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Three big reasons the fans might not come back

Nov 1, 2012, 11:02 AM EDT

Kings fans Getty Images

Back in August, before the current NHL lockout had officially begun, commissioner Gary Bettman famously (or maybe it was infamously) said that the league recovered from the loss of the 2004-05 season because it has the “world’s greatest fans.”

But if the 2012-13 season is canceled, will the fans return in droves again? Here are three big reasons they might not:

Fool me twice, shame on me. One lost season was bad enough. Add another less than a decade later and fans can’t be expected to be so forgiving. On top of that, this lockout is different. In 2004, most fans believed the NHL’s claim that the business model was unsustainable and that a hard salary cap was required to ensure the league’s stability for years to come. Now they see an NHL, having got what it wanted eight years ago, coming back for more.

It’s the economy, stupid. In 2005, things were a lot better than they are today. Whether the global economy is still technically in recession or not, the situation remains undeniably tenuous. There’s a reason the U.S. presidential election is largely about creating jobs and managing the debt. A lost NHL season would give individuals and corporations a great excuse to cut expenses by walking away from their season-ticket commitments and/or sponsorships.

What do they do for an encore? The NHL emerged from the last lockout having approved a series of rule changes that sped up the game and increased its entertainment value. It wasn’t quite the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa homerun record chase that helped baseball recover from the cancelation of the 1994 World Series (thanks, steroids!), but it still helped hockey fans put the lost season behind them.

On the bright side, there’s still time to save the season. Get back to playing hockey soon and the damage should be manageable.

  1. weenerman - Nov 1, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    I think I am a pretty hardcore hockey fan (and spend money on games, merchandise, etc.). I will be back but I am also not really missing hockey right now. I have more time and money and the regular season is relatively worthless so I’m not bothered by the lockout per se. The only thing that really bothers me is the back and forth rhetoric between players/NHLPA reps and the league as it just fills dead space but is a pointless (in my opinion) PR exercise.

    As I said, I will be back, but I also think that I may spend less time and money on the NHL. I am coming to realize that it’s not that important to my quality of life to spend so much time and money following things. Maybe that makes me less of a hardcore fan but I wonder what the impact is on the fanbase as a whole.

    • tru2joelu4eva - Nov 1, 2012 at 11:20 AM

      you’re a hardcore hockey fan and “the regular season is relatively worthless”?

      • weenerman - Nov 1, 2012 at 1:17 PM

        Being a Canucks fan and having won back to back President’s trophies but no cup may put that comment in perspective.

  2. solador78 - Nov 1, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    People were excited about hockey after the last lockout because significant rules changes were made to fix the broken trap-based system that had made the game so boring ever since Ulf Samuelsson ruined Cam Neely’s career.

    Even before this lockout, people had stopped watching after the Bruins seized the NHL front office and reinterpreted the rule changes from the last lockout, which set the entertainment value of the game back 20 years.

    • rogersjd16 - Nov 1, 2012 at 11:59 AM

      Huh? What the hell are you talking about? I have no delusions, I know our rat owner is driving these “negotiations” and creating the league’s hardline, but “seizing the NHL front office” with respect to rules? No clue what you mean here. At least in the context of your “Even before this lockout sentence”.

      • gallyhatch - Nov 1, 2012 at 12:56 PM

        I wouldn’t expect a logical response, this clown is obviously still butt-hurt about his team losing to the Bruins in 2011.

        If his argument had any shred of truth to it, then the television ratings would show a decline from early 2011 through the spring of 2012. I feel safe going out on a limb to say that decline isn’t there.

        Solador78 is talking out of his @$$ & crying about his loser team. Nothing more, nothing less.

        And yeah rogersjd16, I’m right there with you in regards to our rat owner. To quote dadboner: ‘So sick of this you guys’.

      • solador78 - Nov 1, 2012 at 5:19 PM

        Post lockout hockey was wide-open and high scoring, unlike now where goals are down.

        “Defensive hockey” aka the trap is back. The stats don’t lie. Lots of Canadians can tell the difference.

        The “1972 Phil Esposito Strategy” of trying injure the other team is perfectly legal/encouraged under the current chairman and it’s turning a lot of people off.

