Monday, January 7, 2013

The NHL Lockout: What Can Be Done For The Fans?

The fans always get the short end of the stick in these labor stoppages.  The owners and players fight it out, trying to divide revenue that fans provide, take games off the schedule that fans want to see, and bring such a black mark on the game that fans really question why they support such idiocy.

There is no promise of continuous operation going forward, no cap on ticket costs, nothing besides a stenciled “Thank You Fans” that will undoubtedly adorn every ice surface for the next few weeks.  But, here are a few things that may bring some fans on the fence back from their threats to leave the game for good:

1.       Hold all ticket costs stable through 2014-15
Give jaded fans a reason to come back.  Show that while it was all about the money, the owners are not completely heartless.  Show there was a good reason to wait and give up 17 home dates.  After all, the fans should share in some of the cost certainty the owners have been preaching since 2004. 

2.       Give more perks league-wide to season ticket holders
Most season ticket holders could not get their money out if they could.  It was what amounted to a no-interest loan for some subscribers.  Make it worth their while.  Make it easier for them to re-up for next season with one-of-a-kind perks.  Let every season ticket holder get an autographed jersey.  Give season subscribers a meet-and-greet this year where the player actually has more than a five-second conversation with the fan.  Let the average fan see what it is like to take in a game from a luxury box.

3.       Give GameCenter Live away for free for the rest of this season and subsidize Center Ice for the rest of this season
Steve Lepore had a great point about Center Ice.  The NHL does not own the content all by itself.  The NHL should, however, subsidize subscribers after they fork over the dough to their cable or satellite company.  The NHL is getting a full-season of their TV money and 50% of their sponsor money this season.  It is safe to say they made it through the Lockout okay.  How about broadcasting your wonderful sport to anyone who wants to watch?

4.       Continue to grow the game at all levels and in all communities
Let’s face it: hockey players are the most down-to-earth, relatable athletes there are.  Hockey is grass-roots, it is homespun.  Hearing how a hockey player made the NHL is more heart-warming than any other rags-to-riches story, in my book.  So, let’s step up our efforts to allow these athletes to be ambassadors of the game. 

Brooks Orpik said the wrong thing a couple of weeks ago.  He put the responsibility squarely on the owners to grow the game.  Nope.  This sport’s stewardship is in the hands of everyone, especially the owners and the players, in partnership.  I know it is a hard word to understand, but these parties need to be partners.

5.       Commit to a return to a World Cup of Hockey every other September
Leave the Olympics to the amateurs, although basketball players, swimmers, and skiers, among others, are paid professionals now.  The beauty of the amateur hockey competition we just saw in the IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championship shows hockey in its best form.  Also, the 1996 World Cup of Hockey was a fantastic tournament that was very popular.  Instead of fitting professional involvement in national tournament hockey into the Olympics, why not create your own national tournament?  The owners and players should be partners (there’s that word again) on this.  Besides soccer, there is no sport that is more conducive to a tournament of professional players than hockey.  I would rather see a professional tournament every two or years for hockey than basketball, baseball, or any other sport combined.

6.       Commit to meaningful talks one full year before any expiration of the current CBA
The most annoying thing about this Lockout was that the deal that was agreed upon this weekend probably could have been agreed upon two months ago with a little bit of compromising.  The Lockout was a negotiating tool by the owners, which the “stick” for the players was dissolution of the union.  Enough with the leverage. 

Let’s enforce a one-year rule.  One year before the manual opt-out, come together to determine whether bargaining needs to re-open.  If we are on the right track and the CBA will go to its full term, open up talks for the next CBA one year before the agreement expires.  And, I do not want a couple of short sessions and a couple of press conferences.  I want meaningful talks.  I want progress 11 months before the CBA expires.  I want proposals and counter-proposals during the season leading up to the expiration of the agreement.  That way, mediation could occur early in the offseason if they are still at loggerheads.  The Lockout should never, ever be used as a negotiating tool.  Neither should the tired charade of dissolving the union and challenging the league’s anti-trust protection.  Let’s make less work for the lawyers and more work to find common ground.

What other things can the NHL and their teams do to bring you back as fans?  Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Catch me on "Sports With The StatMan" on Wednesdays at 11pm ET and Saturdays at 11am ET. We will have a special NHL: Return To Hockey episode this week.  Check the show page at for the latest show schedule.

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