The NHL clearly caught some breaks coming out of the last lockout.
The league marketed its comeback around rising stars like Crosby and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin. They added fan-friendly shootouts and the New Year’s Day Winter Classic. The league made the two-line pass legal to help bust up the neutral-zone trap and created chic commercials to appeal more toward casual fans.
This time — whenever the lockout ends — the league might be all out of tricks. They'll need to dig. And it could take years to recover from the wreckage.
Some teams are trying to keep their brand alive among an increasingly uninterested public. The Flyers aired classic games and brought back former stars for autograph signings at a sports bar in the same complex as the Wells Fargo Center.
Gerry Helper, special assistant to the president and senior vice president for the Nashville Predators, said the team enjoyed their best season ticket renewal year in franchise history this past offseason.
The Predators have stayed aggressive in developing benefits packages for season ticketholders during the work stoppage. They organized ‘‘Preds Pride Day’’ activities and something called a ‘‘Smashmob’’ for a youth hockey game last month where they brought their public address announcer and mascot, and created a Predators’ game-like atmosphere. Helper wrote in an email to The AP the Predators have stayed in touch with season ticket holders via email and phone.
Not every Predators fan feels appreciated. Tom Begley, of Franklin, Tenn., canceled the two season tickets he has held since Day 1 of the franchise. He also estimated approximately 1,000 people like himself are season-ticket holders from the first day. He said the team has done plenty of events for all season-ticket holders, but nothing special for that select group.
‘‘I got not even a phone call from the Predators just to say, ‘Look we know you’re a loyal die-hard season-ticket holder from Day 1. Why don’t you come down and do something at the arena?'’’ he said. ‘‘Hey, if I feel like it down the line and I want to buy tickets again I can do it. Right now, I don’t know. I'm not convinced that hockey here in Nashville is going to be viable long-term. I am scared to death of what Donald Fehr is doing to the game and it’s a shame. It really is.’’
In Pennsylvania, the government is getting involved in the messy dispute.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey on Wednesday urged the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide additional assistance to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia businesses that have been adversely affected by the lockout. Casey claimed small business in Pittsburgh are losing nearly half of the $2.1 million in revenue generated for each Penguins home game. He wrote Philadelphia is losing $1 million in revenue from each lost home game.
All the bluster of a boycott is easier tweeted than done. Fans can’t quit Sid the Kid, Ovi, Big Z, The Warden, Phil the Thrill and The Doaner.
On Opening Night in January 2013 or October 2013 or November 2015, whenever, the teams will be back ready for the first faceoff.
So will the fans.
At least some of them.
AP Sports Writers Will Graves in Pittsburgh and Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.
Follow Dan Gelston at www.twitter.com/APGelston