For the second time in nine seasons, the NHL is locking out its players. In 2004-05, the lockout lasted the entire season and no Stanley Cup was awarded. This time, there is talk that an agreement might be reached in time for play to start in December, with a reduced season to ensue. Or maybe games will begin in January and the playoffs will run until July. Or possibly another season will be wasted while the parties argue. Whatever the case, I think it is time that NHL fans realize that they are being played for suckers and there is only one way to respond.
When the league finally returns from this silliness, simply don't attend any games or watch a single period on television. There are so many other opportunities to watch hockey in North America where you won't be strung along and treated like a revenue generator rather than a true fan.
Stadium Journey provides dozens of great examples of quality hockey within an hour or two of nearly every NHL team. The Canadian cities all have their junior teams including the Edmonton Oil Kings, Vancouver Giants, Calgary Hitmen, and Ottawa 67s. Toronto even has an AHL franchise in the Marlies, who are entertaining and far more affordable than the Maple Leafs.
The AHL has 29 other teams scattered around North America, including a club in Chicago. The ECHL is another option with the Trenton Titans a short drive from the New York and Philadelphia metro areas. The recently reorganized Central Hockey League has a new team in Denver and two squads in the Dallas area: the Allen Americans and the Fort Worth Brahmas. These are just a few of the hockey clubs that are still playing; all three of these leagues provide team maps on their websites, making it easy to find a nearby rink.
The NCAA also offers entertaining ice hockey, with several teams in Boston, including Boston College and Boston University, and of course teams all around Minnesota and Michigan. The point is clear - you don't have to watch the NHL to watch live hockey. In fact, you should be taking this opportunity to seek out new hockey destinations. It is still cheaper to drive for an hour or two each way and buy a $20 ticket to sit close to the ice at an AHL game than to buy one overpriced NHL nosebleed seat.
Let's be honest. The main sticking point in this lockout is hockey-related revenues (HRR). Fans generate those revenues. Sure, sponsors pay millions to associate themselves with the game, but they do so in the expectation of increased sales to hockey fans. Television contracts are based on the expectation of increasing viewership and hence increasing advertising revenue. Of course, fans pay directly for tickets, concessions, merchandise, and other incidentals such as the NHL's Game Center Live package. All of this adds up to around $3 billion, a very large amount of money. Yet the owners and players are yet again unable to figure out a fair way to divide the spoils.
So let's make it easy on these pour, tortured souls by knocking HRR as close to zero as possible. This is my plea to NHL fans: stop going to NHL games; stop watching games on TV; stop buying NHL merchandise; stop supporting companies who sponsor the league. Start spending your entertainment dollar elsewhere, whether it be at one of the rinks mentioned above, or at another league or sport near to you. Or take all that money that you were about to waste on the NHL and donate it to charity; you'll actually feel good about yourself rather than feeling like a used piece of furniture when you give your money to the owners and players.
Gary Bettman said that the NHL has the "greatest fans", a backhanded compliment indicating that they'll return regardless of how long the lockout lasts, given what happened in 2005. Let's prove to him that the NHL has the smartest fans instead. By making a collective decision to spend our money in other arenas, we can change the dynamic that has driven this league into the sports wilderness over the past decade.
So stop spending money on the NHL! If enough fans heed this plea, and the NHL sees its revenue drop significantly, the league might actually begin to care about their fans rather than treating them like garbage every eight years.