Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Dear Mr.Molson, Now That the Lockout's Over...

A friend of mine, a fellow Habs fan, called me on Sunday morning to talk about the end of the lockout. He ended up breaking the news because I had so distanced myself from the ongoing foolishness between the NHL and the NHLPA that I had stopped checking for updates first thing every morning. I have to admit, the news was rather anticlimactic. It was good to hear we'll no longer be subjected to basketball highlights interrupted only by the minutiae of compliance buyouts, sources of hockey-related revenue and pension plan details every time we turn on the sports news. On the other hand, my primary response to the end of the lockout was, "Oh well, back to losing sleep on game nights."

That's the funny thing. I'm angry at the NHL owners for making the lockout happen. I'm not exactly thrilled with the way some of the players behaved during it. Yet, I know I will still watch the Canadiens when their games start again. Now, however, it's a bit different than it was in years past. Now, if they're down 5-0 to the Rangers, I'll probably shut the game off and grab an extra hour of sleep rather than stick it out in the hope of a miraculous comeback. If they do manage to come back, I can find out about it in the morning and be happy. If they don't, I won't be quite as bothered by the score as I would have been five years ago.

I will be just as excited to see a Tomas Plekanec shorthanded breakaway as I've always been. I'll still laugh when Carey Price stones someone in a shootout and strikes a pose, or when Eric Cole high-fives the ref. I'll still be interested in how Marc Bergevin handles the team, what P.K.Subban's deal will be (I'd give him $3.5 for two years and his long-term deal after that), and whether Andrei Markov can return to form. I won't be buying NHL merchandise, though. I made a promise to myself not to contribute to the money the two sides will be fighting over in eight or ten years time when this new deal ends and another lockout looms.

That brings me back to the friend who told me the lockout was over. He and I and a group of other like-minded people from various parts of North America try to get to Montreal once a year to catch a game at the Bell Centre. We pay for plane tickets, hotels, meals out, seats with 100% mark-ups (after we fail to be chosen in the group sales lottery), concessions and, usually, some sort of souvenir. It's a costly weekend, but for us, the thrill of hearing the roof blow off the place when the Habs score in OT is worth it. There's nothing like being transported by the game so you're jumping up and down but don't remember leaving your seat. We have come to love this team for many reasons and it's that common love of the Canadiens that brought us together in the first place. Sticking to my guns about not supporting hockey-related revenue won't be difficult, with the sole exception of this yearly visit. It would take a significant gesture of apology from the Canadiens for their role in the lockout and disregard for fans to bring us back. That's why I wrote to Geoff Molson.

I told him about our disappointment in the way fans were at the bottom of the priority list during the lockout. I explained how we come from all over and spend a lot of money to celebrate the Habs every year. I asked him, if he has any power at all, not to allow a lame "Thank you, fans" campaign with nothing behind the words. I suggested he offer the first three home games free of charge, complete with free concessions, and that children be allowed in for free for the rest of the season. That, I told him, would show the fans who support his team and fill his coffers every year the Canadiens are genuine in their desire to make things right with them. Of course, in my new hockey cynicism, I realized my suggestion is extremely unlikely to happen and expected my email to disappear into the ether along with the first half of the NHL season.

So, the next day, I got an answer from Geoff Molson.He thanked me for my letter and for my and my friends' support of the team. He said he understands the fans' frustrations and that we're not alone in that. He hopes the new management and new players on the team will make the games more exciting this year. And he hopes I and my friends come back to the Bell Centre this season, with thanks for our spending on games in the past. He was very gracious and has probably been sending a lot of these kinds of emailed replies to angry fans in the last few days.

In the end, though, Geoff Molson did not say the Canadiens will do anything to make this up to fans. He apologized, but apologies are words and, as we learned last time around, words are cheap. Seats in the Bell Centre and a pint of warm Molson's are not.

