With the NHL lockout finally ending, the NHL is faced with another very serious problem to fix. How do they fix their relationship with the millions of fans that felt completely betrayed by the league and players? This is a complex question that the league needs to take very seriously if they don’t want to see empty seats in their arenas, and one that needs to be addressed with a much more thought out response than just writing “Thank you fans” across all of the rinks.
One of the biggest failings of the NHL from the last lockout was their failure to deliver on cheaper tickets. There could be many clubs in the NHL that will find themselves wanting for fans right out of the gate. If you couple this with the many fans that are already unable to come to the games because the ticket prices are too high and you have the making of a ghost town.
Teams can help to mitigate this by lowering ticket prices. Many people who fall into that “die-hard” category of fans that also can’t afford tickets will jump at the chance to get decent tickets at a lower price. Who knows, even some of the people who stay away initially might be tempted to come back earlier if they see that tickets are that much more affordable.
Clubs can get creative with this one, but this is something that will resonate with the fans. This whole lockout left the fans feeling like nobody cares about them and that the only part of them the NHL does care about is their wallets. Well, if clubs open up their own wallets to try and do something inside their arenas that can improve the in-game experience for the fans then that might begin to repair the bridge with the fans.
For example, I live in Denver, Colorado and have been to several Avalanche games. I went to games back in the old McNichol’s Arena when the Avalanche first came to town and saw the doors of the Pepsi Center open. There have been so few upgrades to the Pepsi Center since it has opened, the once great and updated house of hockey is now one of the most out-of-date arenas in the league as far as their technology is concerned. However, just today, Avalanche beat writer, Adrian Dater, tweeted that the Pepsi Center will be upgrading their jumbo-tron at some point later this year. This is huge to Avalanche fans who have been frustrated with the little attention that ownership has paid to the team in the recent past. Now there’s something else to look forward to.
We’re not just talking the normal things for the fans like more autographs from the players or fan events and things like that, though those are fantastic options as well, but some of the organizations in the NHL will need to open their media doors to people that they haven’t before. Reputable bloggers and other fan organizations are groups that several NHL teams should very seriously work to start courting. There are many teams in the league that have already seen the benefit of this, but some teams still need to get the memo.
The Avalanche, to use them as an example again, are a franchise that only credential the “traditional media.” Print, television and radio are the only people that have any hope of having any access to the team. Now would be a brilliant time for the Avalanche to reach out to the many fantastic bloggers in the area and offer them access to media credentials and players for interviews. Sites like Mile High Hockey have throngs of followers that would prefer to get their news on the team from them as opposed to the local newspapers. The Avalanche have no idea how much reaching out to this group would benefit them, and the end of the lockout should help send them, and other teams, on this path.
The NHL brings in a boatload of money from their NHL Center Ice program every year from people wanting to see out-of-market teams play. One of the best ways that the NHL could earn some good faith back with the fans is if they offered the fans this program for free, or at very least for at a significant discount. This will add up for fans who would usually get this program and free up money to potentially spend on other types of products. It may take a while for that type of spending to return from a lot of NHL fans, but this would actually be something that might entice the fans to bring their hard earned dollars back to the NHL.
These are just some ideas that the NHL and many of the teams around the league might want to consider running with. Whether or not they do any of these specific things is irrelevant, but the teams absolutely do need to look at doing something that will reward fans for sticking around and re-establish some kind of trust. As I said at the start of this, just writing “Thank you fans” on the ice, this time around, isn’t going to do it.