January 6 proved to be a great day for National Hockey League fans everywhere, regardless of what team(s) they cheered for. At 4:45 that morning, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Player’s Association Executive Director Donald Fehr declared that both sides had come to terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
While this new CBA means that we won’t be seeing another lockout for at least eight years, there are still a number of questions left unanswered. One critical question is what should the fans do from here? The fans have played victim to the bitter negotiation war between the team owners and the hockey players. Is it understandable if they never put another dime into the sport again? Absolutely.
I’m not saying that all fans should boycott the practice of blood donation otherwise known as hockey. However, it is entirely understandable if one does not rush to put money into the hands of the people who have taken their sport away for a grueling 113 days.
The fans are the ones who work their fingers to the bone to afford the exorbitant prices of tickets, merchandise and the rest. They are the ones who use platforms such as team arenas and social media websites to express their fandom. Win or lose, they are always there.
However, the NHL is taking some steps to try to make it up to the fans that have waited with baited breath for the end of the lockout. For example, the Pittsburgh Penguins are offering fans 50% merchandise discounts as well as free select concession items for the first four home games of the season.
The Buffalo Sabres are offering deep merchandise discounts as well. Our hometown Flyers are offering a free-to-the-public practice at the Wells Fargo Center. While these steps may seem like a slap to the face, it’s at least better than doing nothing at all.
Another challenging aspect to boycotting the NHL is that it features the best players from around the world. It would be very difficult to pass up the opportunities to watch the superior goaltending of Jonathan Quick, the scoring ability of Steven Stamkos, the pure defensive abilities of Zdeno Chara and much more of the talent that comprises the league.
Flyer fans who decide to boycott would miss out on Claude Giroux’s rise to becoming one of the more elite players in the league as well as the wittiness and humor that Ilya Bryzgalov brings to the team. They would also miss out on the brotherly tandem that Brayden and Luke Schenn bring to the table. In addition, they would miss out on the chances to relentlessly jeer and heckle Sidney Crosby, which is arguably one of the most fun things about Flyers/Penguins games.
So far, it seems as though a majority of fans have elected to not boycott. When the Flyers opened up training camp this past Sunday, thousands of fans jammed their practice facility in Voorhees, N.J. The parking lot was full, leaving fans to find parking at nearby places of business. The town’s fire marshal even ordered fans to wait outside the facility as there were just too many people to fit inside. It could not be any clearer that these fans missed the sport greatly, and are more than willing to come back.
It has not been easy to be a fan of the NHL over the past 17 seasons, as three labor stoppages have led to two shortened seasons and the loss of one entire season. In spite of this, the fans have continued to come back time and time again. Will fans increase the passion for the sport they love or channel that passion into boycotting it? Time will only tell.