Tag Archives: lockout

NHL’s Thank Yous Ring Hollow

By Jason Menard

For a while last night, I thought it was time to change my contact lenses because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Yet, there it was, flickering right on my TV screen. I now know what adding insult to injury actually looks like.

Those of us who watched Thursday’s broadcast of the hockey game between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers were subjected to the sight of the boys from Broadway taking the ice with jerseys bearing the message “Thank You” replacing the customary “New York” lettering.

In an attempt to suck up to fans at all costs, the league has turned it into a dog and pony show – and the sentiments ring hollow.

We know, no matter how much lip service the players pay to being happy to be back, they’re still smarting from the repeated slaps in the face they took during the lockout. “Our boys” found out that our support has its limits and they were genuinely shocked when most fans supported the owners in the labour dispute.

So now these alpha males have come back with their tails firmly between their legs, making the best of a bad situation. And, instead of allowing for a graceful return, the league has decided to rub a little more salt in the still-festering wound. The obviously staged, and eminently hollow, act of wearing “Thank You” jerseys does nothing more than add another side order of shame that the players have to swallow – adding to the already heaping helping of humble pie they’ve been forced to stomach through the negotiation of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Whether it’s “Thank You” emblazoned across the players’ chests, messages expressing the league’s gratitude prominently painted on the ice, or any other displays of affection, we fans aren’t buying it. Aside from a select few naïve people, most hockey fans know that the game we love is actually a business. We know that there are millions upon billions of dollars changing hands. And, although we may not like it, we know that the lockout was just a part of doing business, however unsavoury it may have been.

But it’s becoming more and more apparent that fans are willing to let bygones be bygones. Starting with the circus-like free agency period, to the drama of the entry draft and the Sidney Crosby sweepstakes, to the establishment of new rules (and commitment to enforcing old ones) designed to make the game more entertaining, fans have embraced the excitement of the new season and are eager to get on with our lives.

We’ve accepted the lockout as a necessary evil – an action that the league had to take to maintain the long-term viability of the league and to restore competitive financial balance so that we won’t have to face the loss of another Winnipeg or Quebec City. But we certainly don’t want to be reminded of it on a daily basis.

If the players and the league truly want to show us how much they appreciate our patronage, then they need to do it in the only way that matters – on the ice through effort, intensity, and talent. Thank us by playing hard each and every night. Thank us by displaying the combination of grace, skill, and toughness that makes hockey the most exciting game on Earth.

If they’re really thankful for the fans’ support in returning to the rinks, then take the extra time to get to know your admirers. Sign a few more autographs (without it having to be mandated), make yourself more available to the media for interviews (as this is the only way many fans get to know you), and give the fans the respect they deserve as being the reason behind the lifestyle you live.

And the responsibility to acknowledge the fans isn’t the players’ alone. It’s not enough for the owners to spend a few bucks on new sweaters or a new paint job and call it a day. If they’re truly thankful, as they should be, for fans support, then they need to make a concerted outreach to the fans through spending the money to make attending a game a valued event. Spend the money under the cap to keep teams together and build fan affinity. They need to make more than just a cosmetic display of gratitude.

Nobody likes a suck-up – especially when the motivation for this sycophantic activity appears to be so transparent and false. In large part, the fans are back and the best thank you we as fans can receive would be good, honest effort – both on the ice and off.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

NHL Fans – Once Bitten, Twice Shy

By Jason Menard

We’re officially now into summer. Do you know where your NHLers are? And, more importantly, do you care?

I know I don’t and that should concern the National Hockey League’s powers-that-be, because I’m exactly the type of person that they thought they’d never lose. But after a year without NHL hockey, I’ve discovered that I can more than comfortably live without it.

It’s a tragic story of lost love. In my youth, I’d faithfully watch the Montreal Canadiens whenever they were on T.V. I’d play organized hockey on the weekends and road hockey with my friends at every available opportunity. Regardless of whether I was on ice or on asphalt, I’d get swept away in my fantasy – my pre-teen bowl cut magically flowing majestically behind me like my idol Guy Lafleur as I broke down the wing.

And, as I got older and my sticks and skates went into hibernation, I’d still huddle by the radio to catch the nightly Habs’ broadcasts on CBC-French, rejoicing in unexpected Stanley Cups in 1985 and 1993, and suffering through the lows that followed. Moving back to Montreal, I rejoiced in the round-the-clock coverage that was available to me in both English and French-Language papers and radio!

As my son grew, he started to get involved in hockey as well. We own our matching Canadiens jerseys and I enjoyed teaching him the rules of the game, its history, and sharing those moments with him. Heck, my daughter would sit next to us saying “Go Habs Go,” almost from the time she started talking. Sure, at the time she thought every sport was hockey, but that’s beside the point.

