I’m a hockey fan. Always have been, always will be. I’m just not sure how much of an NHL fan I am anymore.
When news broke a few weeks ago that the NHL lockout was over, a colleague and I were discussing the event and he said something that struck a nerve with me. He said he didn’t really care about the owners and players. He just cared about the games he watched on TV.
That got me thinking about the average hockey fan, the strike and the state of hockey fandom in general.
Here’s the thing.
Pro hockey is changing and I’m not just talking about the new contract.
The real, physical hockey world (players in arenas) doesn’t really seem to matter to the NHL. Yes, there are and will be games, fans will attend and players will play.
The thing to understand is that NHL hockey is simply a product to be monetized and the actual play in an arena merely creates that product. One of Shakespeare’s famous quotes is “The play’s the thing,” but for the NHL, the replay’s the thing.
It’s all a show. The owners are the producers, coaches the directors, and the players the actors.
That arena world is not really open to the average fan anyhow.
Average fans can’t afford ticket prices. Average fans often don’t live near an NHL team so they are connected, not by reality, but by the NHL creation of a team.
The fan never actually sees a real game, they just follow the season on television, online or maybe by radio. They interact online with hockey bloggers and other fans, not hockey players.
They buy shirts with the names of people they’ve never met on the back. It’s so common we don’t even stop to think how odd that is.
They consume the product. They don’t actually take part in the real-life process. They can watch the scene, but they don’t often experience an actual real game. They are fed an edited version, a company version, a registered trademark of a game.
They are virtual fans following virtual hockey. They are sport soap opera fans watching a soap opera on ice.
What does that mean long term? I’m not really sure.
Every contract the players sign puts more control into the hands of the owners. It does seem to open the door to a sport that over time might more closely resemble TV wrestling, where rivalries and personalities are manufactured and controlled tightly by the league.
I think we, as fans, will get a much better return for our time and entertainment dollar if we transfer our affection for the game of hockey to our local teams.
The hockey experience is more than just watching action. It’s about the feel and smells of the arena. Even in the newest arenas it still smells like hot dogs, hot chocolate and that strange cheese-like stuff on nachos – even the arena ice has a certain smell.
Real hockey in real arenas. Hockey you can feel when the players crash into the boards in front of your seat. Hockey with players and staff that you can meet in the street. Hockey that’s about sitting in the stands and sharing the experience with your friends, seatmates and even that annoying guy with the horn behind you.
We have some fine local hockey. The Royals and Grizzlies, not to mention the Cougars, Braves, Wolves and Panthers, provide real hockey. Hockey you can see in person, hockey with jump and enthusiasm and at prices you can afford. Hockey you can see, hear and smell.
Hockey that’s about the game and not just about money and TV exposure and Twitter feeds.
That’s hockey that matters.
Don Denton is photo supervisor for Black Press Greater Victoria.