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Fan anger rising with NHL on road to brand suicide

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NHL fans

How many fans will return to watching NHL games and buying official merchandise after the lockout is always debatable, but it is clear that some have already left the building and other are calling for a boycott of opening night. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

By Stu Hackel

I usually don’t publish emails that I receive, but this one from Tuesday about a fan’s reaction to the NHL’s ongoing lockout should be shared:

I just wonder how many fans will take a stand and not show up when and if this does get resolved.  Nothing would please me more as a disheartened fan than on opening night of whatever season is next the arenas are empty.  Sadly for me this lockout is personal in that my 13- and 15-year-old daughters were becoming die-hard Penguins and hockey in general fans.  It was great family time to get in front of the TV with Center Ice and cheer the Pens on in full jersey garb as we have the last two seasons.  They couldn’t wait for the start of this season.  We have lost that time together and a sports bond that I cherish to this day that I had with my father.  The NHL has lost them.  They have no desire to watch hockey anymore, they don’t understand the issues and could care less.  They just loved watching hockey with their dad.  They don’t like football or any other sport so that is something I will never get back once they sort this out.

Regards,
Curtis M.

Now, there’s nothing earthshaking here. It’s just one father’s story about how the lockout impacts his family. Maybe it struck me as worth sharing because I’m a father, too, and I know about the bond Curtis says he had with his father and the one he shared with his daughters.

We often reference the amount of money that owners and players have lost by postponing this season, and we’ve also discussed the plight of arena workers and others whose shrinking incomes depend on fans coming to games. You can’t attach a dollar sign to what Curtis believes he has lost.

But if the lockout has turned off too many people, there will be dollar signs attached to that for the NHL. Curtis doesn’t seem like an angry guy, but you can’t mistake his sentiment when he says he hopes fans boycott the NHL’s opening night, whenever that happens to be. There’s no doubt that anger among the fans is growing.

Not long after I got Curtis’ email, I read this on Sam Carchidi’s blog for The Philadelphia Inquirer: “A Flyers season-ticket holder wants fans to boycott the home opener if the NHL ever returns from its labor war. ‘Whether it’s this year or next year, the first game back should be in an empty Wells Fargo Center,’ said Bill O’Toole.

“He said it would serve as ‘a protest to what the league and the players have put us through. It would be a national story and a fitting ‘final word’ put on the debacle by the fans, the ones who write the checks for the billions of dollars these two sides can’t seem to divide.’

“O’Toole claimed he has received lots of support from other season-ticket holders on his idea, and he is hopeful it spreads around the league.”

O’Toole’s idea isn’t new. There were calls even before the season started, and not just for boycotting games but reducing spending on all sorts of NHL-related products, from tickets to the Center Ice Package to NHL merchandise. An “Un-follow” campaign came and went in September. The idea continues to surface (Greg Wyshynski published a couple of passionate boycott emails from fans earlier this month on his Yahoo Puck Daddy blog and he remarked, “We don’t think a coordinated boycott will work. But it’s the thought that counts.”

If it doesn’t work, perhaps it’s because effective boycotts require an active, dedicated organization and that’s lacking. A letter or a website, a Facebook or Tumblr page alone won’t do it. An NHL Fans Association has been around for a number of years — here’s their website — and I recall it having some prominence in 2004. It claims over 30,000 members but hasn’t had much to say publicly about this lockout since August.

“We’re still very active,” said Jim Boone, NHLFA’s founder, in an email, “but not doing as much publicly this time around.” He’s been “lobbying the NHL and NHLPA behind the scenes….at first, was encouraging them to adopt the fans solution (1 percent drop in players’ share of revenue each year for six years) and lately have been insisting that both parties do some significant things for the fans upon completion of the new CBA.”

Boone believes, “This has a better effect on the outcome than jumping up and down.” He’s not in favor of a boycott, saying he doesn’t think it would work.

Still, people continue to try to harness the fan acrimony. The most recent is another attempt at a rally in front of the NHL offices and the NHL Store in Manhattan at 1 PM on Saturday. A similar one was staged on Sept. 15 in New York city and attempted elsewhere (the turnouts, as we wrote, were sparse to non-existent).

