With the lockout’s end looming, what’s next?
By: Miranda Martin
Ladies and gentlemen… the end is near.
After months of speculation, hair pulling, mental breakdowns, and screaming obscenities towards the NHL and NHLPA, it seems that the two sides finally have decided to play nice and come to an agreement on the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. In return, the fans who have decided to stick around will get an opportunity to see a shortened season. Ask any NBA fan from last year—a short season is better than no season.
This also means that slowly but surely, many fans are going to be deciding whether or not to come back to the sport they love. Predators and NHL fans alike were rightfully frustrated by the lockout, and many said that they wouldn’t care if the league came back this year, as they have already placed their money elsewhere. For a little while, I was one of these fans going through the identity crisis of life without hockey. I even chose to stop blogging due to my frustration as well as a lack of understanding the business side of the CBA. (I have an arts degree! Not business!) I was also in my final semester of college trying to attain my degree, but I digress.
Personally, I promised that I’d keep my composure and think of the lockout rationally should they come to an agreement mid-season. Of course, that did not happen. I was woken up to dozens of tweets, text messages, and Facebook notifications celebrating the mid-morning tentative agreement between the two parties. Immediately, I jumped out of bed and blasted my pregame CD. As the opening chords of “Run This Town” erupted from the speakers, I was already making plans with friends for opening night. No one could rain on my hockey parade.
I wasn’t alone, either. I witnessed dozens of Predators fans donning their gold around town today. Complete strangers were high-fiving each other in the aisles of Target going “It’s OVER!” The fact is, hockey always has a place in a fan’s heart, and I can guarantee that every last frustrated fan at least had one moment of ecstasy from the news. And Smashville is ready for some hockey.
But for the ones who are still on the fence trying to decide if they are going to support the Predators, here’s some food for thought. Yes, the NHL needs to know that the fans are livid that their last hockey game was over 200 days ago. The NHL needs to know that the fans are the heart and soul of this league. But the Predators aren’t the entire NHL, and the last thing the team needs are boycotted, empty seats. The lockout in 2004 took the momentum created by the first ever playoff berth, and the momentum never seemed to come back until the new ownership. The Preds need to keep the momentum going, both on and off the ice, and the fans are a crucial element to the franchise.
The Predators front office handled the lockout very professionally and effectively. They kept the Predators on the mind of many people by having Preds Pride days, where local sponsors gave discounts for fans wearing gold. Many players stayed in town to practice at A-Game in Franklin, and Shea Weber’s “lockout beard” is more massive (and intimidating) than any playoff beard could be. After having a discussion with my ticket rep, I learned that the front office kept the staff busy by staying involved within arena events and the community. Bridgestone stayed busy with concerts and other sporting events. The “This Week in Smashville” emails never seemed stuffy and empty.
More so, hockey stayed in Nashville. The arena ice was opened to adult skaters in the morning, calling themselves the “Breakfast Club.” In mid-November, the Nashville Predators staff took over a pee-wee hockey game. The staff, through social media, was able to gather fans for the “smash mob,” and the kids will have a lifelong memory of the massive crowd as well as Barry Trotz’s coaching. The arena brought college hockey to Nashville, as well as paying for broomball equipment that the college ambassadors had a chance to check out before anyone else. Even without the NHL, hockey stayed alive.
While I still hope that many of you will be buying tickets and joining me in Bridgestone Arena whenever the opening night may be, it is more important to support the local economy that was affected by the lockout the most. While a 48-52 game season will make up for the missed hockey in our hearts, it won’t make up for the lost revenue that the restaurants and bars around the arena lost the past few months. These places heavily rely on the 17,000-person traffic coming and going to the arena every game.
I have a proposal for all my fellow Predators fans, current and former. We need to make sure that this economy sees a boost. Should you choose to go to games, take time to make it more than a hockey game. Grab a beer at one of the bars or have dinner with the family before warmups. If you can’t make it to downtown Nashville in that time frame, then while waiting on postgame traffic to go down, have dessert or a drink on the town. This is especially important on weekdays where there are less crowds. Any small amount of market makes a difference, especially if there are enough people doing it. If you do not want to support the NHL by ticket revenue, you can still indirectly enjoy the sport while watching at a local restaurant or venue.
It’s been a long road, but the wait and frustration might be worth it. Smashville has stayed alive, and just in time for football to end, hockey begins. Just remember, don’t yell at your ticket rep, tip your servers, and enjoy the game, whether live or televised.