        FWIW, I pounded the Bruins in the 2011 and made a lot of $$$$ because it was obvious they were going to win.

      • jennettalia - Nov 2, 2012 at 7:49 AM

        “Post lockout hockey was wide-open and high scoring, unlike now where goals are down.”

        05-06 goals/game: 6.050
        07-08 goals/game: 5.440
        11-12 goals/game: 5.320

        Once players got used to the system, the goals/game was down. And that’s still well down from before, where we saw (in 92-93) 7.253

        Solador loses his arguments (aka conspiracy theories) in portraying opinions as facts. Facts are, league had a 1 year spike that quickly declined and evened out. And if the trap were back, the Devils were well known for using it… Hard to believe they lost against the Kings, eh? Must not have made a lot of $$$$ then.

  3. kantnockdahustle89 - Nov 1, 2012 at 11:26 AM

    Like a lot of us that read this blog, we love hockey but for me it is different this time. 1994 was the 2nd year I was really into hockey and that stunk then but I was kid so what did I know? 2005 was bad but like this article states changes were made and it was sort of a newer game. But AGAIN!? And from what I have read (I try to avoid most of it) its about money as always. Its a sport people and entertainment at that. This isnt life or death for these billion dollar owners and million dollar players. Life must be hard for you guys deciding who gets how many million. Im not sure who to blame anymore but most of my hate is going towards Bettman for allowing this to happen every couple of years. Its his responsibility to get these sides to agree or so I thought. And he has/is not doing his job.
    How many times are you going to treat “the greatest fans” like a door mat? Knowing that my favorite teams owner (Ted Leonsis) is probably a main culprit behind a lot of this bickering of back and forth I sure as hell am not giving him any of my money. No way in hell. With so many more things to entertain myself with these days between TV, movies, video games and actually playing the sport, I am going to pass on hockey until something drastic happens.

    • throw82 - Nov 1, 2012 at 11:49 AM

      I’m a Caps STH, can you elaborate on your Leonsis comment? I haven’t heard anything either way, so I’m just curious. thanks

      • tmoore4075 - Nov 1, 2012 at 11:55 AM

        I can’t speak for kantnockdahustle89 but according to Elliot Friedman’s article yesterday he’s thinking Leonsis is one of the guys really driving this lockout. Along with the likes of Boston, Columbus, NYI, FLA, DAL and a few others.

      • tatdue - Nov 1, 2012 at 12:42 PM

        @tmoore4075 – Friedman never said Boston. He said “the players believe Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs is calling the shots, an educated guess at the final group includes but may not be limited to Anaheim, Columbus, Florida, the Islanders, Phoenix, St. Louis, Washington and Dallas — enough to block any agreement from getting done”…..

      • thesableo - Nov 2, 2012 at 1:30 PM

        @tatdue- Didn’t Jacobs file the initial motion for a lockout? I thought it was pretty well established that he was one of the leaders on this.
        Keep in mind I have only heard this from other Bruins fans, and we all hate the Jacobs, so we’d pretty much believe any nasty thing someone says about them.

  4. comeonnowguys - Nov 1, 2012 at 11:32 AM

    In a way, this a blessing in disguise. If you saw the Western Conference playoffs, you saw Dead Puck staring to coming back, and it wasn’t good. What happened to obstruction? In the middle of a season?

    But it’s frustrating because of the resurgence of teams in some major markets, including wins in major markets–LA, Boston, Chicago. With this lockout, in terms of the NHL’s presence in (at least America’s) sporting converstion, has been three steps forward, three steps back.

  5. ducksk - Nov 1, 2012 at 11:36 AM

    Hockey fan til death. They’ll be back thanksgiving, and I will be too. I love the sport, hate this BS!

    • blitzrunner29 - Nov 1, 2012 at 12:04 PM

      How can they be back on Thanksgiving when all games through November have been canceled?

