Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My Quarrytorium Moratorium...A Hockey Hiatus for the Next Four Months

Many of my friends will find this hard to believe, but I just cancelled my season ticket for the Nashville Predators.  This might seem especially odd in that the 133 day lockout over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the National Hockey League and the players’ union has just been resolved, and the shortened regular season is about to finally commence. 

It takes a lot to shake the hockey out of my system. Even before the NHL’s arrival, I had seen hundreds of major and minor league games across the country, and wrote a monthly column on pro hockey marketing in a national publication for years.  As a member of Mayor Phil Bredesen’s civic committee to research and recommend a downtown arena, I was one of the few that lobbied hard for the facility to be fitted for ice hockey.  Other cam around to realizing that the NHL was a much better possibility for an expansion or relocated franchise than the NBA.

As some of you may know, I’ve been a staunch supporter of the Preds as a season ticket holder since Day 1 in 1998.  In the first ten seasons, I only missed six games. I was on a first name basis friendship with then-owner Craig Leipold and attended countless fan relation and marketing meetings. I interacted regularly with many in the front office.  Along with a few other knuckleheads, I helped create the fan experience known as Cellblock 303 that helped generate an energy at Preds’ games like none other in the league.  My vocal histrionics and enthusiasm at the rink watching the Predators encircle their quarry…their prey, have earned me the monikers of “The Warden,” “The Duke of Rebuke,” and, most aptly, “Chief Goofball.” Heck, I was even at Bridgestone a day and a half after heart surgery yelling my head off for the Predators’ Game 5 clincher over the hated Red Wings in Round One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last April. There has been little to compare with the fun and pride of watching this young team develop into strong contenders. So, it is clear that my loyalty to the Preds has been unwavering.

When the last lockout occurred, which wiped out the entire 2004-2005 season (a first for any major pro league in US sports history), I kept my money invested in my tickets.  Like most fans, we realized that impasse was necessary for the well being of the league’s future.  Exorbitant salaries, lack of a salary cap, no profit sharing, etc. needed to be addressed or the whole system would implode.  In the next seven seasons, due to the positive changes that were implemented, the NHL’s revenue’s tripled to $3 billion, even in the face of the big recession. You would think that unprecedented growth would mean that when the current contract came to a close this past September that there would just need to be a few minor tweaks to the next CBA and the league could continue its upward trajectory.

But no…greed reared its ugly head on both the owners and players union sides, and there were no reasonable compromises brought to bear on how these multi-millionaires were going to split $3,000,000,000. Hence, another lengthy shutdown.  All the record-breaking growth of the Predators from last season, including a new record of 25 sellouts, swelling corporate partnerships, and the highest TV ratings in their history were put in jeopardy.  Not to mention all the restaurateurs, parking enterprises, and arena employees whose livelihoods were threatened with all the cancelled games.

So, it is not without considerable consternation and sadness that I’ve made this decision.  I certainly don’t want to see the Predators franchise fail, but SOMEBODY needs to get the message that these selfish work stoppages are unacceptable, especially to we fans who fill those millionaires coffers.  And maybe it is just ME that needs to be reminded of this.  When I weigh everything out, I still can’t get past the ungratefulness of the union and the owners.  Nor can I stomach their presumption that we will blindly return no matter what.

I know of other season ticket holders who are willing to move forward, and I refuse to be critical of anyone else’s reasoning.  If they are at peace with their decision, that is fine by me.  My frustration is not with my fellow fans.

But I feel I need to make this statement.  Perhaps I’ll have a change of heart once the regular season is complete. Or maybe it will be late in the summer before I’m ready.  Or perhaps never.

My hope is that the league sees a significant drop in attendance and revenues this season.  Maybe a franchise or two closes shop due to significant downturns.  Then, perhaps, some vows will be made by the powers-that-be to NEVER put the fans through this again (I can dream, can’t I?).

No doubt I will pine-away some evenings for the adrenaline rush of a spirited contest against the Dead Things, Blackholes, or Blosers.  Going to a Predators’ game is a form of Primal Scream Therapy where I can pour it out in a way that is good for my constitution.  But more than anything, I will miss the camaraderie of all my fellow inmates in the Cellblock, and the rest of the NBP (North Balcony Posse).  I hope to see you all again…and please don’t hold this against me.

When I receive my refund from the Preds for my season ticket, I’m signing it over to the Nashville Rescue Mission.  Now there’s a downtown institution that’s been staying open day in and day out for decades and actually doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

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