With CBA negotiations never really reaching the level of anything meaningful, NHL owners and the NHLPA are preparing their respective game plans for a lockout, scheduled to take affect Saturday. Hockey fans are similarly gathering their troops together.
The NHL and NHLPA met Wednesday in what appeared to be a mere formality on the way to what is an inevitability at this point. Stalled negotiations between the league and its player union continues to cast an ever-widening shadow of doubt on whether or not the season will begin on time, let alone at all. Thursday produced nothing productive, and owners took a vote to give the green light for a lockout, which was rumored to be 'unanimous'.
A question was posed to NHL fans via social media platforms Twitter and Facebook as to whether or not they would stay away from the NHL upon return if there is, indeed another lockout. With the league's supporters being among the most avid and loyal of any sport, the responses were not surprising at all, as the majority said they would eventually be back:
- Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisNHL) 9/6/12 8:04 AM @davegisaac @David_Strehle Nope. True hockey fans will stay. If they need to take a while to prevent this in a few years, so be it.
- Giroux Tang Clan® (@TheRifle27) 9/6/12 8:33 AM @David_Strehle As much as Id like to say no. I know I'll be back, I love Hockey too much. And the NHL knows there are fans that will be back
- Flyers Faithful (@flyers_faithful) 9/6/12 7:56 AM @IrishTim74 @davegisaac@David_Strehle exactly. Almost all of us will be right back per usual. I know I will. So does Bettman.
That's a key point, because "Bettman" -- NHL Commissioner Gary -- has been in this situation many times before. As a matter of fact he's been in charge of the previous lockouts, including having the dubious distinction of being the only major professional sport to lose an entire year to a work stoppage (2004/05). Bettman has used the "world's greatest fans" tag almost as if as a badge of honor when referring to NHL rooters. It's like a wild card he's holding that tells him everything will be just fine when the current labor discord finally is resolved, and hockey fans will be back in usual numbers or better.
Some expressed the point if view that if there were some sort of choice given hockey fans where they could watch major junior leagues, they would absolutely cut back on the amount of NHL games.
- James Centifonti (@JCentifonti) 9/6/12 7:55 AM @jsaquella @David_Strehle I'd still watch but not as much if we had more access to @OHLHockey @QMJHL & @TheAHL games in the Philly area.
As for the fan's apparent main outlet of their angst, it would appear the highly popular Center Ice and Game Center platforms may take the hardest hit:
- Jim Butler (@JimmyHespeler) 9/6/12 7:59 AM @davegisaac @David_Strehle I'm not ordering Center Ice or attending my usual 5-10 games live this season if there is one. Tough 2 do but I am
- Jim Butler (@JimmyHespeler) 9/6/12 8:00 AM @davegisaac @David_Strehle odd because I'm the one suffering by not going or watching the game but that $1000+ I'm not spending on the #NHL
- Not Ilya Bryzgalov (@BryzgalovFlyers) 9/6/12 8:43 AM @David_Strehle I'm boycotting NHL if there's a lockout...will cancel center ice subscription and not buy any merchandise.
- Adam Pardes (@adambtp) 9/6/12 9:27 AM @davegisaac @David_Strehle Won't purchase Game center package again. Been a customer for three years...
- Dennis Logue (@denlogue) 9/6/12 8:23 PM @David_Strehle I cant believe the NHL had done this to the fans again. They have the most exciting sport to sell and yet continually...
- Dennis Logue (@denlogue) 9/6/12 8:24 PM @David_Strehle find ways to drive fans away. There is no excuse for failure to to come to an agreement. I would like to say I won't watch...
- Dennis Logue (@denlogue) 9/6/12 8:26 PM @David_Strehle but realistically I know I will, but I will not be spending any money on tickets, merchandise, gamecenter, etc. Inexcusable
A few vowed to not only balk at the Game Center and Center Ice packages as part one, but will also hit the league in the wallet via non-renewal of various ticket plans, including full season ticket holders:
- Ladyneat (@ladyneat) 9/6/12 8:16 AM @David_Strehle depending on lockout length I won't purchase Center Ice this season. And for next season I will drop my full ticket plan.
- Ladyneat (@ladyneat) 9/6/12 8:18 AM @David_Strehle if lockout ends before Nov 1 I will get center ice this year but any lockout will lead to no full season next year.
