Saturday, January 06, 2007

A grass roots rebellion for Mr. Bettman?

It’s not easy one would guess being Gary Bettman, he has a number of owners to keep happy, corporate clients to keep on board, television network executives to finesse and then there are those fickle fans of the game.

For the Commissioner perhaps some time for the fans might be on the top of the “to do” list. For now, it seems that they are starting to express their thoughts and even worse they’re starting to get organized.

Even if we put aside for the moment, the usual suspicions about Mr. Bettman and his interest in returning the game to some Canadian cities. A conversation starter which is always a popular topic at coffee shops and beer parlors above the 49th line of the border, there is still more for Mr. Bettman to worry about it seems.

In fact, a grass roots rebellion in his own country may spell even more concern for the league as the fans begin to kick back about the path of the new NHL. The complaints about television coverage, penalty crackdowns, low scoring games (though the last few days that hasn’t been the case) and a general malaise about the game is threatening to unravel the plans of the Commissioner.

HockeyNation discovered a site through the Google engine that led us to this press release, which in turn takes the reader to this site, Hockey fans Unite, which it seems is a home for the most disenfranchised of hockey fans and the apparent home of the rebellion forces. They have taken the time to catalogue a number of items on the left side of their page that highlight their concerns over the game they used to love to watch.

Now perhaps they are but a minor group of maclontents, the folks that watch Slapshot for the guest appearances of the Hanson brothers and have the entire Stanley Cup marches of the Philadelphia Flyers. But still they do point out a few problems in the new NHL, backed up by declining numbers at the stadiums and hard to find broadcasts on the television.

The rebels it seems prefer the days of more physical play, a less European influence and to prove their point, they are proposing that hockey fans join them in a Save the NHL night, on January 20.

They want fans to bring tasteful signs (we suspect Bettman sucks and such are not what they are looking for) to the thirteen league games that night expressing their dislike of the new brand and calling for a return to the game they remember.

It will be interesting to see what kind of impact the fan based protest might have, the NHL over the years has shown a decided tendency to ignore what the fans would like and do what they want to, which certainly explains some of the problems they face these days.

Still, anytime the fans show that they’re not happy the league should take notice. Considering the lack of attendance in more than a few cities, the franchise problems of others and a negligible television footprint in the USA, annoying the paying customers should be something they might wish to try to avoid doing.

January 20 could be a very interesting night for the NHL, more for what happens in the stands than on the ice!

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