With the return of hockey, fans ready to forgive and forget
Published Saturday, January 19, 2013 3:49PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, January 19, 2013 10:01PM EST
It’s the night hockey fans have eagerly anticipated since the NHL lockout ended, and it appears as though some fans are ready to forgive and forget.
The puck is set to drop on a shortened 48-game season Saturday night and the bitter feelings created by the 113-day lockout appear to have been replaced by excitement.
Teams have spent the past week luring crowds back to the arenas with open practices and special perks.
Toronto Maple Leafs fans enjoyed free scarves, popcorn and drinks during a practice on Thursday while hundreds of fans in Montreal braved freezing temperatures for a chance to see a Habs scrimmage game.
The Tampa Bay Lightning offered 200 season tickets at just $200 each and in Chicago fans will be on the receiving end of an appreciation program that will see autographed jerseys, pucks, sticks and free tickets doled out.
A new Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll suggests a strong majority of Canadian hockey fans will keep watching when the NHL returns -- despite the league's third work stoppage in 20 years.
The survey found that 66 per cent of respondents said they would watch about the same amount of hockey as before, while 23 per cent indicated they would watch less.
While the majority of Canadian fans are embracing hockey’s return, some teams south of the border are expected to see a significant drop in revenue.
“The top third of teams will be just fine and fans will come flocking back because there’s just such a high demand, and many of those teams are Canadian teams,” said Jim Boone, co-founder of the NHL Fans’ Association.
Boone told CTV News Channel on Saturday that bottom third of teams could see a double-digit drop in revenue that will affect the league’s bottom line.
“That could bring down the entire league revenue by two, three, four per cent. So I think there’s going to be a substantial impact,” he said.
Boone said the backlash from the 2012 lockout was much more muted than past labour disputes, though many fans promised to reprimand the league financially by refusing to purchase tickets and team merchandise.
“Certainly, fans believe they have an opportunity on a micro-basis, on an individual basis, to punish the league for what they did to the fans.”
An online campaign sparked during the lockout is urging fans to ignore the 2013 season – at least for a little while.
More than 22,000 individuals have joined the “Just Drop It” campaign which calls for a boycott of the NHL’s first 10 games.
Campaign co-founder Steve Chase said he hopes to send a message to both the NHL and NHL players’ association to take their fans into consideration during the next round of contract negotiations.
“When we started this, it wasn’t a vindictive thing,” Chase said Saturday.
The campaign called for the boycott of each NHL game lost to the lockout after Dec. 21.
Chase said if each of the 22,000 supporters follows through with their pledge to ignore 10 games, the league stands to lose $6.5 million.
“If they don’t notice $6.5 million, they’ve got too much money I guess,” said Chase, a Montreal native who currently lives in Los Angeles.
“There are two groups of people dividing our money,” he continued. “They should have considered us way earlier and maybe this would have ended way earlier.”
All seven Canadian NHL teams will see action this weekend, with five of them playing Saturday.
The Winnipeg Jets host the Ottawa Senators this afternoon and the Canadiens host the Toronto Maple leafs tonight.
The Anaheim Ducks also visit the Vancouver Canucks.
With files from The Canadian Press