A Promise to the NHL and NHLPA

Today is September 15, the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHLPA. Tonight, barring an 11th-hour miracle, the league will lock out its players and begin yet another in a seemingly endless cycle of work stoppages.

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If that happens, I have a promise to both sides.

The promise is this: I will not spend so much as a dime for the rest of my life on any of the auxiliary streams of revenue the league has.

I’m not turning my back on hockey or even NHL hockey – I’m a fan and always will be. So I’ll keep going to games and buying the sports package on TV so I can watch the teams play. But that’s where it stops.

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A huge portion of NHL revenue comes from merchandise and concessions. Jerseys, coffee mugs, hockey cards – when anything with a team logo is sold, the NHL gets a piece of it. The same goes for the pricey beer and nachos sold at arenas.

I’m done with it all.

Granted, I’m not the consumer of those products that I once was, even now. As writing about the Oilers has taken more and more of my time – and eventually transitioned into my full-time job – I’ve been less and less enthused about team merchandise. It’s hard to write objectively about a team while wearing their colours, and I’ve become far less a collector of team-related merchandise than I was even five years ago.

I’ve never stopped completely though, and when at the games I enjoy beer and nachos as much as the next man. But if the lockout, as expected, starts today, those days are over. I’ll Gandhi the games and the vintage Kurri jersey in my closet will be the last thing with an NHL logo on it that I ever buy.

That’s a promise.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • Great idea, but. The greedy owners will get their revenues one way or the other. Ticket prices will just continue to increase. What was that Mr Katz? You need some more money from the city. Is your billion count running low?

  • It’s a good idea in theory. I’d like to join, but I’m sure I’d cave in pretty fast. I’m not much of an idealist.

    The one thing I don’t know that I’d do is stop buying the beer and nachos at the game. It just seems off watching a hockey game without a brew. And I figure I’ll justify that by assuming that a cut of all those sales goes to help pay the arena workers who dole out the beers and clean the place when we pigs leave.

    Other than that, I like the idea. My obsession with retro jerseys would probably suffer, but I too am a patron of the “less than official” jersey sites, so I wonder how much of a cut the league gets off of me for that anyway.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Great sentiment. I already told my son that I am not purchasing NHL13. I don’t know if I can not purchase NHL stuff long term but living in PDX, it is easier…

    BTW, “Gandhi” the game?? I get what you are saying but as an East Indian, I find that sentence disappointing. What are you getting at? You’ll starve yourself like an Indian because they must all be hungry and under nourished? I’m likely reading too much into it but, all the same, I wish you would have chosen better workds to illustrate the point.

    Happy lockout eve everybody.

    • Gandhi’s fasts were an integral part of his resistance to British rule.

      I’m a little disappointed that not just as an East Indian but as a person in general you didn’t catch that – Gandhi’s actions, ultimately leading to Indian independence, were easily some of the most defining of the 20th century.

      Naturally, it’s a little different to avoid eating nachos at a game out of anger at the greed of millionaires and billionaires than it is to protest the subjugation of your entire people by a foreign power through lengthy fasts, but I thought the implication of the statement was obvious.

      • Colin


        Thanks for the clarification. In my inital reply, I was spiralling into a rant. I decided not to go down that route, when I also thought that you could have been referring to Gandhi’s fast which resulted in his frailness and iconic look.

        Sorry for being overly sensitive.

  • master of my domain

    Well said JW. My cousin and I, long-time ticket holders at Rogers arena in Vancouver, came to the same conclusion last week.

    Im still a fan of the sport, and a fan of pro-hockey. I am not a fan of the NHL.


    • Thanks, but I’ll continue to make my own decisions on how to express my anger at the labour stoppage.

      It’s easy to say ‘don’t write about hockey.’ But the fact is, it’s fun writing about hockey. It’s why I took a massive pay-cut to do this for a living. Because it’s fun.

      If you feel like turning off for a year is the way to go – by all means, DSF, go for it. But kindly don’t tell me what I have to do.

      • DSF

        I am sure you know what a Quisling is.

        If your anger is expressed by not buying nachos at an NHL game it would appear you’re not very angry.

        “I support the Reich but damned if I’m going to any more rallies”

        I am also sure you could have “fun” writing about numerous other subjects.

        Until then, you’re “Peter Finch Moment” is pretty lame.

          • RexLibris

            Words fail me.

            I completely agree with your statement. The past stoppages felt like they were over ideologies with which one could side, one way or another. This time?

          • RexLibris

            It’s hyperbole and unimaginative.

            My stance on this is that a person has to take whatever measures that allow them to feel they are effecting a moral decision. Those measures don’t necessarily need to lead to large and measurable results, but simply empower the individual.

            Whether or not Jonathan chooses to buy nachos or beer at a game as a form or protest over the juvenile and patronizing behaviour of both of the groups involved is an entirely personal decision. It ought not be judged against a perceived majority standard.

