Bullet News
So the NHL is back, and we’re all supposed to blindly flock back to the arenas and to our TV sets and to the souvenir stands to fork out $300 for that new jersey our team has dreamed up during the 113-day shutdown.
Sadly, that will likely be the case. We should know very well by now that the NHL owners and players – just like those in every other professional sports league – don’t care about the fans. Not one bit. They’re lying if they say they do. They care about money, which, again, should not surprise any of us.
Oh, yes, there will be newspaper ads and pre-game announcements offering apologies. There will be spectator appreciation nights – beer might be dropped from $12 a bottle to $11, hot dogs slashed from $6 apiece to $5, autograph sessions with the third-line forwards before games. But nothing of substance, nothing meaningful. And what can they truly offer? What do they understand of what it’s like to be hockey fan in today’s NHL, already dreary and dull games featuring half-hearted efforts from mostly anonymous players – all of them making way too much money.
I’m reading and hearing a lot of hockey followers wishing the NHL could somehow be punished for this ridiculous work stoppage. That fans should stop buying tickets, at least in a temporary demonstration of solidarity from the bleachers. The NHL’s reaction? It would accept the admonishment briefly, but then no doubt would warn offending cities that there are plenty of other towns that would welcome a franchise, so they had best fall back into line: Sit down and shut up. Oh, and don’t forget to build us those new arenas. Most will do as we are told.
It’s easy to understand. The game is a connector that helps us through some many long winters. And let’s face it: television is a wasteland on Saturdays without Hockey Night in Canada. How many ‘Classic NHL’ games can we watch?
Are there other things to do? Of course. Always. Many prefer not to look elsewhere. Hockey is a 10-month-long obsession for a lot of people (unless you happen to be a Leafs follower.) And no amount of greed or other wrongdoing will alter that. The NHL is banking on the permanence of that fixation.
Leaf fans on strike? Rangers? Bruins? Habs? Blackhawks? Wings? Not a chance. It will be the same for many clubs. But those fringe towns, those places where the NHL remains a curiosity more than anything else, those are the ones that will be interesting to observe. And even in hockey-mad southern Ontario, Michigan and New York State, the places where tickets are always sold – will the fans return to the bars and the big screen televisions? Will the NHL command the same kind of advertising revenue? Will merchandise sales in fact be No. 1 on shopping lists?
Hard to say. I’m a hockey fan. But not a fanatic anymore. I figure if they can turn me off, they might have a problem on their hands. I’m hoping so, anyway. But not really optimistic. After the 2004-05 lockout wiped out the entire season, fans still came rushing back. It’s difficult to imagine that not occurring again.
Nevertheless, it was still rather sickening watching the all-sports TV channels tripping over their tongues Sunday, gushing about “the news we have all been dreaming of.”
How many fans actually know what this was all about? How many players and owners know what this was about? How many know what brought about a settlement? Maybe it doesn’t matter, but I would think that if the game plays the vital role in our lives that it evidently does, then we might have a deeper understanding of what makes it tick.
For 113 days the continent was deprived of the diversion so many love. For what? What changed? What brought it all back from having another lost winter? Money again? How can it be otherwise? They held their noses and got back to work because there was too much money to be left on the table. More than the average fan can ever comprehend.
Hockey is part of the Canadian culture. I believe that. I used to think the NHL was the standard bearer for that heritage. I don’t anymore. Actually, I don’t think I have for a long time. The NHL players and owners merely confirmed it over the past few months.
So they’re returned. I’m glad for the people who work in the arenas, the bar owners, the guys who sell food on the streets. As for the rest of them, I’m thinking that every NHL season should start in mid-January. And I’m happy that baseball’s spring training opens in a month.
Play ball. The sooner the better.