Monday, January 07, 2013

Lockout: Part 2:

Will Paying Fans Play Their Cards Now?

In this lockout of owners vs. players, or most often owners vs. other owners, the silent (even disenfranchised) party has been the fans.

Yet when all is said and done, all that money they were arguing over is 100% dependent on fans forking it over for the greedy buggers to share out.

Amidst all the threats of boycott and abandonment, I find a curious sequel to the lockout. If the first stage of this negotiation was to determine how to split a pie, the next stage is to determine how big that pie will be. In this, the fans play the all-important role. Should the group decide to stay away in numbers, the league and players will have no choice but to lower their sights and prices to meet the demands.

The problem with fan boycott is, and always will be, the lack of united front. For every fan who declares they are done forever with this league and its money-grabbing hierarchy, there is another that is refilling their subscription to pay-per-view. Empty stadia on January 19 are about as likely as a conservative approach to salary cap management in Philadelphia. It just isn't going to happen, especially not in Canada.

It would be good to unite, if only for a short time, to send a real message. The boycott that many speak of and only few carry out would be something we could all reap benefit from. A lower ticket price would make a game more accessible and even make the possibility of multiple games or season tickets attainable. After all, this lockout did suck, and I think we all feel all these fatcats need a good kick in the nether regions to stop taking fans completely for granted.

But I expect the opposite. I believe that actually, for the most part, the fans can be taken for granted.

For a boycott to work, it would really have to take place in Montreal, Vancouver, Detroit, or Toronto. I wouldn't hold my breath. A boycott in Phoenix? I'd challenge anyone to tell that apart from a time of no boycott. In Canada, there are enough fans fully invested in viewing this league to cover any isolated boycotts. In the US, where there only seem to be hardcore fans and casual fans, united boycott is unlikely too, I'd say. The hardcore make hockey their personal calling card -- 110 days won't cause them to go on the long search for another reason to be unique among their sports fan friends. The casuals probably barely noticedanyway and will be happy enough to take their beers at an arena in February if they get a ticket given to them.

No, I don't think the fans who have the cards will play them. And I don't think the fans who think they are playing their boycott card will make much impression at all.

From my point of view, the majority that is likely to act in continued support of the NHL is right.

The game of hockey hasn't changed because one league had a break. And everything that we enjoy about watching the game at the highest level is independent of what an owner's share of revenue is. If people enjoy hockey and enjoy it within their means, then what is there to boycott? If I didn't tune in to games, who would even know?

Further, I am always reminded that there are better and more important things to boycott than a sports league that takes money from fans who have full capacity to choose whether or not to pay for a ticket, a TV subscription or an overpriced shirt. The victims here make an absurd case bedecked in team colours next to other appeals I hear for boycott. I believe the pain of missing the spectacle of sport for a few months is what the jokephrase "first-world problem" was designed to lampoon.

No, I won't play a boycott card. I don't support what just transpired, even if I understand it. I don't like being a party in this industry without a voice, but I don't feel owed a voice either. I support those who boycott and wish you all well. If tickets get cheaper, we'll be first to thank you.

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