Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Take Back the Game

Yesterday, I was flipping through the Sears Christmas wish catalogue. I discovered this year, for a mere $70.83, you can get a plastic replica Habs goalie mask. For $69.99, you can own a statue of a depressed baby in a Habs sweater, wishing for a Stanley Cup. A Canadiens-logo scarf or dog dish will run you forty bucks, and if you want to keep your chilly toes toasty in Habs-themed slippers, it'll cost you fifty. If none of those Habby items rock your boat, the die-hard Canadiens fan can also shell out for sleeping bags, lighters, baby onesies, bikinis, playing cards, coins, t-shirts, long johns, curtains, socks, packages of tissues, toasters, air fresheners, clothespins, bar ware, lawn chairs or lunchboxes, all emblazoned with the proud CH. In short, if you can buy it, a manufacturer can slap a Habs logo on it and charge you double. Of course, all that lovely money runs directly into the NHL coffers, helping hockey-related revenue rise by an average of seven percent every year since the last lockout.

In the run-up to the current lockout, lots of angry fans have been threatening boycotts of everything from hockey itself to companies that sponsor NHL teams. They hope if they switch their internet from Bell to Rogers, it will worry Bell's brass enough to pressure owners for a CBA settlement. Less radical fans are saying they'll shut their wallets and not buy a new Colby Armstrong sweater or Habs-themed watch with Rocket Richard's goal-celebration arms marking the hours, in hope of making owners worry about loss of merchandise revenue. They threatened similar things eight years ago, when the last lockout began. In the end, after an entire year without the NHL, they rushed back to pro rinks in greater numbers than ever, paying higher ticket prices and shelling out 200 bucks a pop for their official replica Alex Kovalev jerseys.

It's a fine idea to say you won't go back to the Bell Centre when the lockout is over. Really, though, as the last work stoppage showed, you and the rest of the hockey-mad world probably won't be able to stick to that threat. We want our hockey, no matter how much we hate Gary Bettman and think the players and owners are all a bunch of greedy bastards. We also can swear to boycott NHL sponsor companies, but are we really going to change our cable provider or forgo our morning fix of Timmy's joe just for the principle of the thing? Probably not. Or at least, not enough of us will commit to a boycott to make a difference. One thing we can do, however, and in great numbers, is refuse to buy all that NHL-sanctioned swag. We can still have hockey; we just don't need to pay for a forty-dollar ball cap to wear while we watch it.

Fans, as we know, are the people who provide the money the NHL's players and owners are fighting over right now. Yet, when the cash leaves our hands and goes to Ticketmaster or the Habs merchandise shop, we lose our power.  The question is, how much influence do we really have if we choose to keep our money? Looking at the numbers, it turns out we could have quite a lot.

In the eight years since the last lockout, the NHL's hockey-related revenue has increased by nearly 50%. Last year, the league made a cool $3.3-billion. There's not a detailed breakdown of where all that cash originated that's publicly available, but with the numbers we can find, some of the picture begins to emerge. We know, for example, that the league takes in $355-million in TV revenue each year. We also know gate revenue last year amounted to $1.3-billion dollars. The league's largest sponsor, Molson-Coors, pays the NHL $53-million a year. Those three things account for $1.9-billion of the league's total revenue, leaving $1.4-billion for other sponsorship, including arena naming rights and dasher board ads, radio and internet rights and merchandise sales.

Last year, sales of all those team-logo-emblazoned goods went up by 15% over the previous season. In fact, they've risen every year since the last lockout. The league doesn't release specific numbers, but if merchandise accounts for even half of that $1.4-billion dollars, fans who buy NHL-approved stuff provide a very significant portion of the league's record revenue. If it accounts for even a third of the $1.4-billion, merchandise sales are worth more than all the TV rights CBC, TSN, NBC and RDS buy each year. That, friends, is big money, and money, as they say, talks.

