Welcome to another edition of Point/Counterpoint, where a pair of Flyers Faithful scribes square off, debating an issue with their own unique style and flair. This week, Bob H and Nick D find some common ground, though with different voices, over how we should feel now that the NHL is in the throes of another lockout.
Point, Nick: I grew up watching hockey. This city became enamored with the way the Broad Street Bullies played the game: grind it out, blue-collar, arrive in ill-humor type stuff. They won by outworking other teams. It is an incredible spectacle. Even now, with much of the sideshow brutality gone, it is a game driven by work ethic, emotion, and skill. It’s why you watch. It’s why the players play the game. It shouldn’t be about money.
The fact is the National Hockey League is in the midst of its fourth work stoppage in 20 years and its second potentially crippling lockout in eight years. It’s millionaires pitted against billionaires who don’t realize it’s our money. Yours and mine. We’ve made it so that they can play their little game in fancy arenas, televise it and make profits hand over fist and how do they repay us for our loyalty and commitment and our love of this game? They stop playing whenever they want to, and it’s wrong. It’s disheartening and it’s stupid. Both sides need to make concessions so that we, the fans, can have our game back.
Counterpoint, Bob: Awwww, again with the whole “dredging up the glory of the past while the future dries up.” I know the organization likes to constantly hammer home the ideal of the BSB, especially as the gap between the last Stanley Cup and the present grows wider. I got news for ya, kid, it was really painful to read a while back that one of those icons, Orest Kindrachuk, was completely befuddled that both sides couldn’t come to a 50/50 agreement and be done with it. It’s sad to see the game stunted by another lockout, but sadder still that some of these guys, Bobby Orr included, don’t realize the game they knew and the philosophy that drives it, has long passed them by.
And it’s saddest of all that there are a percentage of fans who are unwilling to see what’s right in front of them. The NHL has become what I feared most, exactly like the other Big Three leagues in terms of the rich and the richer fighting for their cut. I agree that they have no clue it’s really our money that allows them to have this slap fight, but I have to question whether it really registers to the general fandom. There are still folks who are jonesing like addicts since there’s no preseason. Whining on Twitter, on Facebook, on their blogs, that they miss it, because “hockey” is gone. It’s not. There’s plenty to watch and attend other than the NHL.
It’s a fool’s game, people. Both sides ain’t gonna move until one side perceives a weakness in the other. Regardless, we are the only ones caught in the crossfire. Don’t believe anything you read, and less of what you see and hear. All propaganda.
Nick: Players don’t come to play in the NHL for the money. How many times have you read reports over the past few years of this Russian player and that European player being offered way more to play in their native land? They need to get that straight right now. Players come to North America to play hockey because the NHL has the best competition in the world and has the best trophy in sports.
That 57 percent of Hockey Related Revenue? Guess what, that revenue is generated by you and I. Sure, if they had lesser talent on the ice, we wouldn’t be watching as much, but they do. Should they get paid for it? Absolutely. But do they really need to stop playing in order to do so? The NHLPA has been courting the public opinion instead of focusing on negotiating. On top of that, they have been adamant in putting a deal in place for no longer than four years. Unbelievable.
The game relies on these players to play, and the owners are locking them out, but they are shooting themselves in the foot because in three or four years, there will just be another period of labor unrest, and it’s time to stop worrying about making videos and public statements about how unfair it is to take a rollback on salary. You don’t see the fans complaining that jerseys are $140 a pop or nosebleed tickets are $60, do you?
Bob: To quote Homer Simpson, “Bullplop.” Players come from all over the world because the money in the NHL is plentiful and guaranteed. Oh, and also because the globalization of the North American product under Gary Bettman has brainwashed players into thinking that the best thing of all — beyond points, money, women, security and health — is the Stanley Cup. After three lockouts, why would an 18-year-old kid from Sweden or the Czech Republic be dumb enough to sign an NHL contract, when he can play less games a year, absorb less punishment, and most likely enjoy a longer career on average in Europe?
Regarding your last sentence, this is the crux of my own displeasure and righteous indignation. That revenue which is the source of so much contention? It may be generated by you, but not by I. At this point, I consider it an act of civil disobedience against the powers that be that I don’t pay for NHL games anymore. I am lucky to be credentialed as I have been for the last five years, and to enjoy the trust of independent entities which allow me to air grievances when the situation demands. Paying for this product, or lack of product, is just ridiculous. I love this game but I cannot support its business with my cash.
