I submit to you a thesis: that the consumer of NHL hockey does not sit at the powerless nexus between billionaire owners and millionaire players in their fight to divide a $3.3 billion pie but, in fact, has agency.
That agency is his or her almighty dollar, the many billions of which these owners and players are fighting over, after all. And though we might feel powerless in this situation, the one decision that no person or corporation can take from us, no matter how influential they are, is the decision to leave our wallets in our back pockets.
Because let’s face it: we’re being taken for granted here. And it’s far more egregious than how Canadian hockey fans feel taken for granted when their dollars are used to subsidize expansion into non-traditional markets. There is a tacit assumption on the part of ownership that the fans will come back. There will be no fiscal penalty, relatively speaking, for taking away something that we love. We’ve come back before.
It’s tempting to take sides, particularly against the owners. Their bull-headed position is matched only by their willingness to fire staff or cut back their hours and pay, and the inevitability of even higher ticket prices should they succeed in maximizing their profit. Their arrogance seems all the more despicable for the very public way in which it’s dissected by a hockey starved sports media. But taking sides is nothing but semantics for any hockey consumer who doesn’t happen to have a pulpit from which to speak about labor issues. You can buy a ticket because you like the players, the owners, the ice girls, or the popcorn. But you only have one type of almighty dollar to spend and no matter why you spend it, that dollar ends up in the same place.
Which is why I propose not spending it. Somewhere in league offices there is probably an algorithm that demonstrates the degree to which the owners can risk good consumer relations against what they stand to gain in a labor dispute. And the only way to speak to them in their language is to demonstrate that their decision to deny hockey fans hockey has repercussions.
If the league comes back to play a truncated season, it will be tempting to watch. But how can I, after experiencing yet another lockout, send that signal to Bettman and the owners? Why would I rush out to buy another season ticket package or jersey? Why would I celebrate a team’s deep prospect pool, an unexpected playoff appearance, a gritty performance, or the glory of a championship? Why would I become reinvested when the owners are so quick to take it away?
Boycotting and staying away for a prolonged period of time—and, just as importantly, letting management know through a written letter campaign—is the only way to send a message to this league that they can’t take hockey fans for granted.
That’s why I humbly propose the following pledge:
If a single game is lost from the 2012-2013 NHL season, I pledge not to watch any NHL hockey for the duration of said season if and when hockey returns. I will buy no tickets or merchandise for my home team or any other team. I will not watch NHL hockey or related shows on television. I will not listen to NHL hockey or related shows on the radio. I do this to send a message to NHL ownership that we, as consumers, demand respect. If you deny us this game that we so love, we will deny you our dollars.