To: Gary Bettman, NHL Owners, The NHLPA:
Gentlemen, I’m writing you today as a lifelong hockey fan who can clearly see the end of that lengthy commitment arriving in the next few weeks.
At the age of 45, I look back on NHL games and experiences too many to count but plenty to enjoy and relish. However, I look at an NHL future being built solely on a disrespect to the hockey fan and it is apparent the NHL no longer desires me to be around, or to pass along the love of the league to my 2 year-old son. A two-year old who has already been to NHL games and who’s 100 or so word vocabulary features “hockey,” “puck” and “stick”, including in proper combination.
My first NHL game was in March 1976, about 10 days prior to my ninth birthday. It was a game between the California Golden Seals and Toronto Maple Leafs at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and was a wide-open blast of excitement that finished in a 7-7 tie. I nearly caught a puck in pre-game warm-ups and was ecstatic at the opportunity to see pros play up close. Yes, it impacted me that greatly I can remember the detail that vividly 3.5 decades later. Growing up in 1970’s California left an enthusiastic hockey fan challenged for information and contact with the game. My window was the Redwood Empire Ice Arena in Santa Rosa where, out of his love for the sport, Peanuts creator Charles Schulz officiated the youth games played there, including my brother’s. Hours of slapping a puck against the garage door or being my older sibling’s practice goaltender were my only outlets for the budding excitement I had. That is what the NHL can do to a person.
The Seals departed a few months after that game and staying abreast of the NHL became a herculean task, one too much for a 9 year-old in the 1970’s. But I still yearned for NHL hockey and over the next dozen plus years, any chance to watch or attend a game was rarely avoided, including traveling to seeing Wayne Gretzky play for the Kings during his first season in Los Angeles.
In the summer of 1989, at the age of 22, work brought a life change as I moved to NYC; a decision reinforced by the New York Rangers seats at Madison Square Garden the company I worked for possessed and allowed me to take frequent advantage. I became a Rangers fan instantly, was at an LA Kings game at the Forum the day of the SF Earthquake in 1989, attended my first NHL playoff games in the spring of 1990. I was at nine of the Rangers home games in the 1994 playoffs, including the legendary Game 7 Eastern Conference Final and the moment the Rangers won the Stanley Cup two weeks later. Every bit of the $2000 I spent on two seats to be in MSG that June night was worth it and I remember where I was for every one of the 23 playoff games the Rangers played during that wondrous Spring. That is what the NHL can do to a person.
Despite the lockout which shortened the ‘94-‘95 season by nearly half, I invested in a share of my own tickets with other Rangers fans. This continued until 1997, when I had the opportunity to purchase Rangers season tickets, on my own, for all 41 home games. I’ve felt the thrill of being a season ticket holder/subscriber ever since: 15 years, 14 seasons. Through some pretty awful Rangers teams, through a second lockout that exterminated an entire season, through a rejuvenated and improved game, through the amazing international development, I have remained committed to the NHL and a loud supporter to anyone who will listen to the soliloquy. When on business or personal trips to NHL cities I make every effort to attend a game and have seen NHL games in Chicago, LA, Boston, Tampa, Philadelphia and New Jersey, plus minor league games in Indianapolis and Las Vegas. Attending this past season’s Winter Classic in Philadelphia was a personal sports highlight in a life of sports fandom that has experienced in person a Rose Bowl, NFL Playoffs, NCAA Basketball Championship Games, a clinching World Series game, World Cup Soccer, English Premier League, the Olympics, The Triple Crown and the aforementioned Stanley Cup Game 7 victory.
It is fair to say that in the past nearly quarter of a century, I’ve spent, contributed and invested somewhere between $400,000 and $500,000 directly into the NHL: through tickets, money spent in arena, on TV services to watch games, the NHL Center Ice package, merchandise. When I can’t use my tickets, they are donated to charity or friends. I am and have been fortunate, lucky enough, to spend a significant share of my discretionary income on your industry to this level year after year, brushing off two previous lockouts, consistently spending $20,000 a season on your business. I am not just a Rangers fan, but a fan of the league and the game. That’s what the NHL can do to a person.