While it was kind of Mr.Molson to respond to my concerns, his answer has not affected my ambivalence about returning to the Bell Centre. I'll watch the games and I'll support the Canadiens in spirit because the habit of a lifetime is hard to break, but when it comes to putting my money where my heart is, I'm just not sure.  Maybe friendship in the Habs will trump the reluctance to contribute to the NHL's almighty bottom line. Maybe, if the team's ownership isn't prepared to make it worth our while to attend games, the players on the ice will. One thing I'm sure about is, even if the Bell Centre is full every night, as it likely will be, the fans are coming back a little more warily with a little less enthusiasm or patience. That, and nine months without NHL hockey, makes them, if they're like me, a whole lot more willing to tune out and walk away if this team proves it isn't worth the price of admission.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Expecting Molson to actually do something for the fans is like waiting for the president to make it up to the citizens for sending their children off to fight his wars or oil and gas company execs to help clean up the environment that their fracking and tar sands activities destroy. The thought will never even cross his mind.

As far as hockey returning I don't care anymore. I'm glad that all the nameless faceless people who depend on the NHL for their income are back to work. Wouldn't it be nice if the owners gave them a big raise and bonus at seasons end?

I remember the Richards, Beliveau, Moore, Harvey and Plante. Even the Mahovlich brothers, Cournoyer, Lafleur and Dryden owned my heart but Price, Subban, Gionta and Cole just don't cut it for me anymore.

This lockout has freed me from caring about a game that doesn't care about any of us.

moeman said...

Welcome back JT.

DB said...

Really great to have you back, JT. I wouldn't enjoy the season as much if your occasional commentaries weren't part of it. (I'm not on twitter). The lockout only exposed the core of the ugly machinations at work in the belly of all pro-sports. It's an ugly sight but, like it or not, we wouldn't have professional hockey without it. We live in an unideal capitalistic society where these sorts of things are part of the game. The hockey loses its so-called purity as soon as it leaves the outdoor make-shift rink. The key is the keep all that away from the fans, who, after all, want the diversion of their sport, the basic love of their team-- not the reality tv show of ugly businessmen. In any event, I'll also not buy any merchandise but I will enjoy watching high level hockey again. I'm anxious to have Subban signed. I wonder how the long lay off will effect Price, who didn't seem to play any hockey. I wonder if Gomez will suck even more and how soon we can get rid of him. I'm anxious about our coach. Etc. Etc. Game on.

KmaXXX said...

Nice to have your blog back JT - I echo your sentiments about the sleep thing too. I'll watch, but won't be up until the wee small hours if the win isn't obvious. I'll read all about it the next day in your blog or on the internet.

Go Habs Go!!

Brian said...

I've kinda spent the season watching NCAA D-1 and I am not really all that sure I want to interrupt the enjoyment I get from college hockey by watching the NHL's crap. Gomez still on the Habs roster is a one-man reason they should not make the playoffs.

Anonymous said...

I think the lockout showed the fans exactly how it works. There was plenty of high level hockey played, and ignored by CBC, TSN, and Rogers. They own the product locked out and aren't about to start the whole "You know that WHA is kind of exciting...who are these baby Bulls anyway" thing all over again. They have the talent locked up and you'll buy their product or go without.

I wouldn't go back if they paid me. Yeah, seriously. I am the 1% who votes with their wallet. But I'll still probably watch some periods. Cause I'm stupid.

Sorry Geoff.

DanielleJam said...

Not sure if you had the chance to read the piece in the Montreal Gazette the other day on Eller. Basically he says he's happy to be back, but in particular, he says:

"...But what has most enriched Eller during his time in Finland has been the overall life experience.

“As a person, it’s just good to play in some other countries and get that experience,” he said. “I think I’m going to appreciate the NHL a lot more if we start. Not that I didn’t appreciate it before, but you just can’t compare the NHL to anything else. The lifestyle, playing in front of 21,000 fans — you appreciate all of that a lot.

“That’s nothing against leagues in Europe,” he added quickly. “You can make a great living here and have a great life, but it’s not really comparable to the NHL.”...

You APPRECIATE it?


The lifestyle?

You can make a GREAT living in Europe but it's not really comparable to the NHL?

How much does Eller rake in? A million? A million and a half? Not bad for a guy born in '89, I'd say.

So tell me, Lars, and the rest of you NHL'ers (and KHL moonlighters)...if the lifestyle is so GREAT in the NHL and nothing compares to it, why were you complaining?

This is the way I see it: At first we didn't like the owners greedy stance. Then, like many fans -- if not most -- we got into the I'm-not-siding-with-either-side because it's a battle of zillionaires against millionaires.

We were thinking, this IS OUR MONEY YOU ARE FIGHTING ABOUT. YOU HAVE GAUGED THE PRICES FOR TICKETS, FOR BEER, FOR PARKING AND FOR PEANUTS. YOU THEN HAVE THE AUDACITY TO CLOSE THE ARENAS AND LAY-OFF THE GUYS THAT FEED AT THE BOTTOM. IT'S HIGHWAY ROBBERY AND YOU ALL GOT REALLY, REALLY GREEDY.

And we may be the real losers in this, but THE JOKE IS ON US because most will go back. Like a jilted lover with no self-esteem. And that's the sad news. We are losers in the sense that we lost money but also in the sense that we have no pride, no backbone and no desire to take a firm stance and say NO MORE.

So welcome back Lars. Enjoy the lifestyle, the pension, the bonuses, the swag and go on to get a good job when your knees give out (because I'm sure you buffered your future with the decision to get a college degree...just in case...you know...you can't play till 65).

Me? You lost me. I'm not going coming back. You will not get one penny from me. From TV, souvenir shops, beer (what's Molson?)or anything else.

If and when you have a strickly-Canadian league, I may return. Because we know this whole circus is generated by the evil American dollar.

Too-ta-loo,
DanielleJam

Pisano said...

With all due respect, I do believe Molson likely thought your message was in jest. Can you/will you, imagine free tickets and concessions? There would be fatalities! The litigation would keep lawyers busy and wealthy beyond any reasonable timeline...

There will be relatively mediocre compensation to fans in cities where they need to be persuaded to return. In the true hockey markets of Montreal, Toronto, New York and others, there will be a few gestures but not much more since none will be needed.

Forget the fans who say they will never return to the game, as they spend their time surveying hockey sites and sports media for any trivial amount of information relating to the league.

The Canadian teams are of little to no concern since the fans will return en masse.

Will I? Absolutely, I never left. Endured the entire lockout, read information every day as to the progress or regress of the petulant behaviour of the owners' representative.

As for merchandise, will I buy it? Sure, I just bought a winter Canadiens hat. The ones with the ear-flaps. Awesome! Why? Well, I do not blame the lockout on the players, I will watch the product on the ice and yes, I will criticize, condemn, praise, be emotionally involved and continue my love/hate relationship with les Canadiens.

The one thing that the lockout has proven to me, beyond any iota of doubt, is that the NHL has joined other sports in that, when you reach the pinnacle, it is no longer a sport but a business.

So, get ready to go along for the ride as we hate ourselves for sneaking a peek to see how our team is doing. Time heals all wounds, it will this one as well.

I must confess though, that I am not in the privileged position to actually go to a live NHL game, geographically or financially. The latter being much more of a deterent than the former but I will not pretend to disconnect.

I didn't disconnect through the past lean decades, I didn't disconnect through any of the previous lock-outs and will not disconnect now.

Bring it on and... Go Habs Go!!!

StuartInAlberta said...

Here we go again, and the cynic in me believes that Geoff Molson's reply was canned and created by a communications person in their PR department -- 'OK, tee up reply #4 for this one' -- is the way I think it probably happened.

As for how to make our 'feeling's felt -- I agree that we shouldn't purchase any merch, and I also suggest that we don't request autographs from the players (only retired ones). Again, the cynic in me believes it won't happen, but I'd love for Alexander Ovechkin to not get hit up for an autograph all season...

Finally, the abbreviated season is a little more palatable when you harken back to the early days of the Rocket -- 50 game seasons were what it was about. I guess we'll have to live with it, and somehow, that makes me feel a little better.

Welcome back to your blog, JT.

Jerome said...

I got great news from my satellite provider yesterday with respect to my Center Ice subscription.
I will not be charged for the three months there was no hockey.
How can I not renew?