The Lockout Is Over: A Love Story Returns

By Alvin Ma

Louie Louie, oh no, me gotta go, yeah, yeah, yeah…
Louie Louie, oh baby, me gotta go

While I may not fully agree with Michael Moore, I’m beginning this post with the same song as the opening song in his film Capitalism: A Love Story. I’ll substitute “NHL” instead of “Capitalism,” as it’s clear that the same love of the almighty dollar has shaped the dynamics of the NHL lockout. In his latest post “The Lockout Is Over: So Now What?” Matt Ventresca explores various fan initiatives of resistance such as the Just Drop It movement and furthermore discusses the psychological cognitive dissonance of these fans. I won’t regurgitate all of the content listed in his post or the wide selection of lockout response literature, but from what I gather, the prevailing narrative is that many hockey fanatics realize and regard the NHL as a profit-driven business. Thus, many of them want to punish the millionaires and billionaires responsible for the third lengthy work stoppage in 18 years.

Before I attempt to address the questions posed in the above blog post, I will briefly supplement a December blog post which posits that the majority of fans are definitely, definitely getting back together with the NHL. (Speaking of Taylor Swift, needless to say, her song “Love Story” complements this post well.) In my December blog post, I examined the Twitter follower statistics of prominent figures in the NHL lockout and argued that due to the steady growth of followers between September and December and spiked follower increases on days of optimism, both belligerents in the dispute can rest assured that the fans are assumed due to concerned and angry interest rather than apathy. I still stand by that argument, which in hindsight probably isn’t very original.

Statistics-wise, the NHL has increased its Twitter follower count by 75,000 since my measure on December 8th, nearing 1.58 million as of January 14th. The NHLPA has increased from 155,624 to 177,199, Bob McKenzie of TSN from 444,775 to 473,043, Pierre Lebrun of ESPN from 189,829 to 217,422, and Chris Johnston of CBC from 22,527 to 25,433. It’s not just the number of online followers that provides intrigue for analysis as we head towards the beginning of the shortened NHL season. Complimentary entry to training camps has resulted in relatively large, forgiving crowds in places such as Winnipeg. Contrary to popular belief, we have seen increases in attendance figures after the previous two NHL lockouts. In 1994-95, average attendance rose from 14,748 to 14,797 and in 2005-06, average attendance rose from 16,534 to a record 16,955.

Then again, not every city like Winnipeg has the prodigal son feeling towards merely possessing an NHL team and there is no guarantee in the continuation of these statistics despite the evidence I presented above. Some fans might choose to strike a happy medium of resistance by intensely following and attending free events hosted by the hockey team such as training camp scrimmages but redirect their money towards local restaurants that have lost tens of thousands of dollars in expected revenue due to the lockout. Of course, this style of limited boycott is not perfect. If carried out widely, low-waged arena staff would still suffer while the league stands to profit not only in the long run through leverage from future television contracts, but also immediately from increased website traffic, which subsequently adds leverage for favorable sponsorship deals with large corporations.

So is there a best solution, or at least a better solution than the one above? Regardless of normative suggestions I or countless others provide, I think it’s fair to say that realistically, not everyone will adopt the resolutions. Some people will choose to return to the normalcy of splurging thousands of dollars on season tickets while others will shield themselves from the hockey world. Resistance, or the lack thereof, can take many forms. Nevertheless, if there is a capital-T truth, it is the fact that the NHL is a business driven by free market laws of supply and demand. One normative issue that I hope readers will derive from the above statement is the intersection between team loyalty and team attendance.

For example, is it fair to label Chicago Blackhawks fans as “bandwagoners” because of their poor attendance during losing seasons (dipping to 12,727 in the 2006-07 season) while jumping back up to 22,247 in the 2008-09 season and followed by a ticker-tape Stanley Cup parade that drew two million people to the streets? Or could it alternatively be seen as a boycott by hockey enthusiasts against then-owner Bill Wirtz, who infamously imposed a blackout on home games? We might have to deconstruct the meaning of a “true fan” and separate it from league attendance statistics. While up for debate, I would include in my “true fan” definition Toronto Maple Leaf supporters who intently follow where Roberto Luongo will go and try to avoid unnecessary psychological cognitive dissonance by selectively reading rumours and articles that align with their desires, but at the same time consciously opt to not purchase any NHL merchandise.

To conclude this post with a Michael Moore allusion, I will not place police tape around all 30 NHL arenas as in the adapted ending of Capitalism: A Love Story, for the proverbial chains around the arenas during the lockout are now gone. But if hockey enthusiasts want to push their peaceful agenda by lowering demand under the laws of economics and under the rule of law, there might just be more rule by the people.

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