    • blomfeld - Nov 1, 2012 at 9:38 PM

      that’s the spirit friend ! :)

      • blomfeld - Nov 1, 2012 at 9:46 PM

        blitzrunner29 – Come on pal, you don’t seriously believe everything you’re told do you ? … of course not ! Don’t you recall how games were to be cancelled in “2 week” blocks, yet this second round of cancelled games became a “5 week” block for some apparent reason ? The whole thing is an absolute pile of BS ! As soon as an agreement is announced, then the season can start within 10 days easily … these lost games will be simply compacted into the remaining schedule.

  6. sjsharks66 - Nov 1, 2012 at 11:41 AM

    Haha putting a picture of kings fans up and talking about fans not coming back. Of course the kings fans won’t come back if there’s a lockout, they don’t like hockey anyways! (Talking about all the new bandwagon fans. Don’t worry Blom ;) )

    • blomfeld - Nov 1, 2012 at 9:50 PM

      Sharksfan66 – No problem friend, as you’re essentially correct on that. Though do keep in mind that “all” teams have their fair share of “pretender” or “fair weather” fans … Vancouver here is a classic example of that.

  7. sabatimus - Nov 1, 2012 at 11:44 AM

    Losing the hardcore fans could be a big problem, but the other problem is trying to entice more casual fans to the product. The Winter Classic, HBO, etc were designed to highly publicize the product. Now, the publicizing we get is the second lockout in 8 years, with nothing close to be decided (and with the HBO show and the Winter Classic likely canceled). Why would casual fans consider spending money on a league that jerks its fans around like this? Us hardcore fans will be back because we love hockey, but all that PR put into enticing new fans is going down the toilet fast.

    • tmoore4075 - Nov 1, 2012 at 11:56 AM

      This right here. Might lose some hardcore fans but it’s the casual fans who could go and that’s who you’ve been trying to win all along. Hardcore fans along with the traditional markets will recover and be ok overall I think it’s losing fans in the other markets that could hurt the league.

  8. gibbskins9 - Nov 1, 2012 at 12:05 PM

    I will never go to a Hockey game or watch it TV again, I’m done

    • hockeyflow33 - Nov 1, 2012 at 1:12 PM

      Doubtful

      • blomfeld - Nov 1, 2012 at 9:57 PM

        God, are you ever a moron !

      • hockeyflow33 - Nov 2, 2012 at 12:34 AM

        Nope

    • bigtganks - Nov 1, 2012 at 1:14 PM

      Yet, here you are browsing through and commenting on ProHockeyTalk in November with a lockout going. If you’re leaving then leave.

  9. noisetheorem - Nov 1, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    Ill be back. I know I will. But I will be watching on TV and listening on the radio only. I will not go to games and I will not buy merchandise for at least a period of one year. They will not get my nearly $2000 per year in hockey money. Thats regardless of weather the season is cancelled or not. I urge more fans to do the same.

  10. chrisvegas - Nov 1, 2012 at 12:27 PM

    Hockey is my favorite sport. Used to play it and have always watched it. The only reason I come back to the NHL is because I love the sport. If I didn’t love watching hockey so much I would never give these owners a dime of my money. Even though I come back, I will be reluctant to buy anything from the NHL for a while.

    • slickvb82 - Nov 1, 2012 at 2:09 PM

      you do understand that watching on tv (ratings) is still supporting the owners you hate so bad?? ;)

      • chrisvegas - Nov 1, 2012 at 6:14 PM

        Did you even read my post genius? I said, “the only reason I come back to the NHL is because I love the sport. If I didn’t love watching hockey so much I would never give these owners a dime of my money.” Yes EVERYONE knows that watching on TV helps their ratings thus their advertising. Still I’m disgusted by this group and I watch because I can’t resist the support. Still I won’t buy or attend any games for a few years. Eventually I will because I love to, but the only way to hurt them is to hit them in the wallet. I don’t care about ratings, it isn’t like I want this sport to fail. I just want the Owners to lose money out of this because it is bad business. Everyone should hate these owners for putting us in a 3rd lockout in 20 years. It is pathetic. They aren’t the ones who made this game great. It is the players and the sport itself.