I've never really considered how much Habs stuff I own, but after I thought about this, I took a look around. It turns out, I have four Habs sweaters, one of them game-worn and two pro replicas with names and numbers. I have four CH t-shirts of various patterns, three Canadiens ball caps, a keychain, gym wrist bands, a bottle opener, a water bottle, a subscription to the Habs team magazine, two fridge magnets, nine different books, videos and a DVD box set, coins, stamps, slippers, gloves, a framed 100th-anniversary print, a McFarlane figure of Patrick Roy, a calendar and a tiny model Escalade that sits on my desk at work, sporting the Habs logo. I don't know how much I or the people who gave me these things as gifts spent on the stuff, but I imagine it's well over a thousand bucks, and a portion of  that went right into the NHL owners' pockets. That's why I'm not going to buy anything else.

I'm angry this labour dispute is holding fans hostage, and I want to make a statement the owners will be forced to hear. I'm not willing to abandon hockey, but I will never buy another NHL-trademarked item again. And you know what? I won't miss it. I rarely wear my Habs gear, except during the playoffs, and the rest of it is just cute junk I've picked up over the years and never notice. I want my Habs hockey, but I'll be damned if I'll contribute to the many millions the NHL makes off merchandise sales and then fights about. Who's with me?

P.S. If all this makes you feel like crying, try this for a laugh.


Anonymous said...

The NHL is owned and run by American billionaires who are intent on union busting. Just look at the business landscape in the USA. The players want to have a fair deal and play the game they love. Not gonna happen any time soon.

Fans can yell and scream and not buy team related crap all they want. It won't make any difference. This lockout is NOT about money. It is about POWER.

Anonymous said...

I agree the only power the fans have is money that we spend directly or that is generated from us watching games.

I find boycotts are like crash diets - they do not work in the longterm. What is needed is a moderate lifestyle change, simply reduce your consumption of NHL products. If you go to a game have 1 beer instead of 2, have streetmeat instead of a bell centre dog, don't buy a program.

Buy a jersey if you really want it, but do not buy the touque, scarf, or other trinkets.

Don't subscribe to RDS or NHL centre ice. Just watch TSN, Sportsnet or CBC. Do not buy NHL 13, just keep playing NHL 12.

Stop visiting the NHL/teams websites and stop following the owners and players on twitter, Facebook, or other social media sites.

These are not big changes, but if enough people do them then the owners and players will feel it in the pocketbook.

By the way HRR increased by 5.96% a year and not the 7.1% quoted by the PA. The 7.1% is a simple average (50%/7) that always uses $2.2 B as the base in calculating growth.

The 5.96% is the compound growth rate (1.50^(1/7)-1) that uses the prior years revenue in calculating the growth rate for each year.

A simple proof is to increase the initial $2.2 B of revenue by 7.1% a year for 7 years (2.2*1.071*1.071....*1.071). This gives a product of $3.56 B - a quarter of a billion more than the actual revenue.


Raj said...

While I couldn't agree with you more, JT, I think we shouldn't forget PT Barnum's maxim that there's a sucker born every minute. I think the owners AND the players have made the rather cynical calculus that for those fans they lose outright, or those who buy less merchandise, there will be plenty of new fans who can replace them. The population grows and the standard of living goes up (at least for now), and why shouldn't the NHL compete for that segment of the market that is just waiting for an opportunity to spend its hard-earned money on a feel-good association with a sports team? AND THEY KNOW HOW TO GET THEM! Why do you think the NHLPA has been absolutely mum about player safety? The gladiators on ice know which side their bread is buttered on. They know violence sells. They know in order to win fans back, the headshots will have to continue and skill will have to take a back seat to violence.

I forswore baseball after the '94 strike, when the Expos were in first place in the NL East with a 70-42 record. MLB didn't get the fans back until the steroid-fuelled home run derby a couple of years later between Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa. Now baseball fans have forgiven and forgotten, and turned a blind eye and deaf ear to even more steroid scandals and to the virtual slavery that occurs in the developmental leagues such as in the Dominican Republic.

