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My nephew Isaac is a huge Washington (D.C.) sports fan. When the announcement came through that there would be a hockey season this winter, he came to mind because as happy as I am for my fellow Blackhawks fans, I'm even happier that an especially bleak winter sports season has been averted. My nephew will be able to root for a team other than the atrocious Wizards for the next three-and-a-half months.
But when my son and I talked to Isaac Sunday evening about the pending return of the Capitals in general and Alex Ovechkin in particular, you could practically hear him shrug long distance. And this is a kid who owns multiple Capitals sweaters with several player autographs scribbled on the back of each one.
Mostly he was sad the Redskins had just taken it on the chin. But it was also clear that Isaac just doesn't care about hockey at this point.
Now we've all seen this sort of thing happen before in the aftermath of work stoppages. And the fans have always come back, even after the NHL cancelled a whole season a decade ago. But it isn't a sure thing this time around.
In Washington, it won't be long (mid-February) before sports fans of all ages' attention turns to Nationals pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training. If the Capitals aren't good enough in the next few months to grab Isaac's attention, it will wander. As the calendar turns to March, he'll zero in on the baseball team that broke through last year (before suffering a hideous playoff demise but still . . . ) even though it is still early in the preseason. And obviously he won't be the only one.
Now, Isaac is of a class of fan that doesn't really matter to management. He's 12 and his parents have never been and never will be spectator-sports obsessed. But my nephew and the big-money fans have one thing in particular in common: They have been taken for granted again. It happened despite the fact that hockey is still far from established as must-see entertainment in most of this country.
So is there anything to be done about it? Why yes, yes there is.
Now is clearly the time for me to reiterate that season-ticket holding fans could take one step in particular to assert themselves: They could form partnerships with neighboring seat-holders and slash the number of tickets they purchase.
In other words, you hold two season tickets and the guy next to you holds two tickets. So you form a partnership to split the cost of your two tickets (or his) and then let the other two tickets go. It would mean less hockey viewed in person but it would be a satisfying swift kick in managements' pants.
Fortunately (or cleverly) for Rocky Wirtz, the Blackhawks' chairman hasn't been seen as a hawk (heh heh heh) during collective bargaining negotiations. He can come to his fan base and convincingly say that he feels terrible about the lockout and the disruption in the livelihoods of the many people who work on the periphery of Blackhawks hockey.
And so there is very little chance that the Blackhawks will suffer a significant backlash from their fans. They just won the Cup a few years ago, for goodness sakes.
That isn't the case for Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs or Calgary Flames head man Murray Edwards. They were both active obstructionists when negotiations heated up about a month ago. When they were instrumental in a deal not happening at that point it seemed clear they were ready to torpedo a season to get their way.
It is the fans of those franchises who really need to think about whether they will keep feeding the guys who were ready to trash hockey to make a few more dollars.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.
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