Others said they won't be attending nearly as many games live as they have in the past:
- Joseph V Giordano (@JosephVGiordano) 9/6/12 9:10 AM @davegisaac @David_Strehle I have every intention of not renewing my season tickets if there is a lockout where regular season games r lost
- Michelle Ballard (@Crazy4Flyers) 9/6/12 8:38 AM @David_Strehle Although the decision was for $/scheduling reasons I'm glad we canceled our partial season ticket package this season.
- Michelle Ballard (@Crazy4Flyers) 9/6/12 8:40 AM @David_Strehle I'll never stop watching hockey but this will make me think twice about how much I spend on tickets and merchandise.
- nyck (@moltenfunk) 9/6/12 8:53 AM @David_Strehle i'll be angry. i'll go half-sies on my 11-game flyers plan this time & not buy a jersey. but i'll still watch every game.
Another rallying cry among fans has been to not purchase any NHL merchandise if there is a lockout. Some doubted many will be able to stick to their guns if the league once again pulls the proverbial carpet out from under their feet:
- toolboa (@toolboa) 9/6/12 8:39 AM @David_Strehle Fans say they'll stop buying merch & never come back. Fact is we'll ALL be glued to the game once it starts again #NHL
There was one, however, who said a lockout at this point in time will be the last straw for the league as far as he's concerned:
- Bob Savino Jr (@bsjr5726) 9/6/12 7:58 AM @davegisaac @David_Strehle I am. If there is a lockout I am done with pro hockey.
One even said he had just gotten over the disappointment of losing the entire 2004/05 campaign, and another stoppage would likely be the end for him:
- Wade Fulp (@WadeFulp) 9/6/12 8:35 AM @bsjr5726 @davegisaac@David_Strehle I just got back into hockey from the last lockout. I can't go though that again.
Some know that even though they are frustrated and have every intention of occupying their time in areas other than NHL rinks, their love of the game will make it an impossibility:
- Brian Donovan (@bdonovan1006) 9/6/12 8:14 AM @davegisaac @David_Strehle yes I am planning to boycott but it wont happen, I need hockey to survive #LockoutsSuck#nolockout
The great thing about hockey fans is they're among the most-educated regarding the game they love, as well as all the circumstances surrounding it. While Bettman made his late attempt to say the league was actually losing money, the record revenues of $3.3 billion make it even harder for fans to understand their treatment by the NHL hierarchy:
- troy kern (@tlkern70) 9/6/12 8:37 AM @IrishTim74: @davegisaac@David_Strehle what's really sad is that fans r the reason they had a record year $wise, & this is how they repay us
One fan did a great job of not only expressing his thoughts, but also putting a Hollywood-based analogy to the explain how he sees the situation playing out:
- Tim Sullivan (@IrishTim74) 9/6/12 7:49 AM @davegisaac @David_Strehle the sad part is, no. It's such a great sport that Bettman is right, we're all suckers.
- Tim Sullivan (@IrishTim74) 9/6/12 8:51 AM @tlkern70 @davegisaac@David_Strehle the NHL= Jenny & fans=Forrest Gump. We'll always be there for her. Stupid is as stupid does, mama says.
The CBA negotiations have been very predictable thus far, not much like a box of chocolates. That's for sure, Forrest. It seems we've known all along that it wouldn't be a situation of you never know what you'll get. Bettman's proposals to the players have actually been really predictable.
While both sides continue with their campaigns to sway public opinion as to which side is to blame for the gridlock -- as well as draw their respective battle lines in the ongoing CBA talks -- there is another group that is gearing up to join the fight.
With the very real potential for a lockout -- Bettman's deadline for an agreement is this coming Saturday, September 15, at midnight -- some fans have organized their own groups to boycott the NHL.
It would seem that if the "greatest fans on earth" are once again cast aside and left on the outside looking in at empty arenas for a second time in the last eight years and third in 18, many aren't planning on sitting idly by as scheduled league games fall by the wayside.
Websites have been created in preparation for waging a war against the NHL, with an actual game plan with which to mount an assault on owner's revenue streams -- both NHL-related -- such as merchandise, and tickets upon the eventual return -- as well as through other holdings of the individual owners.