But, when the lockout took that away, did we miss it? Not really. My son, who was a blossoming hockey fan, turned his interest towards other, more accessible sports, like basketball. And if we needed our hockey fix, we now were fortunate to have the London Knights close at hand.

Hockey just faded into the background. An inability to empathize with either side of the labour dispute simply left me apathetic towards the entire proceedings. And with that apathy came disillusionment. And, as a result of that disillusionment, years of goodwill and history were washed away.

Which leaves us back at square one. Like a lover scorned, I – and other fans like me – have that once-bitten-twice-shy mentality. Reports of potential settlements or progress in negotiations are greeted with nothing more than yawns or rolling eyes. The Canadian fan – once thought to be unflappable in its infatuation with the game – is now waiting to be wooed back to the game.

Essentially, our game broke up with us and, eventually, will want to get back together. But the question remains whether we will embrace it upon its return, or simply welcome it back, but remain stand-offish, not willing to commit that much of ourselves to a game again.

We’ve also found other suitors, more willing to consider our needs. In our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, sports – and specifically hockey – were culture-defining phenomena. They provided a shared experience that brought communities and cultures together. People with no common background or history could instantly strike up a conversation based on Gordie Howe’s exploits or Maurice Richard’s on-ice passion. Televised competition wasn’t as great as it is today and sport was an ingrained component of our lives.

Today we have more to distract us. We have more choice on TV – to the point where there’s probably a specialty channel that caters to your particular interest. We have the Internet, which can bring us to the farthest reaches of the Earth with just the click of a mouse. And we have more sports than ever starving for our entertainment dollar, and willing to do whatever it takes to get it.

Most importantly, we have grown to expect more from our entertainment suitors. Knowing that something else is just the click of a remote away, we’re more demanding of our entertainment providers. Shows that take extended hiatuses have difficulty retaining their audiences and fans grumble when too many repeats are shown in a row. Like any relationship, we expect regular companionship, consideration of our needs, and to be satisfied.

The NHL may have left us, but hockey fans haven’t sat by the phone, pining away for that phone call. We’ve loved, lost, and moved on. We’ve found other, often more rewarding, things to occupy our time. And we’ve learned – most importantly – that we can live without it.

Will fans eventually come back? There will be the die-hards who are so starved for hockey’s affection that they’ll come running back, forgiving all that’s gone on in the past. But there are others, maybe even the majority of people, who will be more wary of hockey’s return.

That bloom of first love has been lost forever and, no matter how hard hockey tries to woo us back, it may never be the same as it was. We, as fans, have moved on and we expect more.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

An Ode to Helena Rudy

By Jason Menard

In many cases, image is truth – and we have been witness to a tale of two realities of late.

October 12, Helena Rudy crosses a picket line in Toronto her path obstructed by an angry mob gathered around to intimidate her into joining fellow strikers. A chorus of “Scab, scab, scab” seemingly keeping time with each impeded footfall.

October 13, the first of many NHL games are officially missed due to the lockout. Yet there are no grand displays. Not with a bang, but with a whisper are these games lost. And where are the players? Why are they not standing at the gates of arenas across North America, showing that they want to get in to ply their trade?

Why is Helena Rudy vilified for making the difficult decision to cross a picket line to do her job, while we seem to have no resentment for NHL players choosing to take the path of least resistance in heading overseas to play in European leagues?

Why will Helena Rudy have to deal with the ramifications of her actions for years to come? Why will she be subject to being ostracized by her peers? Why will she endure the sideways glances and comments made under breath as retribution for her action? Why will NHL players, when this labour impasse has ended, be welcomed with opened arms? Their actions forgotten in the collective joy of a return to the ice?

Why is solidarity so important for one group of employees – to the point of attaching social stigma to one who breaks ranks – while it’s almost an afterthought to the other, far-more-affluent, group?

Image is everything in our society. The major battles in the NHL labour war have not been fought over the future of the game, but rather they have been skirmishes to win fan empathy and approval. Fans, who already feel an emotional disconnect from their beloved ice idols now are feeling a physical disconnect as these same players ply their trade elsewhere.

NHL players, instead of standing in solidarity, showing the fans that they want to get back to the table, have dispersed to far corners of the globe in search of games. Instead of a striking visual of NHL players standing at an arena gate, willing but unable to play due to the owners’ lockout, we are presented with no image whatsoever.

Well, not whatsoever. The image we are left with is one of total selfishness. It’s an image of a group of players so concerned about protecting their employment status in the NHL and willing to fight for it, that they seemingly have no problem taking jobs away from other people in other leagues.

