– By Jamil Karim
Attention: Canadian Hockey Fans,
My name is the NHL. You may remember from previous seasons as “last year” and “the year before that”. You may notice I’m currently not alive right now, as the Owners and Players are squabbling over how to divide up all this money they’ve accumulated since the last time I was locked out, in 2005. There will be days, and sometimes weeks, when the players and owners don’t meet. It will become increasingly clear that both sides may not care about your best interest as a paying fan that purchases tickets, memorabilia, and expensive TV packages. But do they care? Of course not. You know why? Because you’ll come back. You did in 94. You did in 2005. And you will again. Thanks for all the support, Canada! I’ll see you when I see you. Peace out.
To many hockey fans in Canada, the above faux-letter is all too true. For the second time in less than a decade, the NHL is going through intensive labor negotiations that have forced the first two months of the NHL season to be cancelled. While many fans are outraged, the minute hockey comes back, Canadians from coast-to-coast will flock to the arenas, buy the jerseys, and quickly squeeze in a hockey pool with all of their friends before the season starts. It’s who we are here in Canada. Given how helpless we are, why does the media continue to play up the “PR Battle” between the players and the owners? Well, it’s simple. Not everyone who watches hockey lives in Canada.
The “PR Battle”, which the owners (lead by NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman) seem to be quite worried about, is for the sake of the fans down south. Hockey is a religion in Canada, and no matter what happens in these labor talks, we will always come back. However, the same can’t be said for the fair-weather fan in the United States. There is only a limited amount of money for the everyday sports fan in the United States, and if the NHL isn’t around, fans can find comfort in the NBA, NFL, MLB, or a wide array of college sports. The NHL is a mere blip on the U.S. sports radar (no NHL game has been aired on ESPN in nearly 10 years). Losing the fans that are currently invested in the NHL would be a major detriment to the NHL, especially to its non-traditional markets like Nashville, Phoenix, and Tampa Bay.
The goal of the NHL has been simple over the past 7 years: Build the game in the United States. But if you have no game to build, that makes that goal rather tough to achieve. Keeping these fans appeased, putting a pro-NHL spin on all memos, making it seem like there is in fact light at the end of the tunnel is all the NHL can do to keep their loyal fans in the United States from turning away (aside from, you know, actually getting a deal done and playing hockey).
This is why the “PR Battle” exists. This is why both sides send out very carefully crafted memos to the media. This is why both sides pretend to care about the fans, when in reality, the fans’ misery will serve as no catalyst to expedite a deal. It’s not because of us up North, but rather for our cousins down South.
So until the puck finally drops, the only battle hockey fans will get to witness is between two unlikable parties that are trying to prove victorious in both an extensive negotiation and desperate PR Battle to keep fans that they continue to alienate on a daily basis.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Your 2012 NHL Season! Enjoy.