NHL teams may need to prepare for a lot more empty seats when - or perhaps if - they start playing hockey again. - Rich Lam
It's day eighty-something of the lockout, games have been canceled through the holiday season, and I'm quickly becoming part of a big problem for the NHL's near future.
The title of this one is a little pretentious, I admit, but bear with me.
It's fair to say that I'm what one would consider a "hard core" fan. I've been a season ticket holder with the Blue Jackets since the last lockout. I'm a subscriber to the NHL GameCenter live service. I own no less than eight NHL jerseys, many of them personalized, and a desk full of memorabilia (pucks, mini sticks, etx). I even bought the GCL apps for my iOS devices and my PS3 so I could watch games through those systems. I am a white male, recently married, in my early 30s with a reasonable amount of disposable income. (Well, OK, that last one is very much "in theory" when I look at my checkbook, but still...)
In short, I'm exactly the person the Blue Jackets, and on a larger scale the NHL, is taking as money in the bank for when the lockout ends. In fact, last I checked, the Blue Jackets currently DO have a sizable chunk of change with my name on it in their accounts - roughly $600 or so.
But the problem is, I'm starting to wonder if I want that money back.
Please don't get me wrong - I still love hockey. Going to a rink and sitting down to the sound of blades gently slicing through the ice remains an instant "happy drug" for me. The sound of a puck getting slapped across the rink, ice or rubber, makes my ears perk up. I intended to get skating lessons this year, and that's still on my "to do" list for the winter of 2013. I'm even planning to join the Jacket Backers and Arch City Army for the OSU / Miami game this coming Saturday, and really looking forward to that.
But the more the lockout drags on - the more the drama escalates, the more I fill my time with other things to do - the less I've noticed the NHL's absence.
This time last year I was watching two or three games every night, guaranteed. My TV would be tuned to Versus or GCL from the time I got home until I went to bed, and more often than not my future wife and I would be looking at the schedules to decide what we wanted to check out as we decided what to make for dinner, then eating on the couch as we took in some puck.
Now, oddly enough, we're making dinner and going out, or watching a movie, or catching up on TV shows we wanted to watch but didn't have time for. (Sgt. Frog is awfully funny if you like anime. Just sayin'.)
We're rapidly approaching the holiday season, and the NHL has canceled games all the way up to the new year. Call me crazy, but I'm starting to wonder if I should get that money back and use it for Christmas presents, instead, and I have a feeling that more than a few people feel the same way.
Even if they do play the 48 game season that Gary Bettman has said is the "bare minimum" the league would consider viable, do you feel like you'll be getting good value for your season tickets? I sure don't, and I only have a partial season package.
If I was a family that had dropped $2,000 (or more!) on tickets expecting to get 41 home games, and instead I'm offered 24, I'd be pretty torqued. Even if the team offered a credit towards next year for the lost value, that's a pretty bitter pill to swallow.
If the 2012-2013 season is wiped out altogether, I expect that I'm going to be withdrawing my money. And I really haven't decided if I'd be willing to give it back when we have a season again - after all, I suspect that there will be plenty of seats available if I were to walk up to Nationwide before game time.
If I'm going through these considerations, I can guarantee that a LOT of other fans are doing the same - some of whom have said as much in the comments here - and I suspect it's going to end up leaving a lot of red in the NHL's ledgers when they finally start trying to collect on the money they have assumed will always be there.
One wonders just how badly they may find themselves overdrawn.