The 200 or so roster places around the world that are now occupied by NHL players were not created out of thin air. They were 200 or so roster spots occupied by those who made their living playing hockey, at a substantially lower rate than their NHL brethren. Those are now 200 or so marginal players without a paycheque. They are 200 or so people with a dream to play the game they love for a living without the opportunity to do so, because these locked-out millionaires have decided to take a “working vacation.”

Yes, this is a lockout – by definition owner-imposed — and the NHL players did not choose to have their place of employment taken away from them. However, these players are already on shaky ground with the most important stakeholders in this whole debate – the paying fans.

Already fans have a hard time relating to the modern player. They get paid millions to play a game that anyone sitting in the stands would do for free if given the chance. They live lifestyles beyond our imagination. They earn more in a season than many of the paying public will do in a lifetime.

However, fans can relate to the semi-pro athlete. It’s an inverse proportion, really. The less money a player makes, the closer a fan can feel to understanding that player. And now these NHL millionaires are shoving aside the less fortunate. So the fan resents them more for that.

In this war, the NHL players missed a golden opportunity to get fan support on their side. Image is everything! Standing before a locked-out arena would have shown the fans that the players still care. It would have shown that they understand what the fans want. Instead, they’re earning a paycheck somewhere else. And, as the old adage states, out of site, out of mind.

So we come back to Helena Rudy, whom we vilify as a scab just for wanting to do her job. Her situation is just the other side of the NHL players coin, but each seems to hold different currency.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

The Hockey Strike is the Fans’ Fault

By Jason Menard

So the NHL and the NHLPA have decided that since they can’t share the big ball of wealth that they’ve got to play with, they’re simply going to pack up and go home.

Everybody who is passionate about the sport seems to have an opinion about who’s to blame in this mess. There are those railing on about the greedy players and others talking about the mismanagement of the owners. And then the common refrain is heard, “The only one’s who are really suffering are the fans!”

Ah, but the fans are not as innocent as they have been portrayed. In fact, the fans are probably as much to blame – if not more – than either the owners or the players for this mess. The fact of the matter is that, despite increased ticket prices, indifferent treatment by both players and owners alike, a poorer quality game, and exorbitant rates for everything from parking to souvenirs to refreshments at an arena, the fans continued to go to the games, drop their hard-earned coin, and pay these salaries.

We, the fans, have become enablers for the very activity we despise. I’ve been asked by many non-hockey fans why teams charge so much for (insert item here: tickets, apparel, beer), and my simple answer has always been, “Because they can.” They’re simply charging what the market will bear and, unfortunately, the market’s been willing to bear too much.

I’m no economist, but I know that if someone was willing to pay me a million bucks to write a column, I’d be typing so fast my fingers would bleed! The word no would be out of my vocabulary for a while, in this case. So why do we begrudge the owners for charging top dollar for what’s essentially junk?

People across this great nation of ours lament the poor quality hockey to which we’re subjected. Their love of hockey is more rooted in the past than any sort of present. But still, instead of showing their dissatisfaction, they continue to flock like lemmings to the Air Canada Centre, the Bell Centre, or any other steel and glass hockey shrine (usually one that’s been funded by taxpayer dollars.)

There’s a lot of talk about the lack of fan interest for the southern US teams. But can this really all be attributed to a lack of interest? I think we should actually be proud of those fans who aren’t allowing themselves to be ripped off! They’re putting their money where their mouths are. Why pay for a product that’s inferior?

We’re the ones that are held hostage by our passion for hockey. You wouldn’t think twice about not going to a restaurant that charged you top dollar for poor quality food, but asking you to give up those cherished season’s tickets is akin to asking you to give up your first born! It’s only those of us in the “traditional” (which I believe is a euphemism for gullible) hockey markets who chose to ignore the product, the service, and the entertainment value, and shell out more and more of our hard-earned money each year. Maybe the time has come to look at our collective ravenous appetite for hockey and temper it with some common sense.

Now that the NHL is gone, hopefully these same people that are outraged by the owners’ and players’ actions will now support other options like Junior and University hockey. The excitement is building for the Memorial Cup. Fan support of the Knights has never been higher and this should happen right across this great land of ours. True hockey fans should stop worrying about what they’re missing, and discover what they’ve missed for all these years. Junior Hockey (or AHL, or any number of leagues) provides entertaining hockey at a fraction of the cost.

Support these leagues, and even after the NHL comes back with their empty apologies and hollow statements of love, continue to support them. We live in a market-driven society. When we stop paying the prices that these teams demand and, instead, give our money to a more affordable option, then the NHL will get the point.

Then ticket prices may start coming down. Then a beer may not cost you a second mortgage. Then maybe we’ll be as smart as those fans in the Southern U.S.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved