SBD/January 8, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Open For Business: Apologies To Fans May Only Go So Far This Time Around

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"Thank You Fans" was painted on the ice in NHL rinks after the '04-05 lockout
Following the end of the NHL lockout, the "best thing the NHL and its teams can do is keep quiet and play," according to David Shoalts of the GLOBE & MAIL. Individual apologies to the fans from the players are "fine, since none of the three lockouts under [NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman] was their idea, but the league had better not entertain any ideas like the cheesy 'Thank you fans' that was painted on the ice in NHL rinks when it resumed business after the 2004-05 lockout." Shoalts: "Just shut up and play." Ticket discounts "might be a good idea," and NHL GameCenter, the league's online broadcasting service, "should be offered free." No one will blame NHL COO John Collins if he "went back to work with a sour taste in his mouth." Or if he "decides to chuck it and take one of those jobs with another team or in another sport the hockey gossips say he is always being offered" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/8). A Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER editorial states the owners this time "might try another message: 'We're Sorry.'" Cutting concession prices for the delayed and shortened season "might be a way of saying they mean it" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 1/8).

ACADEMICS WEIGH IN: Queens Univ. School of Business marketing professor Ken Wong said the NHL has a "big job ahead of them." Wong said, "Their No. 1 priority is to recognize what the reality is. Don't think it's going to be business as usual. You owe the fans a statement of apology or regret. They've been done a great disservice. They have to know you're doing everything you can to make this up." Wong added, "Will the Canadian fans come back? I think they will but it will be with a chip on their shoulder and that's a bad thing" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 1/8). Univ. of Michigan sports economics professor Rodney Fort said of the fans, "They will come back. And in fact, we may not even notice any difference." College of the Holy Cross economics professor Victor Matheson added, "My real sense is that hockey didn't lose their core base of fans, but I think they really did do something to marginalize the sport among casual fans" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/7)

PLAYERS RESPOND: Flames RW Jarome Iginla said, "I know a simple apology doesn’t make up for it. We know we’re going to have to win back fans. We know they’re rightfully upset and some may be a little turned off. That’s the business side, that’s the ugly side and hopefully that’s behind us and we can move forward and not go through this again for a very long time.” Flames C Mike Cammalleri added, "There’s not much the players can do except to play their hearts out." Capitals D Karl Alzner: "The fact that it’s only 48 games will make it easier for people to sit out a few, which is going to suck, but if we play well, then hopefully, they’re going to buy back in." The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek writes it "appeared as if the players were prepared to share the blame for the lockout." Publicly, fan reaction "ranged from anger to bitterness to apathy, although it remains to be seen how that translates into action" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/8). Devils LW Patrick Elias: "I think the players did a good job to stay behind each other. Hopefully the fans will get it. It wasn't a matter of being greedy. It was a matter of being fair for the future" (NJ.com, 1/7). Jets C Olli Jokinen: "They have all the reasons to be angry. If nobody shows up in our games, I respect that, too. They have all the reasons not to show up" (WINNIPEG SUN, 1/8). Wild LW Zach Parise said, "Everyone has to apologize to the fans." D Ryan Suter added, "We definitely have to apologize for putting the fans through that. That's not right. You shouldn't have to do that to them" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 1/8). Rangers C Brad Richards: "I totally understand if fans don't come back, that's very understandable" (N.Y. POST, 1/8). Flames D Chris Butler: "Fans are great and they love the game and I hope they come back, but, to be honest, I'll understand if they don't want to come back." The Flames' Cammalleri added, "I think it was a shame that it had to take place" (CALGARY HERALD, 1/8).

FORGIVE & FORGET? Kings C Jarret Stoll said, "I'm sure we lost some (fans), but time will tell" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 1/8). Capitals LW Jason Chimera said, "The game's been dragged through the mud here." The Capitals' Alzner added, "For us, the main thing is just letting them know that we're sorry and we obviously didn't want this to go that long. ... All you can do is hope that they all come back the way that they were right before this lockout happened" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 1/7). Bruins President Cam Neely said, "Whether they come back in droves right off the hop remains to be seen, but I know how passionate our fans are and I hope they can forgive -- I don't think they'll forget, but forgive what's taken place and get excited again about watching us play." He added, "As management and players, we have to make sure we get out and embrace the fans more than ever" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/8). In Boston, Tony Massarotti noted Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs was a "lead dog" in the lockout, and "maybe Jacobs feels like a bigger man now that the owners have won another seven percent." Massarotti: "Whatever. But the most loyal Bruins fans have been stripped of at least some joy by their owner yet again, and this latest deprivation comes at a time when the Bruins should be thumping their chests at or near the top of the NHL mountain" (BOSTON.com, 1/7). In Providence, Jim Donaldson wrote fans will return, "at least in hockey hotbeds such as Boston" (PROVIDENCEJOURNAL.com, 1/7).

RETURN SERVICE: A QMI AGENCY editorial stated the fans "won't stay away, at least not for long" (QMI AGENCY, 1/7). In Denver, Adrian Dater predicted the fans "will be back and that the NHL won't see a dramatic drop in attendance" (DENVERPOST.com, 1/7). In Dallas, Tim Cowlishaw writes, "I don't truly expect much fan backlash following the NHL lockout for two reasons: One is that hockey fans are hockey fans." The other is "that you have to ask just how much damage has been done." But something "tells me Dallas will be among the league leaders in empty seats" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 1/8). In Detroit, Jamie Samuelson wrote of the fans, "Hockey's back, and so are you. If you're not, you probably were never watching in the first place" (FREEP.com, 1/7). But in California, Marcia Smith asked of the NHL, "How can we trust you? How can we forgive you?" Smith: "Most of all, you'll have to apologize to us. And then maybe, we'll love you again" (OCREGISTER.com, 1/6). SportsNet N.Y.’s Brandon Tierney said, "You’re either a hockey fan or you’re not, and when the puck drops, the real fans will be back” (“The Wheelhouse,” SNY, 1/7).

INSIDE THE ECONOMICS: Fitch Ratings service noted that while a potentially brand damaging full-season stoppage was averted, there still are concerns related to possible harmful long-term effects to the NHL brand and fan support. Fan attendance and corporate support for the '12-13 season, as well as '13-14, could be materially different, given the combination of weak and uncertain national and regional economic conditions and various sport entertainment options (Fitch). Canadian investment firm BMO Nesbitt Burns Deputy Chief Economist Douglas Porter said that the NHL's return will "prevent about [C]$700-million from melting away from the Canadian economy this year." He said, "Since a bit less than half the season looks to have been lost, the economic damage will be contained at less than 0.05 per cent of GDP." But Lake Forest College economics professor Robert Baade disputed that by saying, "To say there is [C]$700-million in lost revenue is to completely ignore the fact that people are going to be spending this money on other entertainment activities" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/8). In a special to the GLOBE & MAIL, Ken Dryden asks, "How much will the fans punish" both the NHL and NHLPA? For most teams it takes "only the last 5 or 10 per cent of the fans in an arena to make the economics of a team work -- or not." If only a "few people stay away, the effect is great." The question for a fan is, "How can I spite my face without cutting off my nose?" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/8).
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