I’m an NHL fan. I love NHL hockey and like most fans, I have not been happy with the state of negotiations between the NHL and the NHLPA. I went from 'not happy' to 'furious' this week when Gary Bettman made his ‘best fans’ comment. I’m not alone in being upset. My Twitter friend @Artful_Puck (Patricia Teter) said everything I was thinking in her blog entry on the topic.
That’s what is great about social media – I know that I am not alone. It is also easy to see that most fans know that Gary isn’t the problem; he is simply the focal point. Gary speaks for the owners. As Patricia said “It seems to me the NHL’s problems lie with the owners, at the top of the food chain, not with the players”. Fans get it and in this age of social media, it is easy to see that the majority of fans are unimpressed with the owners' hypocrisy. On one hand, they are signing players to huge dollar value, multi-year deals; and on the other hand, they want salaries brought under control. They blame the players, but sorry, that logic does not fly. In 2004, I was on the side of the owners and wanted a salary cap and ‘cost certainty’. This time – I am firmly on the side of the players and I think a lot of fans are with me.
My frustration lies in the fact that as fans we know all of the above, but the problem is that we have no leverage to express our views. We can say we won’t buy NHL tickets, but that is a vague threat that may or may not happen. Quite frankly, I think the owners know that no matter who the fans side with, once hockey is back, fans will buy tickets. So as a fan – what can I do? I want the owners to negotiate but I know they have no reason to do so. They will lock the players out and impose their will.
I hate not being able to take action, so last night in a Twitter exchange with @Artful_Puck, I said that I have realized I can do one thing; I can stop shopping at Rexall because that impacts the owner of the Oilers. I realize I am just one person and it makes NO difference. I get that, but my thinking was that if every fan does a few small things, and we harness the power of social media to be vocal about it – maybe, just maybe the owners will get the message. I was off Twitter for a while and came back to a conversation between @Artful_Puck and @BruceMcCurdy that suggested potentially hitting NHL sponsors with a boycott so that those corporations can put pressure on the owners.
This intrigues me, because I remember during the “save the Oilers” times, fans were encouraged to support the businesses that were part of the Edmonton Investor’s Group, and the companies that bought rink board advertising.
So can this work? Can fans make a statement by vocally not supporting businesses with NHL ties? I don’t know, and I do know that this is a fine line because we want companies to support the NHL through advertising and sponsorship. But I keep coming back to the fact that this might be our only leverage as fans. As Bruce said, we want to make the promise that we aren’t moving our business permanently. As fans we are just making a statement in hopes that those businesses will take steps to put pressure on the NHL to get this settled.
I am also not naïve; I know that it takes a lot to make an impact. Nothing makes me crazier than slacktivism. That’s not what this is – this is me telling you what I am going to do. Until I see a deal, I am going to stop supporting companies that I know are affiliated with the NHL via advertising, ownership, or sponsorship. That’s what I can do. I am sharing this message so that it can spread if people think it might work. I know that isolated action is ineffective.
Thinking big, I would like to see a big statement short-term boycott. Tim Hortons spends a lot of money on the NHL through sponsorship, rink board advertising, TV advertising, etc. They also are a company that would immediately notice an impact on sales if NHL fans took collective action (via same day sales comparisons). What if every hockey fan chose to not spend their money at Tim Hortons on a specific day or days? Further, for irony – what is we did it on Labour Day weekend and made sure we were vocal about it on social media? That could get some attention. Trust me, every store knows their same day sales and if they see an impact and know the cause, they would be calling head office. Head office might call the league, which might spur the owners to negotiate. That’s the easiest most visible example I can think of.
But I will come back to the fact that I can’t make this happen. There may or may not be others who want to do something. I wanted to share the only idea I was able to come up with that allows me to express my frustration. Gary Bettman can't buy my loyalty to the NHL with a few words. NHL owners - get a deal done, you do not have my support.