      • slickvb82 - Nov 1, 2012 at 9:12 PM

        haha oh I read your post. I just thought it would be funny to comment on yours like you do to others and take things out of context. Mostly trying to get you worked up about the “owners you hate so bad” but then you see the winking face (sarcasm)….its ok, I’ll leave you alone now

  11. echech88 - Nov 1, 2012 at 12:40 PM

    What’s funny is the league slumps behind the NFL, NBA, MLB etc. in revenues because it doesn’t really capitalize on the casual sports fan and instead feeds off die-hards and regional interest.

    …and now after turning down a TV contract with ESPN that would have given the league 1000000000x more exposure to the casual sports fan, they will further exasperate their lack of exposure by not being ANYWHERE this season.

    Smart people running this league, I’ll tell ya.

    • hockeyflow33 - Nov 1, 2012 at 1:15 PM

      The no ESPN is a good thing. ESPN always relegated hockey to second tier and basically kicked them to the curb after the last lock-out. The NBC partnership is awesome and they’ve built an entire sports network around the NHL; this is definitely a great thing.

      • blomfeld - Nov 1, 2012 at 9:54 PM

        it’s “awesome” eh ? … LOL !!!!

      • hockeyflow33 - Nov 2, 2012 at 12:36 AM

        Did you actually just use LOL as an adult male?

    • jersey77girl - Nov 1, 2012 at 8:30 PM

      It’s hard to capitalize on the casual fan when you don’t give them access to watch their home team. Comcast [owner of the Flyers] refuses to make Flyers programming available to DirecTV and DIsh Network subscribers then overcharges for their Cable services such that only the hard-core fans will pay the overpriced fees to watch their beloved Flyers. It’s hard to be a casual observer when you can’t watch the Flyers in Philadelphia on DirecTV & DiSH. They even BLACKED out Round 1 Playoff games such that only Comcast subscribers could watch Flyers-Penguins hockey games in Philadelphia meanwhile it’s nationally broadcast to everyone else in the rest of the country.

      Doesn’t matter if your a season ticket holder, center ice subscriber & game center live subscriber. If you don’t buy comcast & u live in philly, u don’t get the flyers.

      • mgdsquiggy17 - Nov 2, 2012 at 9:38 AM

        switch from DirectTV then. It’s not the NHL decision on whether or not they show the games. that’s been DirectTV and Comcast. OR buy a PS3 and get the center ice package thru there. That is what I do for the NFL. Can’t watch it on Comcast only on DirectTV.

      • jersey77girl - Nov 2, 2012 at 11:40 PM

        Comcast refuses to sell to DirecTV. I had their service, they charge people in Philly more $$ add random charges to their bill, raise prices for no reason, and make u spend hours on the phone taking off charges they later admit to being bogus, only to put them back on the next month. Having comcast cable costs too much of my time dealing with them. not getting out of market games isn’t the same as being blacked out of your home town’s away playoff games especially for season ticket holders. maybe instead of changing tv providers, i’ll just change team loyalties and be a fan of the team that lets me watch their games for free.

      • jersey77girl - Nov 2, 2012 at 11:44 PM

        i had center ice and game center live. they black out flyers games from both packages when u live in the philadelphia area. there isn’t enough money you can give them, unless you want to pay them ungodly amounts of money for terrible service that will cost hours of your life dealing with [which turns off 1/2 the time] & overpay comcast, they will black out the flyers from any other programming you pay for. I paid the NHl for center ice – no flyers away games [or home] paid nhl for game center, blacked out home & away flyers games. then they bought NBC and blacked out nationally nbc branded sports programming [after the FCC said the couldn't] just to really F*%^ their season ticket holders.

  12. steelhammer92 - Nov 1, 2012 at 12:47 PM

    The NHL also lucked out by having the most hyped prospect ever debut post-lockout… I may be a Pens homer, but nobody can deny the impact Crosby has had as the new face of the NHL.. Especially for casual fans. The NHL won’t have that this time. I’ll be back, because I’ve always been a hockey fan, and Penguins fan.. But the fans who were the ones boosting ratings back to the point of 2004 pre-lockout will go bye bye.

    • kopy - Nov 1, 2012 at 12:59 PM

      The NHL will have that. It just won’t be in Pittsburgh this time. 2005 is to Crosby as 2013 is to Parise and Suter. I admire those with the will power to avoid the NHL when it resumes, but as a Minnesotan I am just too damn curious about my new team to stay away.