But no more. Not if you all—adults, businessmen, professionals—can’t find a way to conduct full-seasons of NHL hockey. In my business, the behavior, decision-making and posturing like yours as the current CBA approaches expiration would lose me clients and a livelihood. The business I own would never recover and cease to exist. In every other business it would get people fired or demoted, have disastrous results for the business and have long-lasting impact on the company. But you continue to operate devoid of this kind of consequence, lacking the comprehension of how this will matter to the people who buy tickets, patronize your sponsors, consume the entertainment the NHL provides.
You present a lockout as the only viable negotiating stance and tactic rather than seeking true solutions for your problems in an adult, sane and professional manner. You present the lockout as the only weapon you see—and a nuclear one—because you won’t stand on the positives that have happened over the past generation in growing the league, and you won’t figure out how to continue building and growing those positives for the future. The lockout represents a choice to only use the negative to achieve goals. If this is the prevailing wisdom and if you are going to push the nuclear button on playing a full season, then I will push my nuclear button: return my season tickets to the Rangers, no longer spend a dime on the NHL, discontinue my NHL Center Ice Service, dump the GameCenter apps from my electronic devices. I will simply erase the NHL from my present and future. In 1994, I did this with Major League Baseball after multiple strikes and lockouts from 1980-1994……..and I have never returned.
I am your target demographic in every possible metric: location, family, income, passion for the sport. But I refuse to be struck a third time by your nuclear weapon. Your contempt and disrespect—nay, disdain—for the NHL fan is mind-boggling; asking the fan to turn a blind eye for the third time in 18 years, to freely come back to an arena and sport which values the fan’s contribution as the gum stuck to the bottom of your pricey loafers. I refuse to watch you affect the livelihoods of people beyond the guys who lace up the skates and put on the pads. Coaches, trainers, assistants, organizational employees, scouts, ushers, janitors, parking attendants, zamboni drivers, ice crews, retail and food clerks who won’t have work are the victims laying next to the fans while your ‘nuclear business fallout’ chokes their lungs. You seemingly forget the envy and opportunity most people who watch and attend NHL games would relish if they could work in the NHL, or for a team, promoting the sport and its business.
And if this is the way you choose to treat the fan, then there is no reason for me to continue being one. Many may feel as I do, or I may be a lone wolf howling in the woods. Acknowledging the Shakespearean tragedy you’re attempting to poorly imitate, I speak as a resident of Verona with a hearty, disgusted “I’m moving out and a pox on all your houses.” If you can’t muster the muscle, the conviction, the intelligence and the fortitude to play full seasons of the sport I invest in, I will no longer suffer your business idiocy, defined by your middle finger presented yet again to WE, THE FANS.
You are welcome to attempt to convince me otherwise of these viewpoints, to stay the course as a fan and understand your decision-making process. Make a rational, logical argument on why I should continue investing in this sport, this form of entertainment….I’m open to the discussion. But up to this point during the off-season CBA “negotiations,” your platitudes and explanations have been hollow and nonsensical, impossible to reconcile as a supporter of the NHL.
During the course of any year, as a season ticket holder and purchaser of NHL items I’m asked to participate in numerous surveys and market research analysis on my experience as a fan. Yet I’m never asked my opinion or thoughts on what has become the most vital topic to the game being played season after season: the CBA, and how its implementation impacts my experience as a fan. You proclaim a lockout is necessary to do business, but you’re not locking out the players, you are locking out the fans, your customer. You leave the fans as the one constituency never represented on any level during your ‘negotiations’. And whether you accept it or not, we are the most important constituency.
So this is my personal ultimatum to you—the league, owners, players: Play the full season that begins October 11, as planned, or lose a vocal, loyal, committed fan. Forever. I hope others join me and I support and applaud whatever decision fellow fans make. But if you are incapable of being adults to settle your business challenges, the NHL doesn’t deserve my adult money going forward and I’m going to take my puck, stick and net and leave this melting pond forever.
And that is also, what the NHL can do to a person.
New York Rangers Season Ticket holder