Dear Mr. Bettman and the rest of the NHL (including the NHLPA):
By withholding hockey from the fans, you are dooming the very markets you are trying so desperately to save. The Coyotes are good right now. They just made it to the Conference Finals. That creates a bit of a buzz in the area, regardless of how much anyone wants to claim that that there’s not a single person in Phoenix who cares about hockey. I saw these past playoffs – I saw how many fans were at the games, and I saw how energetic they were. It was a legitimate playoff atmosphere. Their fanbase isn’t necessarily exploding, but winning ALWAYS draws more fans to your arenas, which, of course, generates revenue and league interest.
So what happens now? What happens to these fans that you, the league commissioner and the owner, tried so hard to expose to the sport and convert them to hockey fans? You’re just going to take an entire season from them? Black them out from the sport? That’s going to work out so well when you ask them all to come back in October of 2013. These borderline fans will find some other sport to care about. They have the other three major sports of football, basketball, and baseball, and who knows what else – maybe soccer, lacrosse, wrestling, NASCAR (not a sport but I’ll throw it in there), boxing, hot dog eating contests, or just generally enjoying the nice, comfortable December weather. And what happens to the team, and the players, itself? I’m sure they were looking forward to riding that momentum from winning the division and playing hungry for that Cup, especially after getting beat by a division rival (who went on to taste that sweet sweet Cup nectar). Players age, skills regress, personnel changes, and who knows what happens to them after missing a full season of NHL hockey.
Cancelling the 2012-13 season is a death sentence for the Phoenixes and the Floridas. If you think that these cities and their fans care so little about the sport now, just wait until after they’ve had to go through TWO FULL-SEASON CANCELLATIONS in SIX FREAKING YEARS! They’ll be done with it! As a casual hockey fan, why invest your time and hope in something that, even if your home team is good, which it usually isn’t in their cases, might just be washed for an entire freakin’ season?! They have so many other options! What happens in the next CBA negations, which will probably be in four or five years, and these franchises have even LESS fans to watch their games??? You’re going to try to give them MORE revenue sharing? You’re going to take MORE from the players to support that system? WHAT’S YOUR ENDGAME, NHL??? DO YOU WANT HOCKEY TO GROW IN THESE MARKETS OR NOT.
Because right now, the only thing that’s going to happen is these teams either will move or will require more money that they really have no right to. With their low budgets and low-interest locales (can’t lure free agents), it’s hard enough as it is for these teams to be competitive. Right now, many of the big market teams, such as New York (not the bad one), Boston, Detroit, and Chicago, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh are doing well, and some of the small market teams, such as Phoenix, Los Angeles (a big sports city with a small hockey market who are currently the champs) and maybe even Nashville and Tampa Bay are being competitive (and hell, the Florida Panthers were up 3-2 on Eastern Conference champs). That’s exactly what you want. The time for hockey is NOW. The small markets will grow and these big market teams will generate revenue because they create interest most amongst their own cities and also some appeal everywhere else, thus aiding these small-market teams’ growths.
And while other markets aren’t as in much danger of dissipating, they, too, will lose fans. Casual fans across the U.S. (maybe not as much in Canada) will just shrug their shoulders and change the channel to something else. You certainly won’t gain any NHL fans during a lockout. Most hockey fans are sports fans, and as mentioned, there are plenty of other sports to watch. I, personally, am starting to become more and more ambivalent towards the NHL. I can just put all that time and hope I would normally put into Rangers hockey into other outlets like Giants football, the New York Mets (when baseball season comes around), or (*gasp*) the New York Knickerbockers. Yes, basketball. And I hate basketball. But hey, the Knicks are good, and, just like the Coyotes generating new fans when they’re winning, maybe the Knicks can do the same to me. NHL, don’t make me watch basketball or the Mets (for the love of God, please no, it’s like watching the Blue Jackets B squad tripping on shrooms). Or maybe I just start following other hockey. Living in Boston, I have a lot of options: I can take the bus down the street to Matthews Arena to watch Northeastern Huskies games; I can make a drive to Providence to watch the P Bruins; or go to a number of college or AHL games. And I doubt college hockey is going to lockout its players any time soon. Plus, games are cheaper, closer, and easier to acquire tickets for. You might lose hardcore hockey fans to other leagues.
The bottom line is that [most] people have and can find other things to do. Maybe someone who normally spends 20 hours a week watching and raving about the “premier” league of the greatest sport in the world uses that now-vacant time to write a novel, to find a significant other, or to just go out there and plays the beautiful sport for the love it, without most of the complications of cash (or maybe just more menial issues, such as “I’ll need to work some overtime so I can afford this expensive equipment so I can actually play”). Maybe people use the extra time to find new passions in their lives. Maybe people just stop caring.
This is your sport, NHL, and it’s ending one fan at a time.