Dear National Hockey League (NHL),
Since I was young child, I played hockey, collected hockey cards, wore your branded pajamas, owned a Guy Lafleur lunch box, watched many games and whenever fate smiled upon me, went to the famous Montreal Forum to watch my beloved Montreal Canadiens play. My father, a dedicated CBC employee for over 35 years, allowed us to watch two Canadian shows as children: The Nature of Things and Hockey Night in Canada.
I took my wife to her first NHL game in Montreal and it was a special moment as the team captain, Saku Koivu, had returned to the lineup after being treated for cancer. The incredible standing ovation he received from the fans still gives me the chills.
Years later when we relocated to Toronto, I read my kids The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier, bought all of them Canadiens jerseys since we now resided deep behind enemy lines within Leafs Nation, and made annual pilgrimages to Montreal to watch the Canadiens play. When my eldest child was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and feeling understandably down, she received a personalized, very supportive, confidence boosting email from Rejean Houle, President of the Canadiens Alumni. You can imagine how that solidified her conviction to the team.
Fast forward to the present. Over a week has passed since the NHL lockout ended. Teams are starting training camps, players are getting traded and general managers are getting fired. Everything is back to normal, right?
Despite all the aforementioned sentimental stories, I regret to inform you that, as a long-customer, I must now evaluate our relationship from a business perspective in terms of ROI (return on investment).
So please consider this a performance review for your benefit. Looking back since 1993 here are the facts, as I understand them. As a business:
- Your teams have valuations anywhere between130 million all the way to1 billion per team.
- Revenues rose from $2.2 billion to $3.3 billion (an average of160 million a season) since your last collective bargaining agreement.
- Before the start of the 2011-12 season, the average NHL player salary had increased to $2.4 million from $1.5 million since the 2005-06 season. To be clear this applies to those NHL employees who are members of the NHLPA.
- You locked out your players and halted this season despite having one full year remaining on the current collective bargaining agreement.
- Your direct corporate partners such as broadcasting networks (i.e. CBC, TSN, RDS, NBC) and advertising clients such as Ford, Nike and RBC suffered. Some ran advertising campaigns asking you to come to your senses.
- Your players (NHLPA) decided to go play in other leagues in North America and overseas taking away roster spots and jobs from other professional hockey players who weren't able to play for NHL teams.
- Your non-NHLPA employees in operations, marketing, ticket sales, concierge services to the parking attendants, merchandise and concession sales staff, Zamboni drivers and others all suffered a loss of income. This at a time when terms like "fiscal cliff" and "debt ceiling" are sadly too common.
- Your ancillary business partners such as the business owners and employees of local restaurants, sporting goods stores, taxi cab drivers have all suffered.
- Your customers pleaded over months to continue the season and resorted to creative ways to communicate that message with little success.
- You have had not one but three (3) work stoppages in the past 20 years. This is more than any professional sports league in North America.
- Last week you finally realized the irreparable harm you were doing to yourself and your commissioner Gary Bettman apologized to everyone.
- Some teams like Los Angeles made charitable donations in an effort to apologize to its customers and fans.
- After the 2004-2005 lockout, almost a decade ago, you apologized and painted messages on the ice.
- You implied lower ticket prices would be a result of the previous lockout and that didn't happen.
I've invested thousands of hours watching pre-game shows, reading the Hockey News, watching games on television, voraciously reading my favorite hockey blog, going to hockey summits organized by fans, chatting about breaking news with colleagues and clients, attending NHL games, watching game highlights and analysis early morning on Sports Centre all while checking NHL iPhone apps.
When the season abruptly stopped this year, I invested that time in my family and business. Instead of spending three hours watching a game, I went skating with my family, read books to my kids, discovered new ideas for clients and friends plus giving back to those in need. The return on my time has been much better personally and professionally.
It's also a misnomer that you (NHL) represents hockey. Hockey is about parents who wake up early in the morning to take their kids to play games and name their family dog Bauer; about people like Matthew Hallett who volunteer as coaches and scouts; and about people like Ian Cobb who billeted players for years to help groom them to be better players and upstanding members of society.
The bottom line is that you are a business, not a sport and if I look at our relationship from a strictly business perspective, the ROI has been lousy lately.
The silver lining to the lockout is that I've discovered more important things to spend my time and money on. For that, I thank you; however, I'm still pressing pause as a customer at least for the remainder of this year.
For those other customers (i.e. fans) who do come back to you, I hope you don't reward their loyalty with more ticket hikes and lockouts in the future. They deserve better. You need to see a negative impact to your bottom line so you don't repeat this foolishness. Otherwise, your actions won't ever change but if Major League Baseball can learn then anything is possible.
I'll be carefully watching how you conduct yourself as a business moving forward and re-evaluate our relationship at that time. It's now your move.