            I’ve never purchased any league/team merchandise. I don’t have tickets to cancel or an extensive cable package to forfeit. I can’t say that this latest episode has convinced me to forsake ever buying an Oilers jersey either. I guess I’m cynical enough to know that I’ve always been played and morally ambivalent enough not to be made uncomfortable by that arrangement.

            What I will say is that, as Jonathan has noted, when it comes to maintaining one’s integrity in the corporate world it can be very difficult. It is nearly impossible to perpetually take the high road, but giving up nachos might be Willis’ best way to take action (and a healthier choice to boot).

        • SmellOfVictory

          The only people who suffer when you choose to boycott hockey are the people boycotting the NHL. One of two things happens: A) not enough people boycott the NHL for anyone to notice/care or B) enough people boycott hockey to significantly damage the league, and cause it to lose ground in the world of professional sports. This would mean decreased broadcast access, potentially less talent (good players going to other leagues), contraction, etc.

          What I’m trying to say is: boycotting the NHL to make a point is a stupid idea.

      • longbottom/P.Biglow

        I know we have not seen eye to eye at times.
        Saying that I am completely in agreement of your stand. The NHL and NHLPA are fighting over a 3.4 billion dollar pot built mainly on the backs of the fans. I for one am boycotting the NHL and it’s advertisers until the NHL either recognises the fans are the big loser’s here and they get this lock-out ended.

  • O.C.


    When they figure out who gets what, call me… I will be back.

    Just don’t bore me in the meantime over who is right. It means nothing to the fan.

    Thank God for the NFL.

  • DSF

    Darren Dreger ‏@DarrenDreger

    As has been reported, Hockey Can and NHLPA discussing a Can-Rus series involving locked out NHL players. Part of 40th anniversary of 72.

  • Colin

    Its a start JW.

    How about not supporting NHL owners primary businesses?

    Katz owns Rexall pharmacy – go to Shoppers Drug Mart or London Drugs instead.
    The Detroit owner owns Little Caesar’s pizza – get Pizza 73. Etc.

  • Colin

    Jon you should write an article predicting what the outcome of the lockout will be. I honestly think the longer it goes on, like most labour negotiations, the more the players will be hurt by it. I think the way Fehr has negotiated by trying to change the system, has put hate into the mouths of the very teams owners who could have been convinced to pay the players more early on if a concerted effort was made to negotiate using the owners language. I think the owners will win in the end (as usual) and I think the solidarity of the ‘united NHLPA’ will whither, but it could cost us the season. Bob Mckenzies 3000 word rant was a great read, but it did not predict much in the way of what he would expect to happen. Overall this thing looks very bleak right now and I am not sure many of the average fans realize this. Both parties have every incentive to keep the game going but the extreme factions of both seem to be represented most by the leaders ie. Bettman and Fehr. I predict one of these two leaders will be gone before a settlement is reached. I’d like to hear what you think about the situation because i am sure it would be a compelling read.

  • Subversive

    This threat is kind of silly. I’m sorry, but DSF is exactly right. Honestly, I don’t even fault you for thinking/planning/doing it, but it’s kind of lame content for the site, dontcha think? If you’re going to give me whiny personal nonsense, at least make it interesting, funny, or something more than this. I tend to prefer when this site sticks to the more analytical stuff, but a nice rant is good too if that’s where you’re at emotionally. I guess I just need a little more from you if this is the path you’re going to go down. I mean, if you’re going to rant, give me hate, give me vitriol, give me something like this: http://deadspin.com/5941348/they-wont-magically-turn-you-into-a-lustful-cockmonster-chris-kluwe-explains-gay-marriage-to-the-politician-who-is-offended-by-an-nfl-player-supporting-it

  • Helmethead

    So in making a promise to The Nation, who is holding you accountable? Is there an ankle bracelet you’ve discovered that alerts readers of your momentary loss of consciousness resulting in the involuntary participation to purchase things associated with the NHL?

    No offense, but I’m not “buying” it. If you were really pissed at the whole thing you would stop writing about the league, the players and the Oilers in general and start a new career path by starting a syndicated column called “Dear JW” discussing relationship issues in small town papers across the country.

    A true boycott is complete detachment including monetary gain. Don’t be a hypocrite.

    • And where did I suggest a true boycott? You’ll also notice I’m not proposing hammering advertisers, or avoiding NHL owners’ other businesses.

      Look, we aren’t talking about apartheid here. We’re talking about greed. If you can live your life without partaking of any products marketed by a greedy company, by all means. Unfortunately, most of us can’t do that – for instance, I’m writing this on a Samsung computer and Samsung just lost a case against Apple for Patent infringement. I have an iPhone, and Apple’s likely to lose a patent infringement case against HTC. Which tech company should I support, as a moral person?

      There’s a difference between “angry about greed” and the sort of all or nothing-ism you’re proposing. The NHL – despite being compared to it by DSF – isn’t the Third Reich; heck, all things considered it isn’t even the oil patch – where I worked previously.

