2012 NHL CBA: Passion without unity

Lets start this off with a little perspective:

To NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, we're consumers. That's it. We are passionate consumers, at that, but consumers. We may abstain from consuming the product of NHL hockey for some time after the conclusion of any potential work stoppage that prevents the 2012-13 season from starting on time... But we'll be back. We love our teams, we love this sport.... And we did the exact same thing after the last lockout.

To players, who are supposed to tolerate the crowd in the arena, we're spectators. At one moment, we're hostile towards them and at the next; we're left in awe by the physical majesty of their effort. We can be star-struck and benign, or we can be contemptuous, vicious and brutal. We, the fans, are a fickle sort, but players are taught to live with it and deal with it. We can't hurt them, or stop them... though our cheers and catcalls can bolster efforts or tear them down accordingly.

Fans, in both cases, are outsiders in the game of collective bargaining in the NHL and pro sports in general.

And why shouldn't we be? Fans in general are divided by their allegiances to their teams, to their geographic locations, and by their positions on league issues that go beyond the central focus of these 2012 collective bargaining talks between the league and the NHL Players Association (that being money). Rule enforcement, player discipline, rules, fighting, player safety, etc. Our approach to these issues are prefaced with the divided perspectives on expansion, franchise locations, visors, the trapezoid, the shootout, and numerous other issues that usually take center stage during an NHL season.

Usually. But not now, because the threat to the season.

What the fans have, as a unified group, is a passion for the National Hockey League. That passion is pushed to the forefront in small things and minor attempts to show disdain at this whole bargaining process. An example is fans attempting different viral movements via Twitter to protest a lockout. That passion can also quickly be shoved away with a realistic viewpoint of the situation, that the fans have no say in this and any and all rallying is falling on deaf ears. Gary Bettman, Jeremy Jacobs, Ed Snider, and other owners pushing their agenda, they don't care past their business interests. Donald Fehr? His concern is the group of athletes who named him Executive Director of their union, and getting them the best deal.

Fan passion is currently on display with a YouTube video making the rounds. I caught sight of it (with thanks to CAustin) this past weekend, and Tampa Bay Times beat writer Damian Cristodero brought it up on the Times' web site today:

Nice work, great editing. But what does it do besides showcase some creativity and passion? It stirs the fans that are already pissed off, but it does little else.

I honestly keep looking for a central organization - something that will last longer than a singular work stoppage - to step forward and represent the fans collective interest (as well as orchestrate a unified revolt to show the strength of the consumer-spectator complex). Alas, I'm left wanting. While the NHL Fan Association is a long tenured group with the intention of representing fan interests, the FA has largely been silent and has fallen well outside the consciousness of the league (whose ear they once had) as well as the fans whom they want to represent.

The NHLFA - founded in the late 1990's by Ottawa Senators fans who were aggrieved during the Alexi Yashin holdout - has over 30,000 members (myself included), but you'd expect more at this point in time. Certainly the NHLFA should have more members in the wake of the 2004-05 lockout and the large number of discontented fans that the work-stoppage created.

So, we're at this point again where fans are left as the disjointed group we always have been. We're the angry mob with wallets that, in unison, enable the players' wealth and make the owners wealthier. We're pawns in this game of chess, or more like collateral damage in a financial/philosophical war between owners and the labor that drives the profits.

It's sort of fitting that the cited fan video above uses Howard Beale's classic line, "I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!" from the movie Network. What we, fans, lack is that central figure. We lack a Howard Beale to personify our discontent and represent us. We lack a rallying point.

Beale represented the dissatisied without the preconditions of being biased. Then again, he was also stark raving mad.

We're spenders and spectators who are left waiting and wanting while the bargaining process goes on without us. That's the way it is and the way it was... Partly because our individual wants outweigh a unified concern.

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