And, We’re Back
So here we sit on the eve of the commencement of the 2013 season, and by most, if not all
accounts, all the ill-will is at least forgotten, if not forgiven. Hockey fans are proving to be the “best fans in the world”, as Gary Bettman confidently proclaimed during the stoppage (avoidance of the “L” word intentional), and are poised to return in droves, at least in major NHL markets.
For all our collective chest-thumping about sending a message to the league and the players regarding their mis-treatment of us, the fans, it sure looks like Gary has us pegged. Rightfully so, too, given that after repeated consecutive “L” words, this is business as usual for him. As a recently deposed hockey executive often said: “This isn’t my first rodeo”. Likewise, Bettman has been around this block a few times, and he knows every inch of the turf he can call his own, like the back of the hand he used to bitch-slap us all with for one hundred and thirteen agonizing days.
The return of NHL hockey to Toronto means a number of things. It marks a return to business as usual for hundreds of eateries and watering holes across the GTA, and literally thousands more across the province. A veritable army of students and single moms relying on hospitality industry patrons are likely as excited as the players suiting up in anticipation of the inaugural biscuit being dropped. Thank the hockey gods for small miracles, like a shortened season that could have just as easily been forfeited.
So, where are we at, Nation? Has the bleeding stopped? Have your (non)hockey wounds healed?
Here’s the deal, from where I sit…
The major markets will continue like nothing happened, and the revenue generated by a few will once again shoulder the load(s) of many. Puck heads will quickly develop mass amnesia and immerse themselves fully in the drama and excitement of a truncated season in which any club able to stay hot long enough can catapult itself into contention. Should a small market team be able to catch lightning in a bottle, fickle fans from the south could get behind their club en masse come post-season, and this would, of course, be to the delight of their respective owners.
Playoffs equate to pure profit for hockey clubs, and for any team struggling to break even - much less earn a couple ducats - a mad dash to the big dance erases much of that air of disinterest in the NHL game where other sports take precedence. Does this lay the groundwork for sustainability in those struggling secondary markets? Not so sure about that one, but who wouldn’t like to see the good folks of ‘Smashville rewarded for their loyalty to the sport with a trip to the finals?
Hockey fans – the rabid bunch who know every player and his respective stats, the contingent of lunatics who scream at the TV set, argue with sports personalities on Twitter and spend their Saturday nights on hold trying to call in to a sports radio show – have already cast their lot and moved on. ’” ‘L’ -word, Schmell-word; drop the damn puck and don’t bother us with that crap for another ten years”!
That seems to be the prevailing theme. It’s the markets where the majority of “fans” truly don’t care if there is a season this year or any other, that presents the biggest challenges to the league and its stability. If Phoenix fails to get it going and misses the playoffs, where does it leave them going forward? Could it mean the ultimate relocation that so many have predicted? I think so, and I doubt they will be alone.
We’ll know soon enough whether the new CBA does enough to insulate the have-not franchises from the looming threat of insolvency or eventual relocation.
Something tells me Bettman ultimately attempts to add to the small list of teams carrying the mail not by relocation, but rather, expansion. He’s that committed to his vision, for better or worse. That said, there may be little choice if, among other teams, Phoenix continues to be a loss-leader. Perhaps a “blend” of the two strategies, as opposed to a mass relocation of several clubs is in the league’s near future.
Regardless, what’s needed now in order to not just placate, but reward hockey fans is stability. By and large, we are creatures of habit, aren’t we? What we want is to get home from the rock-pile where we make a living, call up a couple of our buds and invite them over, switch on that HD flat screen, crack a frosty one and enjoy. Or, maybe head down to the ACC and overpay for a yet-to-be-renamed hotdog and do much of the same, along with 18 000 other ticket-holders. That’s right; ticket-holders, not fans. Many of those 18 000 could be described as fans, but the sushi-set sitting in the platinums who spend the entire game on their smartphones calling home to ask if they’ve been spotted on TV don’t count.
Hockey is back. Enjoy…you deserve it…