SBD/January 7, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Open For Business: Will Fans Return After Second Lockout In Eight Years?

How quickly fans return after lockout is being heavily debated around the NHL
With the NHL lockout coming to an end, it is "going to take a lot more than a couple of lame words of contrition painted on NHL rinks to get fans to forget this titanic display of greed and stubbornness," according to Scott Burnside of ESPN.com. The sentiment "being echoed" around the hockey world is, "Just give the fans their game back and get out of the way." No one knows "just how significantly the game has been damaged." Univ. of Oregon Warsaw Sports Marketing Center Dir Paul Swangard said, "I think the let-them-play strategy is a good one. I believe the league will let the teams drive the messaging strategy based on local markets. Fans will hopefully blame the league rather than their home team." Burnside wrote, "Never mind the rest of this season in terms of generating new ad money or sponsorships, most businesses have already moved into commitments for later in their fiscal years." McDonald's in the U.S. was "supposed to be a key NHL sponsor with an ad campaign tied to the Winter Classic, All-Star Game and other high-profile events, but it moved on and signed a two-year deal with the NFL after the lockout started" (ESPN.com, 1/6). In N.Y., Jeff Klein wrote fans and sponsors "may be slow to return to a league seen as habitually troubled by labor problems." The "fear among many involved with the NHL is that on the American sports landscape, it has returned to the shadows from whence it only recently emerged" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/6). In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont wrote what "remains to be seen now ... is whether a third lockout will be the game’s proverbial third strike, with fans too angry, alienated and turned off this time to buy tickets." Another "huge income sector possibly damaged: corporate sponsorships" (BOSTON.com, 1/6). SportsCorp President Marc Ganis said, "They didn't hear a hue and cry from the fans, especially in the United States, when hockey wasn't played. That's very distressing" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 1/7).

FORGIVE AND FORGET? In Detroit, Bob Wojnowski writes the NHL has "an image problem and a leadership problem." But the league generally "does not have a passion problem." Fans are "rightly ticked off ... but the sport grew after its return" from the '04-05 lockout. There is "a lot of repair work ahead, and some casual fans are gone for good." But most "diehard fans will be back, eventually" (DETROIT NEWS, 1/7). Also in Detroit, Drew Sharp writes any "residual public anger over the NHL’s third significant work stoppage in the last 20 years will ebb once 'training camp' opens at week’s end" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/7). ESPN.com's Darren Rovell wrote "not much" collateral damage will be seen as a result of the lockout. Rovell: "How do I know? Because we've seen very little effect from work stoppages in the recent past." Games "quickly make fans forget" (ESPN.com, 1/6). In Buffalo, Bucky Gleason writes, "It could take time, but my guess is fans will be back in full force when the league gets rolling again" (BUFFALO NEWS, 1/7). Spotlight TMS CEO & co-Founder Tony Knopp, whose California-based firm manages corporate-ticket sales, said, "If they do play a 50-game schedule, I think that the fallout's going to be a lot less than people think." He added NHL fans are "as passionate as any other sport -- and I would say more so" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 1/7). CSNBAYAREA.com's Kevin Kurz wrote fan backlash "on some level is inevitable," but the "hard-core fans never left ... especially in big hockey markets on the East Coast, in Canada, and here in the Bay Area" (CSNBAYAREA.com, 1/6).

FADE TO BLACK: The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts wrote under the header, "It's Time For NHL Fans To Exercise Their Walk-Away Rights" (THEGLOBEANDMAIL.com, 1/5). In Toronto, Damien Cox wrote, "There is anger out there. ... We just won't find out how much until a season starts how that anger is -- or isn't -- expressed." It will be "hard to be a proud NHL fan anytime soon." It will be "hard to feel anything but dirty" (TORONTO STAR, 1/5). In Ft. Worth, Mac Engel wrote the NHL has become "so niche based it's going to be hard to tell" how much damage has been done. The die-hard fans will "always come back, as will Canada, but every time you don't play your game you become even more irrelevant." With the sports calendar "so full, it is hard to think hockey can be even more irrelevant than it already is, but it sure tries" (STAR-TELEGRAM.com, 1/6). The N.Y. TIMES' Klein writes fans "might not be ready to move forward just yet -- there is certain to be lingering anger at the NHL as it picks itself up from another crippling lockout." S&E Sponsorship Group President & CEO Brian Cooper said, "From the research I saw and what I heard anecdotally, a lot of fans and sponsors may not re-engage this season." Flyers Chair Ed Snider said, "I’m hoping that our fans understand this was something that had to be done for the strength of the league, for the strength of the players association. I hope they don’t hold it against us" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/7). CBSSPORTS.com's Brian Stubits wrote the lockout "will hurt the league." The NHL has "come to terms with the fact that it will have backlash from fans and that will be reflected in the revenue streams" (CBSSPORTS.com, 1/6).

DECISIONS, DECISIONS...: The TORONTO STAR's Cox writes, "Fans will have to ask themselves: After being so viciously disrespected, why buy into the NHL product again?" Maybe fans will "neither forget nor forgive." It would "be in their interests" (TORONTO STAR, 1/7). QMI AGENCY's Chris Stevenson wrote it is "going to be a little bit tougher [to] sell the game this time around." This disagreement was a "battle over that $3 billion, the owners crying poor in face of their ridiculous lockout eve orgy of spending and the players refusing to negotiate off anything the NHL proposed for much of the process" (QMI AGENCY, 1/6). In San Jose, Mark Purdy writes under the header, "NHL Fans Might Not Be So Forgiving This Time" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 1/7). CSNBAYAREA.com's Kurz in a separate piece reported the Sharks had "fewer than 100 season ticket holders cancel or refund their tickets." The base remains "at around 14,000, leaving about 2,700 tickets available for individual purchase or group sales in the bowl" (CSNBAYAREA.com, 1/6).
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