      • crosberries - Nov 1, 2012 at 1:08 PM

        Hahaha I’d be more worried about parise and suter still being pissed at your rat of an owner who pulled the wool over their eyes as they signed the contracts

      • kopy - Nov 1, 2012 at 2:29 PM

        Hahaha there’s nothing happening to Parise and Suter that wouldn’t be happening if they signed with any other team in the NHL. My rat of an owner gave them the massive signing bonuses up front that they asked for, and they asked for it specifically because of the looming lockout. They knew exactly what was going on, and it’s hard to be mad at someone that wrote you a $10 million dollar check on the spot without batting an eye.

  13. therealjr - Nov 1, 2012 at 1:08 PM

    Giving up on the NHL does not mean one has to give up on hockey.

  14. kodyknight2821 - Nov 1, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    I will never give up on hockey. Even though there is a lockout.. I still will never quit loving this sport.

  15. dannythebisforbeast - Nov 1, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    @echech88. ESPN didn’t give proper respect to hockey last time they had it. This time would have been worse think they were going to show like 2 games a week on ESPN 2. their entire hockey dept consists of Barry Melrose. I hope they do feel the pain in their pockets, NHL is has and probably always will be run like a glorified family business. -disfunctional at that. Bettman is by far the worst commissioner in all of sports

  16. irokkit - Nov 1, 2012 at 1:55 PM

    All I can say is lose the season LOSE THE FAN!!!

    and I wonder, is Bettmann
    Listening?!

    • phillyphanatic77 - Nov 1, 2012 at 2:44 PM

      I’d have to say, No. Bettman views himself as a superior being and the fans as nothing more than replaceable commodities, put on this earth to supply his $8million salary. I never understood how anyone could defend Bettman… everything he’s ever done is to benefit his massively bloated ego. When people questioned whether it’s logical to expand into markets like Anaheim, Atlanta, Phoenix, Dallas, Nashville, Florida, Tampa Bay, Columbus, and Carolina (I have nothing against those teams or their fans), he did it anyway. And the result is a watered down league that has struggled financially and will continue to struggle. Instead of admitting his mistakes and looking for real solutions (contraction or re-location), he’s continually laid into the players as the problem. Forcing a lockout in ’04, to revamp the game yes, but also to institute a 24% paycut to player salaries and implement a hard cap. Right after the deal was completed, Bettman lauded himself for bringing “cost certainty” to the NHL. He touted the salary cap as the solution to all the league’s ills. It would drastically lower ticket prices (wrong), drastically cut in-season costs (wrong), and keep player salaries way down (wrong again). Instead of acknowledging that he and Daly may have made a miscalculation, his solution is to once again go after the players. It’s the players fault for accepting truckloads of cash, not the owners or GM’s who continually circumvented their own system. He’s holding the league and the fans hostage in order to correct his own mistakes. Instead of considering real solutions like revenue sharing, a soft salary cap, contraction, or re-location, he goes after a 7% bump in HRR, which will have very little positive impact on struggling franchises. All of sudden the guaranteed contracts handed out by front offices are no longer guaranteed. He’s willing throw away unprecedented fan support and record-breaking revenues in an attempt to dominate the negotiating table like he did in ’04. We don’t matter, the players don’t matter, the health of the league doesn’t matter. Think about it… after the last two lockouts the league has been praised as the “winners”, but eventually their deals aren’t good enough for Bettman and he goes back for more. What seems to matter to him is that his salary increases another 115% by the next lockout and that he wins another round of negotiations to feed his bloated sense of self-worth. I will come back to the NHL because I love the game, but my dream is that Bettman returns to the NBA as David Stern’s heir.

      • mgdsquiggy17 - Nov 2, 2012 at 9:41 AM

        no chance in hell the players would agree to contraction. You really think the Union is going to say yea let’s get rid of 2-3 teams and another 50-70 NHL jobs.

