Lost this week, somewhere between the heartfelt and perhaps premature obituaries for the Waldorf Hotel, the corresponding and predictable stream of vitriol aimed at Vancouver condominium developers, and the last-minute ticket rush for the Gluten Free Expo, was the biggest news story of the week: Gary Bettman said he’s sorry.
After announcing that team owners had ratified a tentative deal, the NHL commissioner apologized to fans for the truncated hockey season.
“I know that an explanation or an apology will not erase the hard feelings that have built up over the past few months, but I owe you an apology nevertheless,” he said.
Even I felt a little pang of “finally” when Mr. Bettman acknowledged that, for real NHL hockey fans, the three-month-long delay to the start of the season has been a hardship.
Will the league do anything to make it up to those fans? So far, Mr. Bettman hasn’t said. I’ve heard demands for reduced ticket prices, free cable packages so fans can watch games they would otherwise have to pay for, and even free beer at Canucks games, which I have hunch might be a bad idea. I’m guessing that, right now, league executives are huddled in a room blue-skying some sort of no-cost “fan appreciation” option.
Individual teams have offered free merchandise to people who attend the first few games.
There is more than one Facebook page devoted to revenge against the league. One of the most popular is called Just Drop It, which now has more than 23,000 followers.
The top of the page reads, “By clicking ‘like,’ I pledge that for every game you take from me after December 21st, 2012, I will boycott you for the equivalent number of games after the lockout ends.” About half of the people who have clicked the pledge are fans of the Montreal Canadiens, but plenty of Canucks fans have also given it the Facebook thumbs-up. Will that mean empty arenas on opening night? I very much doubt it, especially here in Vancouver.
Hockey fans aren’t like regular people.
The wording of the Just Drop It pledge tells me that. These are people who believe something has been stolen from them.
Even so, they’ll get over it. They’ll forgive or forget.
Rogers Arena will sell out for every game of the shortened season – just as it has, the Canucks claim, for every game since 2002. The waiting list for season tickets will grow and people will gladly pay the $150 non-refundable deposit for the privilege of getting into line.
If history repeats itself, the Canucks will underperform or choke when the pressure is on.
Fans will forgive that too. This is hockey. They’re our team. We are all Canucks. We’ll get ’em next year.
It may be clear by now that I don’t much care for hockey. I never have. I’ll pay attention during the playoffs, because, as a Vancouverite, if I don’t, people assume I’m some sort of Taliban sympathizer, or worse.
But even as a casual observer, I am at a loss to explain the unwavering devotion to a team that, in four decades of play, has failed to win a Stanley Cup.
Still, night after night, year after year, the crowds come, filling the arena’s 18,000-plus seats, overpaying for everything (relative to say, reality) and snapping up authentic, league-approved jerseys, t-shirts, and ball caps.
This week, as the Waldorf Hotel eulogies hit fever pitch on Twitter, and the skinny-jeans set was in full froth over anyone who dared question the business plan of the dedicated and creative staff who ran the place, Mike Klassen, a former NPA city council candidate and co-founder of the website City Caucus, posed the question: “When were you there last?” Whoa. Uncomfortable.
From there, the conversation became a tangled lament for all of the cool places that have closed in the city. The consensus was that evil condo developers are to blame.
But even free-standing autonomous outfits under no threat of eviction have been forced to close because they can’t pay their bills.
To the ones who are still in business but struggling, I suggest bolting your doors for three months. Just say you’re negotiating. Offer a substandard product and charge more money for tickets. Mark up your draft beer by, say, a thousand per cent. Plaster advertising over every visible surface. Begin each show with strobe lights and U2’s Where the Streets Have No Name.
And sign that drummer to a 12-year, $64-million contract. He’s totally worth it.
History shows the public will become slavishly devoted to you and forgive you, even on the nights that drummer fails to show up.
Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver. @cbcstephenquinn