The NHL botched its apology tour

By MIKE HANKS – Sun CURRENT Newspapers

Mike Hanks As the National Hockey League triumphantly returned to the State of Hockey this past weekend, I was rather disappointed with the charade that preceded it: the “apologies” to the fans.

I have never been a huge hockey fan, but I have enjoyed occasional games over the years. The lack of NHL games, in St. Paul and on television, didn’t affect me at all.

I may not follow the NHL religiously, but I do listen to sports radio, so I heard plenty of speculation about when, or if, the NHL lockout would end.

I also watch local news, so every time a Minnesota Wild hockey player took to the ice for a practice session, it was reported as if we were witnessing Jesus walking on water.

When the lockout ended, every Wild player, manager, executive and broadcaster was suddenly available to speak to every television station, radio station, newspaper or website, often opening with an apology to the fans for the lockout.

The doors to the athletic jewel of downtown St. Paul, the Xcel Energy Center, were opened last week to allow fans a free look at the team days prior to the start of the season. The way this grand gesture was reported, you’d think they were opening the doors to a 1950s bomb shelter minutes before an atomic bomb was going to strike the state capitol.

Tickets to the home opener were personally delivered to a few season ticket holders by the players they’ll be cheering for on 24 given nights this winter and spring, during an abbreviated and compressed NHL season. You’d think the Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol was handing out $1 million checks the way these grand gestures were reported.

And let’s not forget the Wild offered discounts on team merchandise to those who came to shell out cash for single-game tickets last week. It’s no secret those fancy jerseys and other apparel command a premium price. A nice gesture, sure, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the markup on those pricey souvenirs more than covers whatever discount was being offered.

If you’re a passionate fan of NHL hockey, there has been a void in your life for more than two months, no doubt. But the apologies seemed like nothing more than an unnecessary publicity stunt.

Instead of a publicity parade, apologizing to fans for saving them the cost of tickets, parking and concessions for 17 home games that won’t be played this season, where was the apology to those who deserved it? The ushers, vendors, janitors, advertising resentatives, marketing managers and communications specialists, among others, are the people who are owed an apology. Most of them, if not all, took an involuntary pay cut during the past holiday season, or received no paycheck because the arena sat dark on many nights in November and December.

Where was the apology to all the local businesses that exist outside the arena, and exist in part because there are 41 hockey games per season? During the lockout I saw a few stories detailing the woes of small business owners trying to make ends meet without the traffic generated by NHL hockey, but I never saw an apology to those whose livelihoods had been impacted by the lockout.

Yes, players and owners took a financial hit, too, but they should be able to absorb it much easier than the waitress at a restaurant two blocks down from the arena.

Perhaps team and arena employees received financial apologies I’m unaware of. Perhaps the NHL is cutting checks to service personnel at St. Paul restaurants, expressing remorse for impacting them far more than the league’s absence impacted the Bloomington, Minnetonka or Brooklyn Park fan who had to find other ways to spend hundreds of dollars that weren’t being spent on hockey tickets.

There’s nothing wrong with teams and their players showing their appreciation for the thousands of fans that make the NHL possible. I’ll agree, an apology campaign was warranted. The problem was that it was misdirected.


Contact Mike Hanks at [email protected]