One such site is www.youhavetwoweeks.com. With a petition to sign (you can read comments left by petitioners here -- http://www.change.org/petitions/you-have-two-weeks), and they have mapped out a plan of attack.
Below is the email interview conducted with YouHaveTwoWeeks.com:
What made you decide to plan a boycott?
"It was the only thing within our power that might get the attention of the owners. As hockey fans, our entire goal is to watch hockey. Signing petitions that mean nothing or hurling empty threats to not watch hockey when it returns (after two immediate returns in 1994 and 2004) will not achieve anything. The owners are using this unwavering loyalty as leverage in the boardroom to lock out the players, so they are actually using us to stop the game. Maybe if they feared a drop in NHL viewership, they would never be threatening a lockout. "We have some leverage too. We can use their other assets against them. This is how the idea to boycott their other assets was formed."
What is your planned course of action?
"Stage one is to gain awareness and get as many followers as possible on Twitter and our boycott petition. If our demands are not met on September 15th, stage two -- the boycott -- will begin. Our website/Twitter will transform from trying to attract attention, to trying to educate our followers on how to best boycott the companies.
"We have a few plans up our sleeve to help this out, and I truly feel that IF there is a lockout, this is when our website will become the most effective."
Do you think it will have an affect on the NHL's lockout plans?
"Yes. the potential damage we can do is enormous. We are only 5 people who put a website together. although we need the support of tens -- or maybe hundreds -- of thousands of people before this damage can be effective. We are just trying to help light the match of the tens of millions of angry NHL fans out there."
Do you feel one side is more at fault than the other for the stalled CBA talks?
"I personally feel that the owners are at fault for a few reasons, mainly because they're using a work stoppage as leverage. They should allow the players to play under the current CBA during negotiations. "Although as a hockey fan who does not really care who ends up with my dollar, I can look at the situation objectively and realize that I don't care who 'wins' the CBA negotiations. I just want to watch hockey. I can also realize that we have zero leverage versus the players, and a whole bunch of leverage against the owners (and their other businesses specifically). This made them an easy target for our project to end the lockout. "If the players had some collateral that was as easy to compile, organize and target, we would probably be going after them, as well."
If there is another protracted work stoppage, what kind of affect do you believe it will have on NHL fans this time around?
"90% of the fans will return with their tails between their legs just like in '94 and '04. The other 10% will soon follow and if '04 is used as a gauge, the NHL might end up gaining fans within a year or two of returning.
"Hockey is more than a sport to many people, and there will always be the demand. Right now the owners recognize this and are capitalizing on that fact. If they want to make it about money, we have to react in the same way to get their attention.
"It doesn't matter if they take one month, one year, or three years off. Whatever hockey league returns to mainstream television and arenas with the best talent available will flourish. I could see the KHL gaining quite a bit of momentum, and once the NHL is back in full swing, the presence of the KHL possibly stealing some spotlight from the AHL or CHL. Regardless, the NHL will not be hurt. They have had two lockouts, evidence they know this themselves. That is the only reason they are able to play such 'hardball' during these CBA negotiations.
"Our website plans to hopefully soften them up a little bit."
As the YouHaveTwoWeeks site owner pointed out to me in the email, this course of action has been successful in the past, the people of Winnipeg were able to get the Jets into the NHL by boycotting Molson products, thereby changing the Montreal Canadiens' vote regarding absorbing WHA clubs into the league in 1979.
Another large offering came from Finnish hockey fan Janne Makkonen, who pieced together a moving video as a plea for something resembling sanity to avoid the lockout scenario from coming to fruition.
Gaining a substantial momentum from Twitter, Makkonen's eight and a half-minute long homage to the NHL -- entitled "Together We can" -- went viral. As of today, the video had been viewed almost 745,000 times.
Makkonen was gracious enough to consent to an email interview, expressing his thoughts very well as to why he felt the need to take action and create the video:
"I could feel the fans' anger about a potential lockout, which really encouraged me to make a video. The players have said all along that they are willing to play even if the deal isn't finalized.
"It's not just the fans and players who are being hurt from this, but people whose jobs are dependant on NHL hockey. The fans don't care about the negotiations, we just want to see hockey. It's a way of life for millions of people who are all heartbroken from the potential lockout.
