The CBA negotiations between the NHL and the NHLPA have been stagnant. The rhetoric from both sides has been hot and heavy. Time is running out. Another NHL lockout appears more likely than ever.
Columnists and analysts all over North America can estimate who will lose more once a deal is reached, the players or owners, but in reality it can’t be anyone other than the fans. For yet another bargaining session, the fans have been shaken like a rag doll and dragged through the mud as these discussions continue. Right now, the emphasis in negotiations is on dollars and cents, and not on the health of the game and the satisfaction of the fans.
Hockey fans see this, and they’re not going to let this season slip away without telling both sides what they think. With social media having exploded since the last NHL lockout, both the NHL and the NHLPA have a direct outlet to see most fans’ reactions and opinions. And if your name is Gary Bettman, you might not like what you see.
In the area of public relations, the NHL is getting absolutely killed. Fans see the owners as greedy and self-important, looking for too much money to right the financial ships of teams that shouldn’t be in financial trouble in the first place. Fans look at the nine-digit contracts being doled out from teams like the Wild and Rangers as well as the great attendance records from the last year and wonder how the owners could need any more money. Case in point is the San Jose Sharks, a team that sold out every seat at home last year, who say they lost $15 million in last season alone. It just doesn’t seem to add up.
This “blame the ownership” state of mind can be found easily and en masse on Twitter. There I’ve seen plenty of “Bettman should resign”, “the owners are crooks”, and “the NHL hates its fans” kinds of tweets. Even though these kinds of messages are mostly extreme, it can’t be mistaken where the general fanbase has its allegiance. I don’t see too many people who say, “I’m not giving any more of my money to those greedy, blood-sucking players.”
Perhaps it’s just the scenario that has the fans pitted against the owners: since it is a lockout, it is the owners preventing a return to hockey, not the players. Regardless, fans just want their hockey and they won’t just give it up if they can help it. And right now, the only stuff the fans can bargain with is their money.
Fans will say they will cancel their season tickets, not renew their Center Ice package, and simply withhold as much money from the NHL as they’d like. With basketball and football, both college and professional, on TV, there will be plenty of ways for many NHL fans to divert their attention. If the NHL and NHLPA would care to take those threats seriously, it might be easier to find a means to an end.
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