By Alvin Ma
Then you come around again and say
“Baby, I miss you and I swear I’m gonna change, trust me.”
Remember how that lasted for a day?
I say, “I hate you,” we break up, you call me, “I love you.”
Oooh we called it off again last night
But oooh, this time I’m telling you, I’m telling you…
I hate to cut short the chart-topping Taylor Swift song or the “Official Song of the NHL Lockout” parody, but we are definitely, definitely getting back together. Or at least that’s what it seems like, judging from the piqued interests of those who had sworn off caring about professional hockey after the previous deep freezes in NHL collective bargaining negotiations. This post, by examining the Twitter buzz over the latest developments, in essence reinforces E. Martin Nolan’s post “The Fans Are Assumed.”
Of course, there’s no tool for social network comparison to the 2004/05 NHL season. It’s no surprise that with the advent of technological devices such as superphones and media platforms for user-generated tweets or status updates, media consumption has skyrocketed. Bruce Friend of Ipsos polling states (in 2010) that “more has changed in terms of media consumption behavior over the past two years than during the 30 years that preceded.” But when his article alludes to MySpace, you know the internet has changed even more. Whether or not we find them enriching, we stumble across more links to information than we have done so before.
At the same time, however, there are more options for us to choose what we desire to follow and subsequently post, or share, or reblog, or retweet, etc. In the past week, I think columnist Jason Botchford says it best with the tweet: “This week in the NHL > 2012 postseason.” The goodwill optimism of having a meeting filled with seemingly moderate players and owners, preceded by a joint press conference from Bill Daly and Steve Fehr and a brief no-detail update from commissioner Gary Bettman, culminated in a #podiumwatch trending topic alongside other NHL-related trends. But wait, didn’t fans want to boycott by way of Twitter, or let their vitriol be known the strongest by simply moving on with their daily lives after nearly three months of an official lockout?
Looking at the Twitter data, it’s clear that fans have not done so. While the follower statistics did decline by 1258 members on September 16th, the first day after the lockout, Twittercounter.com reports that it has steadily grown. It spiked up by 4380 followers on October 17th in the aftermath of a bold 50-50 revenue split offer by the NHL executives and the initially promising past week has seen it grow past the 1.5 million mark. Examining the past 90 days, similar spiked trends are seen with the NHLPA and the prominent columnists covering the NHL work stoppage dispute. Analyzing the follower count from Monday, December 3rd to Saturday, December 8th; the NHLPA went up from 151,167 to 155,624, Bob McKenzie of TSN went up from 439,165 to 444,775, Pierre Lebrun of ESPN went up from 183,755 to 189,829, and Chris Johnson of CBC went up from 20,978 to 22,527.
This level of interest indicates that like sheep, the fans are assumed by both the executives of the NHL and NHLPA in the way they continue to do their brinkmanship negotiating and grandstanding rhetoric. But don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that fans are actually sheep that will continue to consistently sell out arenas. The fans and business interests might not fiscally allow the NHL to regain or squander revenues in excess of $3 billion, priced according to inflation. However, the NHL remains relevant, as is the case with the NFL and the NBA after their lockouts. So to reference Nolan’s post again, do I still think that “together we can”?
As a pragmatic person who at the same time can’t stand defeatist-driven realism, yes. The past week of NHL-NHLPA meetings showed an intriguing dynamic where Bettman arguably tried to use the “divide and conquer” approach of separating the moderate rank-and-file players from the hawkish union representatives. Twitter, likewise, allows for fans to interact with tweeting rank-and-file players, with many of whom still posting frequent updates about their lives. But then again, that’s all under the assumption that everyone wants to get back together with hockey, only to have the “I hate you” and “I love you” process perpetually repeat.