Welcome to the newest edition of “Point/Counterpoint,” where a pair of Flyers Faithful scribes present both sides of one particular issue with their own unique view and flair.
Point, Kevin: The fans are enabling the lockout and Gary Bettman has said as much.
A few weeks back, Bettman said “We recovered last time because we have the world’s greatest fans.” I take that as essentially saying “It doesn’t matter if we lock out because you guys will come back no matter what,” and you know what, he’s entirely right.
Hockey is a niche sport that is made up, almost entirely of the irrationally devoted. There really aren’t that many fair-weather hockey fans that come and go, those “casual fans” Bettman hung all the hopes on being drawn in by the changes the league made prior to the return of hockey in 2005.
And for those that do, nothing will change as far as they are concerned. Heck, they may not even realize there was a lockout by the time they decide to start paying attention to the sport again.
If the Commish and the owners truly felt that a large number of fans would be turned away from the sport, this wouldn’t be happening.
I love this sport more than almost anything on the planet, and a few greedy owners, and a month or two of no hockey isn’t going to drive me away. Let’s face it, nothing is going to drive me away, and Bettman knows it.
So for everyone that is sitting there saying “if they lock out, I’m done”, or signing petitions, or trying to rally the “power of the fans” in one capacity or the other, I say…”I’ll believe it when I see it.: I’ll be right back in my normal seat more excited than ever when the season resumes, and I’ll say “hey” when I see you there too.
It’s fair to say the NHL might think twice about another lockout if they knew they were going to lose a tremendous amount of fan support, but it’s difficult to say this wouldn’t be happening if they felt a large number of fans would be turned away.
There are legitimate issues that need to be resolved — as has been said in 1994 and 2004. The small markets are still losing money as the growth of the league is outpacing the growth in those markets. With money being the central issue it’s hard to imagine a negotiation that would go smoothly. One side doesn’t want to continue to lose money while the other doesn’t want to lose money they are currently entitled to receive. Unfortunately, a work stoppage might have always been inevitable since money remains the number one issue to haggle over in negotiations. It’s difficult to say the fans are enabling a lockout when the fans may not be enough for both sides to overcome their current differences. We’re just some of the innocents stuck in the middle of a business negotiation.
It’s also tough to blame fans for continuing to support the teams and the game they love. Many of us invest a lot of time, energy, and money in our teams. It isn’t easy to give up something that is a regular part of your life. Unfortunately, Bettman and the owners may count on this, but the fans shouldn’t be considered enablers for supporting the teams they love through the difficult times.