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A Letter To The National Hockey League

PorchDrinking Sports
Mike Zoller

Dear National Hockey League,

One of your biggest fans here.

Growing up in Chicago, I missed getting to watch legends Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, but grew up idolizing guys like Tony Amonte, Eddie Belfour and Eric Daze. Old Chicago Stadium was deafening and full of history. It took a little bit of time to adjust to the United Center, but the fans didn’t care. We just loved our Chicago Blackhawks.

I remember growing up and never being able to watch home Blackhawk games on TV. Crusty and bitter owner William Wirtz never allowed them to be shown. But I still rooted for the Hawks every chance I got. I still have a photo of Denis Savard and me when I was 10 years old. Chicago loves its sports. We are split in baseball, but when it comes to hockey this city is united. When Rocky took over control of the team I loved home hockey games on TV. It was great!

So why are we going through another lockout? In 2004 it was gut wrenching to go an entire season without hockey. Two lockouts in less than 10 years! That’s unacceptable. Hockey nation-wide still lags in popularity behind the NFL, NBA, MLB and yes-even NASCAR. In 2004 the sport was gaining in popularity – and then you cut it out of our lives.

When the puck dropped in 2005 you had to work hard to win back the casual fan. You put “Thank You Fans” on the ice – can’t believe that did much to win the fans back. You had new rules and policies to try and show us that the lockout had a purpose. That it wasn’t just money-greedy owners and players who couldn’t resolve their differences but that the game took new strides. You got rid of ties, you added a trapezoid to speed up play – you did things to enhance the game. The first Winter Classic took place in 2008 and hockey was making a comeback.

In Chicago hockey grew to new heights. Behind guys like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews we won the Stanley Cup in 2010. I remember being on Clark Street in Wrigleyville with thousands of people celebrating an amazing accomplishment for our team and our city.

Now it’s 2012 and the only hockey that’s been on my TV is the AHL. It’s not the same. I don’t know if you guys realize this, but this lockout might be much worse than the last one. Just as the NHL was gaining traction you go and do this. I’m not taking sides either. Both the players and the owners are to blame.

We’ve lost 422 games of hockey this season and why? Because the owners don’t like that the players get 57% of hockey related revenue? Why did you agree to that in the first place? If you ask me the only real losers here are the fans. The owners don’t need hockey because they have other business ventures to keep income flowing and the players can play in other leagues or find other temporary jobs.

But do you know what the worst part about this lockout is? How the NHL, both the owners and players, take advantage of its fans. The league can have lockouts because it knows that when it’s ready to come back fans will be ready to welcome it back with open arms. Your diehard fans are sitting in their favorite hockey bars wearing their favorite sweaters waiting to see their team light the lamp. Let me tell you this – that’s no way to treat us.

We’re like that ex-girlfriend who never stops caring about you no matter how poorly you treat us. We should have learned our lesson in 2004 but we came back. Attendance was at an all-time high. Merchandise sales skyrocketed and yet you still had the nerve to walk out on us again just eight years later.

So what’s your plan here? You’ve canceled games through December 14th; you canceled the Hockey Classic, which by the way was going to be an awesome game played in Michigan Stadium. You canceled All-Star Weekend, which is easily the most exciting and entertaining all-star game in sports. And yet as you continue to “meet” and “negotiate” you tell us there is a chance the season could be saved. If you ask me it’s already been lost. Stop stringing us along. At this point it pains me to say this but I’d rather the entire season just be canceled. Don’t try to put together this shame of a season together on short notice – you’re better than the NBA.

Go ahead and continue to act like you’re making progress. Just know that everyday there is no hockey is tougher and tougher. It also didn’t help that TicketMaster decided to tease fans by spotlighting canceled hockey games in an email. It’s not easy to go into my ESPN ScoreCenter app and see upcoming Blackhawk games simply labeled as “canceled.”

I’ll see hockey in Chicago this year. College hockey is coming to Soldier Field for the Hockey Classic. Yes it’s some of the nation’s top collegiate hockey programs but it’s only a Band-Aid for what has already transpired.

Sometimes I watch the NHL Network just to get my hockey fix. I can sometimes find a Blackhawks-Redwings game on – from 2007. But no matter what happens after this year, when hockey does finally come back I’ll still be dreading that 2020 lockout.

Sincerely,

Mike Zoller

 

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