My Two Cents for September 18th…
Dear Mr. Gary Bettman: You don’t know me, and maybe you don’t owe me. My name is Darryl and I have been a fan of the NHL for over 40 years. I went to my first game in 1970 at the age of nine when I saw the California Golden Seals take on the Philadelphia Flyers on a cool February evening in Oakland, California. My father took me and my eldest sister to the game after someone game him the tickets at his work. My father was not really a hockey fan himself but he figured it would be a fun night for my sister and I. While my sister and my father talked about school and other things, my undivided attention was focused squarely on the ice rink in front of me. This was a game that I had never seen before and soon realized I had discovered something that was different from all of the other sports. It was fast, furious, feisty and most of all fun. For the record the Flyers beat the Seals 5-4. The reason I mention this is just to give you a pretty good idea that though you may be a better businessman than myself, I’m willing to bet I’ve been exposed to more hockey than you have (with all due respect).
I don’t work for a team or any league or franchise, professional or amateur. I’m just your “Average Joe Fan”. I work for a living, I make due with what I can. I am not rich, I am not famous and don’t really care to be either. This weekly column that I write here is truly a labor of love. I don’t get paid to do it and I don’t make a dime from Blades of Teal or the Fansided Network. I am one of many writers that maybe one day hope to get a break in the journalism business even at my age. I am also a hockey fan, and I have been all my life. I will continue to be a hockey fan. That said, however, I must admit over the last 20 years you have tested my resolve and the resolve of millions of hockey fans here in the United States, Canada, and I’m sure many more overseas who see the NHL as “The Show”, the place you ultimately want to play. The players who come from many different backgrounds, different countries and so forth are some of the most gifted and skilled athletes that I would match against any in Major League Baseball, the NBA and maybe even the NFL. To be a player in the NHL (or even in the minors), you have to have the maddest of skills at your position and need to be able to do amongst other things skate 180 feet at full speed, stop on dime, and go back the other way another 180 feet also at full speed. A goalie has to find a puck coming at him at speeds over 120 miles per hour, and has to do so while wearing over 20 pounds of protective gear, and have all kinds of mayhem happening around the goal crease. A hockey player is not faint of heart, nor does he run from a challenge. As a matter of fact, they all run towards the challenge and do so also at full speed ahead. The ultimate reward is the Stanley Cup, which is by far the hardest of prizes to win in all of professional sports.
The League’s Fanbase- The NHL also has a legion of fans that is like no other. We are not just fans, in may ways we are also family. We don’t all cheer for the same teams, and have clear rivalries between teams (New York vs New Jersey, Philadelphia vs Pittsburgh, Detroit vs Colorado, Montreal vs Boston, Toronto vs Ottawa, Chicago vs St.Louis, Anaheim vs San Jose just to name a few). Though the rivalries are fierce, the competition is usually strong, good and very entertaining. Few if any fans can walk away from these games saying that they didn’t get their money’s worth. Being that you have been Commissioner for 20 years now I’m sure you are aware of a lot of this yourself, especially coming from a marketing background.
I will be fair here and first admit that you have done things as Commissioner that have created more awareness of the NHL. The NHL is in more markets, has more television contracts. Though you lost ESPN, you ultimately gained a network that soon graduated from OLN to Versus, and from Versus to what is now NBC Sports Network. The game is now featured on over the air NBC Sports on Sunday afternoons in the late winter and early spring. Though the reach of the NBC Sports Network is not the same as the reach of ESPN, at least the NBC brand is still a step in the right direction. You’ve also helped to create what is now the New Years Day tradition we call The Winter Classic, which pays homage to the roots of the game of hockey itself. Again, I will always give you credit where credit is due even though I am one of your strongest critics.
However if I had to grade your stewardship of the NHL over the last 20 years, sadly the negatives more than decidedly outweigh the positives. It’s not just that the negatives are numerous, and certainly the NHLPA and Donald Fehr have their fault in this too. However, up until the time you became commissioner, the NHL never had a labor stoppage. In fact, it was unheard of. The NHL never had local or cable TV blackouts, and now they do. Yes, I am aware blackouts are rare but the fact they happen at all is a black eye to the league. The NFL has a long standing policy of TV blackouts and could care less what the fans think. The same could not be said about the NHL, at least not as far as blackouts are concerned until within the last 20 years. However, when a league locks out and shuts down before the start of a season or during a season, or at all, it’s never a good public relations move. At least in the NFL’s case, they locked out during the off season and got matters settled before the integrity of the regular season and the league fell into question. The same cannot be said for the NHL. The 2004-05 season, or lack there of is proof of that and all of the proof most of us fans need. You also have a franchise in Phoenix which averages over $30 million in losses each year. This is a problem that hasn’t been resolved and likely won’t be unless the team is relocated to a market that can support them (such as Seattle, Washington; Salt Lake City, Utah; Portland, Oregon; or even Hamilton, Ontario, or even perhaps Regina, Saskatchewan). If any everyday business lost $30 million a year for six years, odds are they would have been shut down by the second or third year. The other cities I mentioned here would all love to have an NHL franchise and would take the Coyotes or even an expansion team in a heartbeat.
Season Ticket Holders, Fans, Even Arena Vendors Are Forgotten Here- My feeling here is that the fans only matter to a certain extent. The fact of the matter is that this is the fourth work stoppage in 20 seasons. We’ve all been through this before. However I can guarantee that we the fans are starting to get really sick and tired of this display of indifference. The fact is also that you, the owners, Donald Fehr and the NHLPA all knew this day was coming and knew that from the very day the last lockout ended. We the fans also have a very long memory of the last time we all went though this. Eight years ago, an entire season was cancelled because of differences that could not be worked out along with Owners and NHLPA who could not check their ego’s at the door. It was a game of chicken which in the end the fans came out as the biggest losers. You presided over this farce, and your are presiding over yet another labor dispute. I would only hope that deep down in your sole that there is a part of this that bothers the living daylights out of you. I can guarantee you it bothers the fans to no end. And if you think this bothers just us fans, just think for a moment what this also does for those who work at the NHL arenas around the United States and Canada. Many arena workers who count on these jobs even as a part time income will now not have that, and in this economy every dollar counts.