I need people to realize that it doesn’t take being a writer to enable your voices to be heard in the proper fashion. Why are hard-working, hard-earning fans of the game NOT complaining about tickets being $60 and jerseys being $140 a piece? Is the love of the game so ingrained, your desire to be part of something so complete, that you don’t see how you’re being taken? Upper level tickets at the Spectrum in 1991: $13. Upper level tickets at WFC in 2012: $39-67. How has that risen in proportion to your salary, or disposable income? To the younger generation: this is not right. Do NOT take for granted that prices are the way they are and it is simply capitalism in action. Some of your parents who once could afford ticket plans to take you, can no longer do so. You may not be able to attend either with the vagaries of the economy.
This is why I encourage all of you who are fed up with all of this, to write letters, bombard the inbox, or call the NHL, NHLPA and the Flyers to let them know of your displeasure. Walk in on your lunch hour or day off, ask to see decision makers in the Flyers front office, and tell them you’re not shelling out your money anymore, or that you demand a refund for this year’s outlay. It has to be meaningful, effective, consistent and it has to be organized, but bitching on the internet and signing virtual petitions is not close to enough.
Nick: The owners don’t understand what they have. The players don’t understand what they have. Donald Fehr doesn’t understand what he has. Bettman admits to not caring except for how the owners perceive him.
This sport has grown in popularity so much that it’s a multi-billion dollar industry with record-setting revenues. The reason they were able to get a new TV deal worth $2 billion over 10 years: the fans that watch this game. The reason they were able to raise ticket prices 39 percent on average, league-wide despite a promise from Bettman that ticket prices would be lowered: the fans that attend these games.
Maybe fans should stop watching. Maybe fans should stop showing up. Maybe if we did that, then this repeated unrest and cancelled games would stop. It’s not like hockey is the only thing in our lives, but if you’re a fan of the NHL, it’s a huge part of it. Bettman said before September 15: “We recovered last time because we have the world’s greatest fans.” Then why do they treat us like doormats? Why are they so happy to take our money and our time, but when it’s time to give back to the sport and it’s fans, they are more concerned about getting more out of us. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to stop supporting this league and watch another one.
Bob: Grown, eh? Really. If the only way the NHL can exist is due to constant upward revenue growth which leads to labor issues that prevents the game from being played at undefined periods for undefined periods of time, count me out. All growth is painful, but this is totally unacceptable.
I don’t believe it to be a case where neither the owners nor the players understand what they have. It’s simply immaterial for them to view things from a fan standpoint — and nor should they for how high the stakes have become with billions of dollars on the line. The lifeline between hockey players and fans was cut years ago.
For the owners, it comes down to how much money they will lose with the NHL gone compared to other businesses they run; it’s not gonna be much across the board due to the current TV deal. For the players, it comes down to how strong their union is compared to 2004 — NOT how they’re fighting the league to get a deal done so they can resume their careers and give the people what they want. If it were, then no current player regardless of marquee status would have jumped ship to Europe at the first sign of trouble. They would have stayed in the U.S. and kept hammering at Fehr to meet with Bettman and make those concessions to end the lockout.
In short, both sides treat the fans like they do because they can. Because they are not like us. Because their real priority is to themselves. Maybe? MAYBE you should stop watching, stop going, stop paying? There’s a time for meditation and a time for action, and it is the hour of the latter.
If anything, Bettman is right. Owners, at least successful ones, are hip to the psychology of attachment. It’ll take a protest on a massive scale, and an unusual amount of discipline — things which I’m not sure this segment of society is capable of pulling off — to make ANY kind of impression. Still, it has to be done if people are as upset as they seem.
In the interim, I say don’t spend your money on the minor league product. As the Double-A and Triple-A affiliates in the ECHL and AHL are directly related to the NHL as it is in baseball, that’s another way to tell both sides you’re serious. Use that extra money for food, rent, a new car, your kids’ college fund. Use that extra time for seeing the sights, or dating, or reviving the lost art of face-to-face conversation.