      Additionally, hypocrisy is a moral issue – where somebody claims moral standards that don’t correspond to their own behaviour. I’m not claiming any sort of moral superiority to the NHL or NHLPA here – they’re behaving the same way businesses around the world behave. I may not like the pollution caused by the energy sector, but I still by gasoline. I may not like the negotiations between autoworkers and car companies, but I still drive a car. I may not be happy with the proposed Site C damn near Hudson’s Hope, but I still power my house with hydro.

      People make compromises all the time. I do, and if you’re honest with yourself you’ll realize that you do too. I don’t like pollution, so I drive a vehicle that’s relatively good on gas. I walk whenever I can (where I live, unfortunately, public transit isn’t really an option). These are half-measures, compromises made out of necessity.

      Now, you can call that all hypocritical if you’d like, but that’s an incredibly simple-minded viewpoint. Compromise is a fact of modern life. In fact, if the NHL and NHLPA were a little more willing to compromise, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.

      • RexLibris

        “And where did I suggest a true boycott?”

        It seems that a fair amount of attention has been getting paid to Fehr’s leagership at the MLBPA resulting in 17 years of labour peace.

        Of course not much attention has been paid to the decimation of attendance and TV ratings that followed the ’94 strike and how many years it took for baseball to recover.

        With that in mind, maybe the question should be asked;

        Why aren’t you suggesting a true boycott?

        If the fans keep bending over to take what this collection fo clowns have to offer there will never be any incentive to change how they see things moving forward.

        I have no doubt places like Edmonton will continue to line up for tickets but I really really hope 15 US markets completly tune out the game once it starts up again. I hope it takes the entire duration of the new CBA and more to get back to the revenue the league has been enjoying…if at all.

  • longbottom/P.Biglow

    Both sides seem pretty well entrenched in their positions, and willing to go to the wall to defend them.

    Both sides are led by legendarily tough negotiators with huge egos that “refuse to lose”.

    And the sides seem very far apart on how much money the players eventually get. Unlike most labour negotiations, I don’t think these guys have an idea what the eventual agreement will look like. I don’t even think they know how to get close to an agreement.

    The big risk here is, that it will take a complete disaster to force an agreement. There’s no guarantee that the lockout will be solved by this time next year, or even the year after that.

    “Killing the goose that laid the golden egg” comes to mind. Lets hope both sides come to their senses before they hamstring hockey for years.

  • supra steve

    Took me about 5 years to pay for Flames tickets after the missed season, had a few comp. games in that span but spent none of my own $. I’m pretty sure this time it will be longer.

    JW, I support you in your commitment to do the same.

  • It would be nice if fans did organize some sort of protest that would affect the NHL even for a short period of time.A warning shot to show them we are not “puppets”. I am going to do the same also not buying a ticket for the dream home either

  • Greg

    Found this online petition, and think anyone who really wants to make a statement should sign it. I doubt the NHL or NHLPA will take an online petition very seriously (unless maybe it gets 1M+ signatures), but if those who do actually follow through on the consequences – and I fully intend on it – it will make an impact.

    The NHL gets 50% of its revenues from ticket sales, so while I know I would not stop watching games on TV, I am fully confident I can, and will, boycott any ticket or merchandise purchases for 1 full year should this lockout go past 30 days. If ratings stay roughly the same but single game ticket sales drop by 10% or more, I think the owners and players will realize the people have hit their limit and they had better think twice about doing this again.

    Please sign if you feel the same and can make the same committment. No worries if not. Thanks.


  • Greg

    Well I emailed the oilers management and just asked for a full refund of my tickets. They said they had no problem refunding the tickets.

    I just won’t bother spending my money to go the watch anymore.

    Instead will fly down to watch one NFL game.

  • RedMan

    “Dear NHL,I ain’t buying anymore nachos or beer! Ha, take that”

    Yep, that’ll show em. TThat’s a weak, EDMONTON response…

    we in Calgary are gonna do better… we ain’t goin to buy any jerseys for players that are over 30! This’ll really hit em hard!!! hahaha NHL, you lose!

  • RedMan

    I would be great to try and organize an NHL dark day, in which all fans boycott one game (such as the 1st or 2nd home game) to remind the owners and players that there is a 3rd entity in this business. I am a season ticket holder, and I would be willing to burn one game in protest.

  • RedMan

    It seems to me that this form of protest would hit the littlest guys the hardest (folks who run jersey/merch stores, run a food stand at the game, and the unions that represent them), while letting the league and the PA get away with continued guaranteed revenue streams via tickets and tv deals. Maybe like reacting to a teacher’s strike by vowing never to take the bus again.

    I get it, you want to keep your I’m A Fan card and still make a point, but I don’t quite get why you’d go after the people who will actually be hurt by this type of protest and who are already being hurt by a lockout they had no part in bringing about.

  • Derzie

    If you still go to the games, you’re part of the problem. The fat cat owners and players are BANKING on the droves to come back because the fans can’t help themselves. Vowing off food and drink is an empty promise really. When you go the game you see all of the loyal robots in line for beer and nachos and you’ll soon realize resistance is futile. Like anything in life, cold turkey is the only true solution. I’m sticking with TV. I know that will remain a free option for the same reason the owners and players know that fans will be back in droves to be their source of cash.