NHL Knows Fans Are Locked In

By Wayne Whittaker, Boston Bruins Correspondent

We’re trapped.

As fans of professional hockey in North America, we are powerless onlookers in a battle of greed vs. slightly more sensible greed.

The facts of The Inevitable Lockout of 2012 are well understood at this point: NHL owners are being unreasonable hypocrites as they try and gain sympathy for a league that’s not only regained the structure it desperately needed during the 2004 lockout, but has also become something of a financial juggernaut.

Their opponents are Donald Fehr and the NHL Players Association. Equally stubborn and frustrating, but rightfully gaining the sympathy of fans who aren’t buying league billionaires’ cries of poverty.

No petition, or YouTube video, or threats of a boycott are going to help speed this up. Fans are forced to settle in and wait, just as they did in 1994, just as they did in 2004, and just as they’ll do again starting Saturday.

The difference this time around is a sense of resignation amongst loyalists who have been bracing for the worst since the final buzzer in June. Despite positive signs (a league boasting of it’s recent financial gains, a product gaining stability and popularity), everyone saw this coming from a mile away.

While fans seem to have sided heavily with the players thus far, as the calendar approaches September 15 many are beginning to lose patience with everyone involved.

boston vs washington 2012 playoffs
The Fans (Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE)

Phoenix Coyotes fan favorite, and twitter extraordinare, Paul Bissonnette for example. Yesterday he told fans that while players understand their frustration, “at the end of the day we’re fighting for our futures, not yours. That’s the reality.”

Ouch.

The 27 year old continued, “If a company you worked for was making money and they asked you to take a 24% pay cut would you do it?”

Interesting question, Paul.

Here’s the thing: in the 2011-2012 season you were paid $625,000. You dressed for 31 games. That’s $20,161 a game.

Now, keep in mind that the average yearly income for a worker in the United States is roughly $26,036.

Let’s say for a moment that the average worker did accept a 24% pay cut. They’d lose $6,248, and their new income would drop to $19,787.36. Whereas an NHL player of your caliber, set to make $725,000 in 2012-2013, would have a lowered salary of $551,000.

Wow! That’s a loss of $174,000! Or, as we fans/average US workers view it, over 6 and a half years worth of income.

I’m sorry, BizNasty, but if you subscribe to the notion that NHL owners and players view the world differently, just wait ’til you get a load of the general public’s worldview.

Gary Bettman
Gary Bettman (Chris Williams/Icon SMI)

In all honesty, fans don’t care how a deal gets done. If the players agreed to a deal that heavily favored the owners, we would continue to harp on the fact that the owners are greedy. If a deal is struck that heavily favors the players (ha!), we would feel content in knowing that our image of millionaires squabiling with billionaires was more or less accurate.

The fans just want hockey.

Sure, there are alternatives- minor league, college, major juniors, but while this may not be the case for all of those north of the border, the majority of American hockey fans did not fall in love with the game itself, but rather with the teams that played it within the National Hockey League.

For those fans, the alternatives aren’t enticing. Many will focus on football, playoff baseball, or the start of a new basketball season. There are many who will become even more disenchanted with the NHL than they already are. Most will return as soon as the lockout ends, but some will not.

The league, of course, knows this. But they’re willing to bet on the odds of the true addicts returning (and if you’re reading this article, it’s likely you fall in this category).

While the NHL owners prepare to lock out the talent that defines professional hockey for the third time in 18 years, they’re more than aware that the “greatest fans in the world” are already locked in. They know that we’ll be ready when they come calling.

I wish I could say they were wrong.

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