We lost an entire season eight years ago in 2004-05. Season ticket holders with left with seats for games that would never be played. Lots of revenue was lost in terms of advertising. The players who could went overseas to play while those who were in the minors lost a year of development. The TV contract with ESPN was lost, and if you know anything about the history of ESPN 2, that was built by NHL hockey years before you became NHL Commissioner. Many fans who vowed they would never come back either have not, or have though it took a few years for them to come back and trust in the NHL brand once again. I can all but guarantee if the NHL even loses so much as one regular season game this year, many fans will just wash their hands of the mess this has become and walk away. They have too many other options for their entertainment dollar, everything from hit movies to other professional sports or sports leagues. You lost the fringe fan once. Odds are if the lockout lasts into the regular season which sadly seems very likely, the fringe fan will go away again and this time he/she is not coming back. Like many people including myself, I operate on a very simple premise. “Fool Me Once, Shame On You. Fool Me Twice, Shame On Me.” Trust me, the vast majority of fans won’t wait around the second time. If the 2012-13 season ultimately gets scrapped or significantly truncated as the NBA was last year as the end result of their own lockout, you will likely damage the NHL beyond reasonable repair for at least the next decade.
As far as Donald Fehr is concerned, I would agree that he’s no saint either. He was the players representative for Major League Baseball when they went on strike in August 1994 and this led to the cancellation of the World Series (an institution that withstood the Great Depression and two World Wars). Mr Ferh’s hands here are just as dirty as are yours.
Though I will admit I am no fan of your’s, I am also a reasonable man too. I will give you a chance to along with the owners and NHLPA to start acting like grown men and get this matter settled, and do so quickly! If you can get this settled within the next two to three weeks, I will be appreciative and withdraw my criticisms of your stewardship. However, Mr Bettman if even one game is lost (that cannot be made up) because of this ridiculous situation, than I will also be one of the vocal many that will hold yourself as League Commissioner responsible for this and I will be shouting from the rooftops for your resignation or ouster as Commissioner. Trust me, there is a very good reason that you are loudly booed at NHL arenas every year, especially when you present the Stanley Cup at the end of each season. The fans don’t love you. Fact is, the majority loathe you. I haven’t gotten there yet but I’m at my breaking point on this matter. This is largely because either your are not connecting to the fans as you should be (maybe because you don’t understand us fans), or this is just a venture for you and you take the fans for granted. There is a reason the fans don’t like you and before you say “Well, that’s their problem…” please understand that much of the Public Relations that have come out of your office has not been exactly fan friendly. It’s the teams and specifically the players here that have done much of the public relations work. Even the memo that came from the NHL this past weekend explaining the reasoning for the labor dispute and falls short. The final line in the memo, “We owe it to each other, to the game and, most of all, to the fans.” only proves what is obvious, hence my opening line in this letter. You don’t know me (and you likely don’t know or understand the fanbase here). Maybe you don’t owe me. Personally, you owe me nothing. As a fan, one of millions, you owe it to all of us as Commissioner to make sure the business of the NHL runs as fluid as a well oiled machine. This means everything from making sure the season starts on time, the game has fairness and integrity, right down to the very safety of the players who give every ounce of blood and sweat so that they all have a chance at winning one of the ultimate prizes in professional sports.
To be fair, I am not a season ticket holder to any NHL team and watch most games on Centre Ice since I live in the San Diego area. However, for every season ticket holder there are at least 1,000 or more fans that watch, enjoy and appreciate the NHL. Though I may not be a season ticket holder, I can tell you fair enough that your season ticket holders are also the leagues’ share holders. If you are a San Jose Sharks season ticket holder, you are also a share holder of the Sharks. If you are a Los Angeles Kings season ticket holder, you are also a share holder for the Kings…and so on…I’m sure you get the idea.
At this point Commissioner Bettman, the NHL is in your hands and the hands of the NHLPA and Owners. You can either be good stewards, act like men and get this CBA settled. Or you can bide your time and test the fans resolve for a second time in eight years as well as a fourth time in twenty. Either way you will own this and this will be a part of your legacy that you can never run or hide from. If the league goes dark again, this will have your finger prints all over it. This is on your watch, this is under your stewardship. Therefore, you are responsible. You agreed to this when you took the job of NHL Commissioner in 1993.
Now, do your job and get the NHL back on track. It’s what you are paid to do. If I don’t do my job, I have no job. Don’t think this doesn’t apply to you. Believe it or not, it actually does.
In closing, and again with all due respect Commissioner Bettman, PLEASE GET BACK TO WORK AND GET THIS CBA SETTLED!!! YESTERDAY!!!
Darryl (aka The King Shark)
An NHL Fan Since 1970!
…just my two cents, Mr Bettman…
…and to all of us fans, here is the NHL’s memo just in case you didn’t see it:
The King Shark
Blades of Teal: The Final Word On San Jose Sharks Hockey
The Jessica Redfield Ghawi Foundation:
PS: *The opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect on any other staff member’s opinions with Blades Of Teal, Fansided or their websites themselves… The King Shark…
PS2: Happy Birthday to my wonderful niece in NoCal, Jenna. She is a teacher doing great things and helping to create the journalist of tomorrow as well the betterment of others lives through education. She is truly making a difference in this world and I couldn’t be prouder. Way to go, Jenna!!! …