In Wednesday’s Washington Post, Katie Carrera informed readers there have been very few cancellations of Capitals season tickets so far. But she also reported that the league’s image is taking a beating and her source for that is Ed O’Hara, senior partner of New York-based SME Branding, which helped devise the league’s successful rebound strategy coming out of the last lockout and still counts the NHL as one of its clients.

“The league has become known for lying to its fans, to its sponsors,” said O’Hara.“I don’t know how you come back from a prolonged stoppage a second time because it is unprecedented. Brands are built on promises. In this case, the promised experiences of seeing the greatest athletes in the world. That’s all gone now.”

O’Hara told Carrera that winning back fans this time will have to involve more than painting “Thank You Fans” on the ice. “There will have to be financial incentive for fans to come back, whether free tickets, events, products,” he said. “However they do it, it’s got to be authentic, real, and hit the wallet of the ticket buyer.”

Carrera also spoke with Tony Knopp, the CEO of Spotlight TMS, which helps a few thousand companies manage their corporate ticket purchases, and he had a very guarded assessment of how companies viewed the lockout. “Business continues, whether it does for the NHL or not. Competition among corporations continues, and so no company is sitting around, waiting to entertain customers until the NHL comes back,” Knopp said.

“The overall amount being spent hasn’t changed, according to our data, they’re just spending it elsewhere,” added Knopp, whose company also works directly with eight NHL teams to help manage corporate sales. “The league is playing Russian roulette with this, because who’s to say those companies will be there when hockey comes back?”

Last week, Sabres goalie Ryan Miller called what was happening to the NHL “brand suicide.” It seems everyone understands this except the people who are killing their businesses. Despite some efforts to stop it, most of us are left in sad quietude.

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  • Published On Nov 28, 2012
  • 23 comments
    PalmDos
    PalmDos

    There will be no empty arenas.  However, the teams do not make any real money on the 1st 10,000 tickets or so, they make it on the next 3,000-8,000 tickets.  As long as those 3,000-8,000 ( or more hopefully) do not show up the owners will feel it.

    swammi32
    swammi32

    I am Canadian.

     

    I grew up watching hockey, then playing hockey, then coaching hockey, and attending NHL games.

    After the last work stoppage, I was fed-up. It took me until last year to attend my first game (I wound

    up going to 3). My Interest was just starting to return.

     

    This time I am done with it.

     

    Some people say that the 'fan boycott' is absurd, and will never work. I agree to a point, there are

    too many die-hards that will still be there on opening night. I had a dream as a kid of playing in

    the NHL, now my dream is to see opening night in the NHL played to empty arenas.

     

    Let the owners see that the FANS pay the bills, and let the players score goals and see ONLY the

    teammates on the bench cheer for them! Hey, they LOVE they game, and are NOT doing it for the

    money, right?

     

    It would only be a one game protest, the first home game in your city.

    Die-hards can show up on Night 2.

    If you are THAT much of a die-hard, you should boycott Game 1 as well, and promoting it!

    Maybe after this next 5-7 contract expires, you won't miss another half / full season.

    Would you rather miss ONE game or a full season?

     

    The owners are united (as Bettman states)

    The players are united (as Fehr states)

     

    The fans are not.

     

    They fall into a few categories, I'll rank them in order of their importance to the NHL & P.A.

     

    1. Die-hards - They will be back regardless of how many games are lost

    2. Long-timers (attending) - They will come back (eventually) ... the owners need the $

    3. Long-timers (watching) - TV revenues will drop, which hurt both sides in the long run

    4. Casual fans (watching and / or attending) - Will they return?

    5. Disgruntled - Not sure when they will return to watching / attending a game

    6. Ex-Fan - Are completely done with lost seasons, and millionaires fighting billionaires,

          and will not return to the game, and have developed primary interest in other sports.

     

    I am Canadian, and I have gone from 1 down to 6.

     

    Making a Canadian stop watching hockey is like making an American stop watching

    Football, making a Brit stop watching soccer, or a Sri Lankan stop watching cricket.

     

    Congrats to Bettman & Fehr ... you have cured a lifetime hockey fan of his addiction!

    60% of nothing is nothing .... 50% of nothing is STILL nothing.

     

    Think about it.

     

    caseyryank9
    caseyryank9

    Remember this latest lockout when your local team's ownership group comes, hat in hand, begging for you to finance a new arena with your tax dollars.  

     

    And ask yourself... if you are paying for the arena's construction and tax breaks, why are you not a % owner yourself?

    WilyCoyoteSuperGenius
    WilyCoyoteSuperGenius

    Any "fan" who comes crawling back after this nonsense should seek professional counseling for battered spouse syndrome. I won't watch again until Bettman, Fehr and Jacobs are no longer a part of the NHL. The players and owners are like a couple going through a divorce who burned the house down with the kids inside.

    JoeDSmith
    JoeDSmith

    "Committing" brand suicide? As if they have time to step back.

     

    The sword is already in the NHL's gut, and the owners are just waiting for someone to cut their head off to complete it.

    ScottK
    ScottK

    This concept of boycott is completely ludicrous!  Not only have the teams already collected the revenue from the season ticket holders, those who boycotted would likely sell there tickets to people who don't often go to games who might splurge and buy more concessions and gear.  As a season ticket holder, I'm disappointed, on the verge of disgusted, with the lockout.  I understand two of the sides but both the players and the owners are ignoring the third side, which the article acknowledges.  All is lost if the league comes back and 50% of the revenue it's splitting disappears.  I'm not concerned about this season, it's already paid for, but how many non die hards will be back next year.  If discounting occurs, which it CLEARLY should, that hurts the league even more.  Call it off or come back, but STOP leaving the fans on the outside, stop with the stupid talking points!  This isn't an election, it's a sport.  Make your deals and get back out on the ice where you belong.  I depend on it for a good part of my happiness, as do my wife and 4 year old daughter.  Let's just play hockey!  56% of nothing is nothing!

    Derek11
    Derek11

    Forget the NH: this 12/13 season, if there ever is one.  Just cancel it already, I got plenty of hockey to watch!

     

    Go Marlies- Go Attack!

    erikbond
    erikbond

    The idea of boycotting opening night whenever hockey comes back has got to be one of the most asinine concepts I've ever had the displeasure of reading. If you want to boycott opening night, fine by me. I can't change your mind. But as a die-hard hockey fan since I first watched the Flyers play Detroit in the Finals in '97, my fandom for hockey and the Flyers trumps my anger towards the lockout ten-fold. If you don't want to show up opening night, go for it, it'll just mean I have an easier time finding tickets, because you better believe that my butt will be in that seat, cheering on my Flyers like I never have before.

    Kitster2
    Kitster2

    Here's a better idea for showing the fan's displeasure over this latest work stoppage:

     

    Calling on fan's from each and every team to boycott the exact number of games that are ultimately cancelled for their individual teams when this mess gets resolved, be it this year or next. If the NHL cancels 69 games for Philadelphia, Flyer's fans should keep the arena empty for the first 69 scheduled games and should include any playoff and Stanley Cup finals games.This hits both the players and the owners where it hurts. Players LOVE fan support and fan noise during a game. What better way to show your displeasure than to deny them the adulation they so desperately desire. Owners ... just help to flush their bottom line down the toilet. No ticket sales, no concession sales, no memorabilia sales, no NHL Center Ice (that would be cheating and means you support the NHL via broadcasting contracts).Yes, I AM a die-hard hockey fan, but I won't be watching or supporting ANY team in the near future. 

    likedoohan
    likedoohan

    This backlash will be greatest in the marginal markets. Places like Detroit, Philly, Toronto, etc... will survive because of the long tradition. Places like Glendale and Dallas, where hockey is on the level of indoor soccer, may not.

    scBlais
    scBlais

    The biggest problem for the owners and players is not that fans are angry, it's that more and more just don't care.

    David109
    David109

    The NHL is kicking itself with this lockout with everyone who is not a diehard fan.  I think the owners truly think that once the season starts everything will just be back to normal and for the most part they are probably going to be right when it comes to full houses in the arenas.  I know in Philly, it's hard to get a seat unless you know someone who is a season ticket holder and these people are not going to cancel their season passes because their is still a waiting list to get them.  What is going to hurt is in advertising dollars, with casual fans and with respect for the brand on national tv since viewer ratings will be poor for years to come.  There are just too many outlets for people to pursue to care about an NHL lockout anymore.  They and their dollars are going to go elsewhere.  The NHL season will most likely be completely canceled, and only the diehard fans will notice.

     

    I have always been an avid Flyers fan but I have to admit that after the last lockout it took a couple of years for my excitement in the game to come back.  It will probably be worse this time around.

    geeon1
    geeon1

    I would definitely agree to the opening night boycott.

    I also agree with SteveLabenz that a mid season boycott (perhaps the allstar game ?) would also go a long way to showing both sides that we the fans can not be taken for granted any longer.

    MohanTyler
    MohanTyler

    I'll follow the league on whatever free outlets are available, but I refuse to spend a dime on TV packages, tickets, or merchandise until Gary Bettman is gone.

    Jim40
    Jim40

    Are you serious?  Really?   Nice sentiment but the reality is people are stupid.  Very stupid.

    As soon as this lockout is over, every arena will be packed opening night, the masses will act as if nothing ever happened because the general public has no self-discipline.  The general public could care less about "sending a message to ownership or players."  They'll be back in droves because they are stupid.  You really want to change the game?  Boycott the first 10 games...but never mind...Makes for nice writing and wishful thinking..but that's it boys...

    Lyle F
    Lyle F

    Will I watch? Sure, but on my time now. I am 56 and have been a hockey fan all my life. 3 work stoppages in 18 years is enough. I will no longer buy any NHL merchandise, nor will I go on my average 2 tripsa year to watch a game live. I live 250 miles away from Vancouver.

    As far as watching it on TV, I will when I have time, if I have time. I don't care anymore about millionaires or billionaires. I can sympathize with the writer of the e-mail you published, but perhaps he can find another activity to bond with his children. I have.

    SteveLabenz
    SteveLabenz

    I'll be honest, I won't turn my back on the NHL forever.  I'm angry but I like the sport too much to claim that I'm done but I wholly support a boycott (my idea was for a few days in the middle of the season).  Ultimately, every dollar comes from the fans and both sides need to be reminded of that fact.

    PalmDos
    PalmDos

     @erikbond

     So in other words you are fine with the lockout and no hockey being played.  You will just go crawling back like a battered wife because you love your husband/hockey.  "Beat me up again tomorrow honey! I will never leave you!"

    Derek11
    Derek11

     @erikbond Do you watch AHL CHL or anything other than NHL hockey?  If not you are a diehard NHL fan not hockey fan!!!

    scBlais
    scBlais

     @geeon1 Only problem with the All Star game is the crowd is mostly corporate types.

    An opening night boycott would not really do anything.  Boycott the first month and they will probably take notice and both sides will thing twice about doing this ever again.  Only problem with that is the behind the scenes people and support staff would be most hurt, just as they are the most affected now.

    WillWillis1
    WillWillis1

     @SteveLabenz Same here, though I'm more apathetic than angry at this point, and read articles like this more out of morbid curiosity than genuinely caring if the NHL gets back on the ice in the near future. My wife and I are the type of fans that typically go to 5-6 Dallas Stars games a year and watch a majority of the rest on TV. Solid fans, but not hardcore.

    After the last lockout it took us a good year and a half before we regularly followed the game again. This time around, no idea. I just know that neither of us are chomping at the bit to watch the NHL at this point. We have other entertainment options.

    erikbond
    erikbond

    @PalmDos no I never once said I was fine with the lockout. I'm angry just like the next guy. But when the League does come back, yes I will be in the stands. Because I love hockey, and everything about the game. I want the sport to succeed, I want ESPN to care. I want people outside of the major markets and Canada to care about hockey. So yes. I will be in the stands along with the other true fans.

    erikbond
    erikbond

     @Derek11 I watch the AHL when I have a chance, used to go to Phantoms games all the time when the Spectrum was still around. I just listened to the Phantoms game last night...but that's besides the point. Sure, there's other hockey to watch - college, AHL when it plays on TV, Super-Series games, but I fell in love with the NHL, and the NHL will always come before any of the other leagues.