  17. johngaltx - Nov 1, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    I am a season ticket holder in Pittsburgh, I figure that between my brother and me we spend close to $5000 per season on NHL tickets, shirts, hockey cards, food to go see the games. Plus another $400 for parking, and another $100 on gas, plus another $120 for the Hockey package on DirecTV. I also close my business 20 times a season an hour early, so I really cannot put a firm number on lost sales, but add it all up and you get close to $6000 of which $5K goes right to the NHL. Well that is going to end. If these morons ever go back to work my tickets go on StubHub every game. The NHL will be making money for me from now on, that is if I can find someone to buy the tickets.

    All I can see from the last lockout is the giant “THANK YOU FANS” painted on the ice when the new season finally started, well they can both go blow for all I care.

  18. id4joey - Nov 1, 2012 at 4:33 PM

    Yep! We are replaceable. So? They don’t care about us during the conflict. So? Not the first union lockout to affect the fans or consumers

  19. vegasroxie - Nov 1, 2012 at 6:13 PM

    The only way to get us back is to give back. Free center ice for everybody for one season. $99 team jerseys for this year on NHL. Com. They still make money, drive web traffic, and we advertise for them with the shirts on our back. Announce two expansion teams in two new markets, letting the fans choose the names. Creative ways to get us involved and excited again. Anyone think these ideas would ever float? Ha!!

    • chrisvegas - Nov 1, 2012 at 6:25 PM

      Agreed! They should at the least offer center ice free for everyone!

    • jersey77girl - Nov 1, 2012 at 8:25 PM

      How about if Flyers owner Comcast allowed non-Comcast subscribers in Philadelphia to watch Flyers-Penguins playoff AWAY games instead of blacking out nationally a nationally broadcast game knowing full viewers don’t have access to the local RSN showing the game because Comcast is the one refusing to sell the RSN to comcast competitors.

      Those poor owners unable to hold Philadelphia sports programming hostage in order to gain higher subscribership & charge current subscribers more money then anywhere else in the country. Maybe all the NHL teams should give Comcast the rights to their games.

      Oh wait, they already did. The NHL on NBC. Did you know NBC-Universal’s majority shareholder is Comcast? There’s a bright idea. That’s OK, in echange, NBC [aka Comcast] ensured the owners would receive $200M for the 2012-13 season even if they block the players out for the entire season.

      If Comcast needs to generate extra revenue to pay their hockey players, maybe they could try selling their flyers game programming to DirecTV and DISHNetwork instead of continuing to disregard FCC regulations.

      Don’t expect anything ‘free’ from these people. They’re greedy & couldn’t care less about their fans in Philadelphia [including season ticket holders] if they’re not Comcast subscribers

      • mgdsquiggy17 - Nov 2, 2012 at 9:44 AM

        This is corporate America. Don’t expect anything free in general. Stop kidding yourself this is a business first and always will be.

      • jersey77girl - Nov 2, 2012 at 11:37 PM

        I don’t mind paying for the station if they made it available.

  20. danpit2 - Nov 1, 2012 at 9:05 PM

    I’m a lifelong fan, But this is ridiculous we just had a lockout not too long ago. I don’t know how to even comprehend this but I am actually losing interest in the NHL

  21. LoyalFan34yrsGoKings - Nov 2, 2012 at 1:58 AM

    Lol

  22. pooinyourface - Nov 2, 2012 at 6:11 AM

    I like hockey. me and my boyfriend used to dress like lingerie hockey players while we jiggle each other’s balls and suck each other’s tools. Hopefully the lockout will end soon so I can start beating my meat again to those hairy lumber jack looking hunks again!

    • rick4230 - Nov 2, 2012 at 1:51 PM

      Suck my tool

  23. gettingpwned - Nov 2, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    Salaries coming down means ticket prices will come down too, right?

  24. rick4230 - Nov 2, 2012 at 1:50 PM

    I don’t care if these clowns ever come back, I forgave them the last time but this time I feel totally different, they said they learned their lesson last time. BS. When they start losing their homes and luxury Autos they will want to get back. One thing I haven’t heard about is “THE FANS” we are the idiots that pay the owners idiotic ticket prices and they in turn pay their so called great players. How come nobody cares about the fans?????? I say screw Gary Bettman, Jeremey Jacobs, and finally pig face Donald Fehr. Rick from Boston who was once a very dedicated season ticket holder dating back to 1979 for the Bruins.

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