Will Hockey Fans Come Back After NHL Lockout?

By Mark Donatiello

A forged birth certificate allowed me to play baseball when I was two and a half years old, well before the cutoff for my town.  I  am one of the biggest New York Yankees fans you’ll ever meet.  I don’t come from a hockey family and as a kid I learned most of what I knew about the NHL from video games.  I became a New Jersey Devils fan for the vibrant colors of their uniforms in NHL 92.  Still, when the opportunity presented itself to travel the country last spring, my road trip to the California coast and back centered around hockey.

I was at Game Seven against the Florida Panthers, where the impending expiration of the CBA was the last thing on my mind when Adam Henrique ended the series with a double-overtime goal.  I attended a Stanley Cup game in Los Angeles before ever attending any of my Yankees’ World Series games.  Baseball and football were handed down to me in my family but hockey was mine.  Perhaps that’s why I’m taking the NHL lockout so personally.

I will never understand the greed associated with sports.  As someone who thinks a pickup game of tackle football should be played like it’s the last thing I’ll ever do, the idea of being paid to be an athlete seems ridiculous.  To that end, the idea of nearly canceling a season over how an athlete should be paid is unfathomable.  Still, I walked away from the NHL lockout with a new understanding of that milk-curdling, nails-on-a-chalkboard phrase, “sports is a business”.

They’re right – those awful people who can explain a multi-million dollar contract and an 85-dollar bleacher seat.  The obligations of the NHL, as a business, are to sustain profits like any other corporation.  But that means that I as a consumer have certain rights as well.

When gas stations raised prices during Hurricane Sandy, I made note of it and never returned.  When a dealer spilled a glass of wine on me at Trump Casino in Atlantic City and didn’t even apologize, I never returned.  When my local diner refused to replace my disco fries when they put provolone cheese on them instead of mozzarella, I never returned.   Maybe I’m a bitter person, but my business is earned.  Since sports is a business, the NHL has essentially spit in my disco fries over the past few months with their greed and stubbornness.

The NHL lockout clearly outlined my place; I am an outsider.  Still, hockey has provided many opportunities my way.  Writing about hockey made my law school applications stronger, opening doors to a wonderful new career.  I was able to volunteer extensively with the New Jersey Devils over the last few seasons, gaining experience in social media and being invited into the Devils family.  I’m torn because the NHL has indirectly done a lot for me, but quite obviously turned their back on me over the past few months.

I’m sure there are plenty of confused, bitter fans like me.  My solution to my heartache is to not spend any money on the NHL this season.  I’ll watch on TV, continue to write, and continue to love my team.  I will not pay for a seat or buy new merchandise.  I recognize that this means my only New Jersey Devils jersey will continue to be Zach Parise, and that probably makes me a terrible hockey fan.  Still, if the NHL is a business, they’ve shown themselves to not care very much about their consumers.

Will hockey fans ever come back? Probably.  We came back after the last lockout and I know I can’t stay away for long.  Still, I hope the NHL understands that a series of apologies isn’t enough to rectify the months of greed that took our game away from us.

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