|NHL has work to do to win back fans|
|Local Content - Editorial|
|Written by production|
|Wednesday, 09 January 2013 23:04|
Taber does not own a National Hockey League franchise, nor will it ever.
The fact remains, however, the 113-day NHL lockout did have a profound impact here in southern Alberta.
For a part of the country with an NHL team just over a couple hours away, no professional hockey at its highest level likely made a few Taberites groan and complain about a lack of nightly entertainment.
Despite all the advertising campaigns which stressed hockey was indeed not gone — there are after all plenty of minor and junior games ongoing, the NHL is indeed a national obsession.
As soon as the lockout ended, and hockey was back, the television airwaves have been flooded with stories on the upcoming season, and reaction from across the country.
The lockout was the biggest story so far in 2013, and likely will not be surpassed by any other news item this year — that is how much hockey means to Canadians.
But should the NHL mean that much to the average Canuck anymore?
Ticket prices are out of reach for the average fan here. Take a look around the lower bowl at the Saddledome.
How many "regular" fans are in those $200-plus seats?
Are they mainly corporate owned? After all, how many of us could afford to take our families and sit in those expensive seats, even for one measly game each year?
NHL hockey, at least in its live form, has now become a sport for the privileged few, those near the top of the income ladder, who can sit back and watch the even more privileged professional athletes.
The lockout taught us a few things, and the most important lesson is that dynamic is not going to change any time soon.
Sure, the players are going to be taking a slight paycut, which, as usual, will impact the lower-tier players more than the elite talent, but will the new collective bargaining agreement help the fans?
Of course not.
Serious steps should be taken to win back fans but in the end, our zealous march towards the turnstiles in Canada, and the huge demand for tickets in most arenas north of the border will mean fans will still be gouged at the gates, all to support billionaires and millionaires, the rhetoric goes.
Those south of the border in obscure hockey markets will continue to struggle to fill seats, a task which has just become even more complicated, as casual fans in the United States are likely lost fans for at least the immediate future.
Hockey's third work stoppage in recent memory is a black mark for the sport, and an embarrassing one for a game that ranks so low in the collective consciousness of many American fans.
The NHL is not a major sport in many American markets, and the cancellation of the all-star weekend and what was to be the best and biggest Winter Classic ever is a blatant reminder of just how far the NHL has to go towards being considered a legitimate organization in the minds of many.
In the end, will Canadian fans come back in droves? Yes. Will there be some collateral damage? Sure there will.
Efforts to boycott the season, cut back on tickets and merchandise and deliver a strong message to the players and owners have caught on like wildfire through social media. Some of those efforts will work, some fans will leave and never come back and some will take a temporary leave of absence.
But the NHL will survive, and prosper in Canada. For fans here, the lockout may ultimately serve a purpose, as struggling sunshine markets may have just been dealt their death blow, and American teams may have little to no choice but to fill lucrative markets like Quebec City, southern Ontario and other Canadian locales.
But however it all plays out, make no mistake, hockey fans everywhere will not forget this most recent act of fan betrayal.
Much work lies ahead to regain the trust of millions of fans across North America and abroad.
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