I'm not optimistic what you or I do will matter. MLB is doing just fine without me. So will the NHL. But I'm doing fine without MLB. I can forgo the NHL, too. But I'm definitely vox clamantis in deserto.

Jim LaPlante said...

Another good piece. I know I couldn't commit to a "no more games" edict but the no merchandise purchases, I can do. Thanks!

V said...

I can help you with your request to stop buying NHL trinkets and trash.

I am a big Habs fan and usually get to a game or two every year, but can proudly say that other than a Habs flag that I bought for a gag gift last Christmas, I have not spent a dime on merchandise.

I promise to continue not buying.

I think you are on to something - I think this is one area where people, especially parents who buy stuff for kids, can draw the line and say no more. At least until a message is sent. Boycotting games and owner's/sponsor's products just won't work. But this might.

JJM said...

I agree that we spend way too much on Habs products. In the end however, I need a ball cap. My new one is a Milwaukee Brewers one. People need to spend their hard earned money. It's going to go somewhere in the end. To me, A boycott is a rediculous ideal as all it will do is send money to somewhere else.

I do have to agree with DB. and Strongly disagree with the first anom comment. NHLPA are not adding up nor compromising anything. They are simply trying to get the public with them by throwing random #s. To the players and owners, it's 100% about money. Not power. Since 2005, the players have increased their salaries by 69%. Which accounts for 79% of league Profits. However, the 30 owners end profits after salaries, expenses, etc... is less than 1% increase since 2005. In 2005 the 30 teams together were at 125mil. In 2011, they were at 126mil.

The players know this and refuse to reduce their current salaries. That is understandable, but they also refuse to reduce any king of future increase.

I think the best thing for the future of the league is for fans not to buy into any players mumbling about how they know business.

We don't need to hear about Mathieu Darche cry about how the league wants to screw him over. How they want to take 9% of this salary..... Oh wait, last time I checked, 9% of 0 is ZERO!!

JT, continue blogging, they are always well written. I think this is a perfect time to write a comedy blog on how you see the negotiations going. Would change the mood and make my day.


Kyle Roussel said...

I can't remember the last time I paid for a hockey ticket. After the last lockout, I said that I would not pay for a seat in the Bell Center, and though I have been to a handful of games, I personally have not spent a dime to be there.

I bought one Josh Gorges t-shirt in summer 2009, and not another cent on NHL-related merchandise since.

While it's clear that they don't miss my money, and while I know that I will never walk away from hockey, it's fairly easy for me to say that the NHL isn't getting money from me. Their sponsors do, as it's pretty tough to avoid all of them, but I'll never willing buy myself anything licensed by the NHL again.

I also swore to re-invest my time and energy in other hobbies and interests during this lockout (including Thursday night continuing education courses that I can't exactly bail on now!), and while I haven't had to choose between hockey and X yet, at least now hockey will have to earn it's keep.

DanielleJam said...

You bet I'm with you. All the way.

DT said...

As a long time fan of les Canadiens, I've never been able to afford team merchandise or see a hockey game live at the rink. Even if I could, I wouldn't because supporting millionaires is really not my bag. But as a fan, I'll support the team in other ways, like cheering for them and wondering, even hoping that if the lockout lasts the entire season, all is not lost; the habs will be eligible for another high draft pick next year, yes?

Anonymous said...

Target a specific owner and put the squeeze on him. i.e. Molson.

If all Canadian (not only Canadien) NHL fans simply drink something other than Molson products we can end this thing quickly.

We didn’t have this avenue as fans the last time around.



Anonymous said...

Well in half a month that's about 10 of ya signed onto Leigh Anne's boycott. Only 330 million to go.

I stopped following BB when the Expos started going cheap and CFL football when Flutie went south. I don't follow much except hockey anymore.

I guess I can live without it. I admit the worse the Habs got the more I watched.(I think my meds need some sort of adjustment.) Maybe this will be a chance to kick the habit entirely.