They’re playing hockey today – which is great. I’m excited, and you probably are too if you’re reading this. All the teeth gnashing you did, all the cursing of Bettman, Daly, and Fehr, the threats of never watching this league again – they were all hollow. And you kind of knew it too, didn’t you? Deep down you weren’t walking away.
The sweet day those arena gates were flung open and you got the chance to get your grubby little hands on a minipack and a Grigorenko sweater you knew you were a lost cause.
And that’s fine – despite all my rage, I acknowledged early on that the minute this hilariously needless work stoppage ended, I’d be in front of my TV like the hopeless rube that I am. Maybe not buying tickets and merchandise but definitely giving the Sabres & NHL my full attention and mindshare. And in the age of trending topics and commercial self worth determined by facebook shares and likes – that’s almost as valuable, isn’t it?
The NHL & NHLPA kissed and made up, the fans cheered and most got in line to hand over gobs of cash…as fans are wont to do. But some haven’t been as compliant. Some still aren’t completely sated and, right or wrong, made their viewpoints made
Which, in turn, brought an avalanche of scorn from those who weren’t asking for a bit more.
You think you’re OWED something? This is a BUSINESS – they owe you NOTHING was the general refrain from those doing the shaming.
Which, is generally true – the NHL and its franchises all operate as for profit institutions. The end game is making money, not playing hockey. That is reality.
The fact that this was being communicated didn’t strike me as much as the widespread ferocity in which it was delivered. It was almost as if the people asking for half priced beer or car magnets as good faith gestures were posting YouTube videos of themselves wearing Bin Laden masks and burning American flags while Norwood’s kick sailed right on a 52” in the background for all the hostility they were met with.
And it made me think about the broader context of how American sports fans behave and view themselves, say compared to their counterparts in Europe or South America.
Last weekend Manchester City of the English Premier League traveled south to London to play Arsenal. As is the norm in English soccer, a few sections of every stadium are set aside for fans of the visiting team as to not have fans of opposing sides mingle together and cause potential crowd trouble (long story – google “The English Disease”).
Similar to the Sabres variable pricing model, Arsenal also prices games based on the stature of the opponent, competition, etc… Given that Manchester City are the defending EPL champions and that away tickets are normally higher in price than home fan tickets (supply & demand) – City fans were met with a staggering per ticket cost of 62 GBP or, in US dollars, $98.36.
Incensed City fans balked at the prices and over 900 unsold tickets were returned to the Arsenal front office as an embarrassingly large swath of empty seats was displayed prominently on televisions around the globe. The ones that did come down from the north of England brought protest banners and chants with them, winning the sympathy of not only fan groups across the UK but a game official who persuaded the Manchester City players to jog over to the away end and thank the fans for dishing out so much cash.
Think about that story – can you ever conceive of that happening in Buffalo? It’s absurd, isn’t it? The thought of Drew Stafford glumly skating over to the bench after a dull 2-1 Wednesday night loss to Winnipeg or Washington and thanking fans by the railings for having to plunk down the cost of a pretty damn nice meal at the Chop House to see what amounted to the hockey version of the dollar menu.
Can you ever imagine Sabres fans in the 100s unfurling banners reading “$180? WHERE DOES IT STOP?” WGR drive time show hosts clucking their tongues sympathetically at the extortionist nature of modern pro sports and exhorting listeners to action.
But that doesn’t happen here. Behind the high ticket prices, threat of relocation if public funds aren’t handed over and general disregard for those who make the whole system work lies this sentiment: “You’re lucky to have us“.
And the response, nearly universally from the great unwashed is nearly always “Yes, we know!”
Sports are a game – they’re entertainment; in the grand scheme they don’t mean anything of any true substance (or so I’ve been told). And, if, as a society this is how we want things to be that’s fine.
But it’s interesting to note that in the wake of this fiasco reaching a non-season killing resolution, the first scarlet letters handed out post-lockout weren’t to the perpetrators, but to those who wouldn’t let the frustration of the work stoppage die.
Collectivist action just isn’t in our bones as Americans – for a nation that has prided itself on protest, modern sports fandom across the four majors seems to be a nervy game of musical chairs – no one wants to speak up or walk out in fears of the next guy on the season ticket waiting list taking your spot and effectively erasing your relevance to the team. Or worse – being called out for not being a REAL FAN.
Which, of course, all plays into the math the NHL and NHLPA literally bank on: that you can’t say no. That no matter what kind of farce they make of the game you love and fund, that you’d sooner trample the guy in the row below you for a ticket upgrade than EVER consider maybe talking to him about staging a meaningful protest or boycott to send the money men a lesson that what happened from October until earlier this month is NOT OK.
But, again, that’s not how we think. The first instinct is to accept the lot of ever increasing tickets, ever brazen ownership and ever shortsighted player representation. Fans – the people who genuinely hold all the cards- defeat, no, cannibalize themselves before the battle even begins.
Granted, nothing more terrible than some boring winter evenings and lean times at Cobblestone area pubs have come as a result of all this. This isn’t huge banks laundering money for cartels or drone strikes killing civilians in Pakistan. It’s hockey, it’s supposed to be a fun diversion, not the whole point.
I suppose it all comes down to what we want as a sporting society – is this all worth it? Is it still fun? Would you want anything to change?
Personally, I don’t know those answers. It’s late and the Sabres are playing tomorrow.