NHL CBA Negotiations: Do the Fans Actually Matter?

Damn the man! (photo by Danilo Rizzuti, from freedigitalphotos.net)

Any business model that includes unions is going to wind up with labor strife. It's a simple fact that the two sides rarely agree on everything, and at some point, that is going to result in a break down of talks, and a lock out or strike will follow. It's not just sports, it's everywhere. It's taught in business schools under the name "Labor Relations," or "Labour Relations" if you translate it into Canadian.

You would be hard pressed to find a union business, especially outside the US, that has never had a labor dispute lead to the worst case scenario. It is part of the game, and part of doing business.

The one group you never see at the bargaining table? The customers. You know why? Because ultimately, neither side truly cares about the customer. Harsh? Absolutely. True? Tell me it isn't.

Let's discuss.

Do They Really Care?

At every Minnesota Wild game, when attendance is announced, the PA guy says "You are the best hockey fans in the world." My bet? They say the same thing in nearly every arena in the league, and likely across sports. Are the fans in Minnesota really the best hockey fans in the world? Maybe, but that would be awfully difficult to prove, and even more difficult to convince a hockey fan in Boston.

The Wild even retired the sweater number 1 in honor of the fans. The "Team of 18,000" was born immediately. The "State of Hockey" has grown into a cult following. The examples are countless.

This isn't just done by the teams and the leagues, either. Players do it constantly. Nearly every interview is about how the fans helped them on the ice, how loud they were, how special the fans in a particular city are. You know what? If that player were traded or signed somewhere else, they'd say the same thing about those fans. It's pretty rare that a player is going to say anything bad about the people paying their paychecks.

This isn't a criticism. This is just pointing out a reality.

Have you ever watched TV and seen commercials saying that the customers of such and such a business are the best customers, the smartest, most informed, etc, etc? Do you ever go to work and think to yourself, "Man my customers are the greatest people alive. I wish I could find a way to love them more, but I just can't?" If you have, you may want to check yourself in somewhere, because you're losing your grip on reality.

We have to say the right things in life, especially about the people controlling the purse strings.

Do the Fans Have a Voice?

We all have to say the right things about our customers. If we don't, we get fired. It's that simple. It's coercion at its finest. However, when we flip it around, we seem to forget the lip service we pay our own customers. And maybe it's not total lip service. Maybe you do actually care about your customers. I care about the readers here at HW, the kids at DTBL, and the customers I have served in the past. You know what though? I didn't go home and worry about them. Sorry to say, Wilderness, I don't spend many sleepless night worrying about what you think of us.

The point is, you have to be honest with yourself, and know that when a player, or team, says how great the fans are, they are doing the same thing you do at your job. You are doing your job, and keeping the customer happy.

So, what happens when the customer gets mad? In the case of businesses outside of sports, they have the choice to go elsewhere. If there is a labor dispute between Allied Trucking and the Teamsters, there are other truck lines to ship with. Customer gets angry at McDonald's, they go to Burger King.

It's simple, right? As a customer, you are upset with a situation, you go somewhere else. Can you go somewhere else for NHL level hockey?

No, you can't, and the owners and players know that. Do you have a voice? Sure you do. Rise up, oh powerful capitalists, and strike your mighty blow for the little guy. Call the Wild and tell them you aren't buying tickets! Call the PA and tell them you aren't going to, uh... well... support their side in some fictitious monetary manner. (You see, all the money goes to the owners, so the PA really doesn't have a direct line of funding except through the players.)

Yes, hockey fans, boycott the league. Stop buying licensed merchandise or tickets. Stop watching NHL Network (you'll miss a great replay of Sharks vs Isles from 2006). Stop reading or watching anything about the league (except Hockey Wilderness, come back here no matter what). Pull yourselves completely away from the game you love so much that you are reading a Wild themed blog in August rather than doing your job.

Do all of that, and watch how fast anyone from either side of the negotiations notices. Go ahead and set up your siege, and see which side (you or "them") can hold out the longest.

You see, this is the same line of thinking that people hold in all kinds of things in life. From personal relationships to business to politics. The people do in fact hold the power. The problem is? No one in control cares that you hold the power, because no one is actually going to exert it.

Do you have a voice? Sure you do. Yes you do. Oh yes you do. You're such a good little capitalist. Yes you are. Oh yes you are!

I still don't see any chairs reserved for you at the table, but if it makes you feel better by boycotting and calling and screaming on Twitter, so be it. Hell, do it twice. No one here is going to tell you to stop doing it. We will, however, remind you that it likely won't make a damn bit of difference.

Sometimes, we fight just to say we did. Rage on, Wilderness. Rage on.

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