"The absence of NHL hockey would mean a great deal to myself. Fans are angry about the current situation, myself included. We are now trying to make a difference with a petition (www.change.org/nolockout).
"I really hope that we can find a solution to prevent yet another NHL lockout. I believe, that together we can!"
Another site that has the eyes of the collective fan set to take action against the NHL is NoHockeyLockout.com. As the September 15th deadline rolls around, there is a boycott set to be staged on that very day in Manhattan. NoHockeyLockout.com was kind enough to submit answers to email questions:
What made you decide to enact a boycott against the NHL?
"I decided to take action because I sat back in 2004/2005, and suffered like everyone else without hockey. Making it worse, I felt that most people were buying into what the NHL said without really knowing any of the facts. This time I want to make a difference and I want to help educate the fans."
What is your planned course of action?
"We have scheduled a protest outside the NHL office in New York City on September 15th to voice fan opinion about a lockout by the league. Since the original announcement, two other affiliated protests have popped up in Montreal and Boston at their respective arenas. We expect more cities and fans to join in. Protest details and RSVP information are available at nohockeylockout.com/protest.html."
Do you think it will have an affect on the NHL's lockout plans?
"I do think It will make a difference. While I don't think the NHL will change their minds and announce labor peace, I do think we can influence them to work harder and faster at getting a deal done. Perhaps they are willing to compromise sooner as a result of public pressure. The problem with groups -- and while the owners are only 30, they are still a group -- is all it takes is one person to feel differently, and the idea will start spreading to the rest of the group. At the very least fans will be more educated, and when all is said and done, I expect the owners to try a different strategy next time -- especially as social media gets stronger and stronger."
Do you feel one side is more at fault than the other for the stalled CBA talks?
"I blame the owners. This battle is not owners versus players, it's more large market owners versus small market owners. Taking Money from the players is done because it is an easier solution than reaching true financial stability between all NHL teams.
"The problem is it's just a bandaid. The real problem -- revenue sharing among teams -- is what needs to be addressed. Revenue has increased from $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion since the last lockout, and the NHL is breaking all kinds of monetary records every year. There is no real reason for a lockout when the league is extremely healthy."
If there is another protracted work stoppage, what affect do you think it will have on NHL fans this time around?
"If there is a lockout, fans will watch other sports and other leagues. The majority will come back, but I don't think they will spend like they did before. Before the last lockout, I watched one sport primarily. Hockey. I would watch soccer on occasion, and the NFL as long as there wasn't a hockey game on. As a result of the last lockout, I now watch the NFL as much as I watch the NHL, and I now have NFL tickets at the expense of not purchasing better tickets for the NHL.
"The NHL has lost some of my money."
What are your plans if there is indeed a lockout?
"I will watch the NFL and MLS, as well as the KHL and AHL if they become readily available. I will be keeping fans updated and informed at nohockeylockout.com while coming up with new ways to put pressure on the NHL.
"With regards to watching hockey, I will watch the AHL and KHL if available, and will probably join another hockey league to play more during the lockout."
In what way could future CBA discussions be conducted to avoid lockouts?
"I believe there needs to be someone appointed to the NHL who's job is the best interest of the league -- and nothing more. The problem is the commissioner works for the owners, and Fehr works for the players. With someone working for the sports' best interest the negotiations could be mediated, and the process will be a lot quicker."
Selfless labors of love designed to unify many, with hopes of averting what will no doubt be a fall of anguish and sorrow for millions of hockey fans should they be stripped of the game that many live for -- even for a brief period.
Feel free to sign the internet petitions listed in this feature if your hopes are that the league offices stand up and take notice before a stoppage is implemented. Help in any way you can, and attempt to make a positive difference.
It remains to be seen what affect, if any, fans' actions will have on the stalemate. But at least they're trying.
I want to offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone who submitted their thoughts for this article, both via Twitter and through email. I'm sorry I could not use every single entry, there were just so many excellent submissions and no enough space with which to list them all. If yours was not used, keep an eye out for an upcoming feature for SB Nation Philly on Flyers' fans thoughts on the likelihood of a lockout.
Special thanks go out to Janne Makkonen, TJ from YouHaveTwoWeeks.com, and Russell from NoLockout.com for taking the time to conduct email interviews, and for sharing their passion for the sport.