September 11, 2012

Ritter | That’s Just Pucked Up

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Wearing your “magic” underpants isn’t going to make the difference between winning or losing on game day. Neither is holding your breath when your favorite player is about to make the free throw that could send the game into sudden-death overtime. If anything, you might pass out. I don’t recommend it.

Being a sports fan (read: a die-hard sports fan) is one of the most rewarding, yet stressful experiences possible. Like many other fans, I consider myself an emotional supporter. I’ve cheered when my team has won, pouted when my team has lost and cried for a whole host of other reasons. Being a sports fan is sometimes just one emotional roller coaster after another.

Many of us also have strange, but what we believe to be infallible, game-day routines and superstitions, and almost every sports fan I know can’t resist some couch-side coaching. I’d like to believe that every time Pittsburgh’s Marc-André Fleury leaves the crease and I shout at the television for him to move back in he listens to me. Every fan wants to feel that what he is doing — whether it is wearing his favorite player’s jersey religiously on game day or offering his own two cents on game strategies — is making a difference. Deep down inside, we want to feel like we are a part of the action. But are we?

Many people who follow the NHL (National Hockey League), closely or casually, are probably in a tizzy over the current state of hockey. For everyone who hasn’t heard, the NHL and NHLPA (National Hockey League Players’ Association) are embroiled in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The most recent CBA will run out this Saturday — and from the looks of it, a new deal is rather unlikely. If both groups are unable to reach a decision, then the league will lock the players out for the 2012-13 season — something the sports world has not seen since 2004-05, when the NHL became the first major sports league in North America to cancel an entire season due to a work stoppage.

Like the heart of many ugly business disputes, money is playing a key factor in the talks between both parties. Last season, the league generated record revenue — totaling $3.3 billion. It’s a fairly significant jump from the $2.1 billion that was generated seven years ago when the last CBA was signed. It would seem that the team owners want a bigger share of the pie now, leaving players with less. The biggest point of contention between the players and the owners is now defining what constitutes hockey-related revenues (HRR).

The previous labor pact described them as, “derived or earned from, relating to or arising directly or indirectly out of the playing of NHL hockey games or NHL-related events in which current NHL players participate or in which current NHL players’ names and likenesses are used, by each such club or the league, or attributable directly to the club or the league from a club- affiliated entity or league-affiliated entity.” To me, that sounds like a lot of words that don’t really say anything specific. Luckily, the NHL and NHLPA seem to have a better take on the breakdown because, as it stands now, the more things that fall under HRR, the better the players make out. However, the owners are putting the players between a rock and a hard place (read: highly probable lockout) because they want to redefine HRR and who goes home with what percentage.

You might be wondering, how do the fans fit into this? Well, in addition to sitting at home waiting patiently — hell, who are we kidding? — waiting anxiously to hear the news if we are returning to the dark ages of hockey, we actually have a small voice in the matter. While your “magic” underwear may not do the trick, your support of the team has the potential to make a great deal of difference to the players. At the end of the day, we are the ones who are paying to see them do what they know how to do best — play hockey.

What drives Islanders fans to pack into the Coliseum most weekends? No, it’s not only Matt Moulson ’06, and it’s clearly not a winning record, either. What drives Canucks fans to rep their team so hard that they set Vancouver on fire after losing in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals? In so few words, it’s pride and passion. Pride for the hometown heroes (or thugs in Philly’s case). But, more importantly, a great passion for hockey. As fans, we love the game and we will stand by our players until the end. This act of support is what has helped many franchises grow over the past few years and become highly successful — both financially and in their playing records.

So, packing into the Coliseum, buying not one, but three Pittsburgh Penguins jerseys in the past year and paying to see your favorite player make a guest appearance somewhere all contribute to the HRR that have built the league up over the past seven years. If it weren’t for the fans supporting the teams, both financially and emotionally, then the players and owners would have had a smaller pie to be dividing from the beginning. We the fans have the power in this situation.

Two fans have already gone above and beyond the call of duty to show their support of the players. Janne Makkonen, a 21-year old from Finland, created a YouTube video entitled “Together We Can,” with the hopes of bringing awareness to the severity of the situation as the days tick closer to Saturday’s deadline and of inspiring fans to unite together and do something big. The video posts some hard facts (as well as a rather solid hockey highlight reel/montage) and left me with an overwhelming feeling of sadness at the thought that I could miss out on an entire season of my favorite sport.

Another fan, T.J. Tully, created the website, gathering digital signatures on a petition where fans threatened to boycott the businesses of the 30 NHL owners. Frustration seems to slowly be shifting away from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman ’74 —  an Industrial Labor and Relations graduate —  and moving toward the very people who hired him. However, Bettman found himself in hot water earlier last month when he was accused of pushing negotiations in the direction of a lockout being the only possible solution.

While the week drags on and the deadline nears, we need to remember that we are not silent in this matter. The fans finally have their chance to influence the outcome. Hopefully time hasn’t run out just yet for the 2012-13 season. If I can’t see the Penguins play this winter, then that’s just pucked up.

Original Author: Lauren Ritter