All Janne Makkonen hoped for was a couple tweets. At best, he wanted to catch the attention of a few NHL players who might share the video he spent nearly a week producing.
But more importantly, Makkonen wanted to make something for fans who are upset at the prospect of another lockout. So the 21-year-old freelance video editor went through his archive, listened to music and thought about what he wanted to say.
What he said, in a video entitled “Together We Can,” has become an Internet sensation and served as a voice for hockey fans trying to get their message of frustration heard by the league and players’ union ahead of Saturday’s lockout deadline.
“I was just hoping to see they’d react kind of in the way they are reacting now, but I never just never thought it would be this huge, that it would spread so quickly,” said Makkonen, who lives in Espoo, Finland. “I just hope to see them inspired and give them hope, or something.”
Released on YouTube at the end of August, the video had more than 700,000 views Tuesday. Some eight minutes long, and using Howard Beale’s famous “I’m mad as hell” rant from the movie “Network,” the video touches on several themes including the sport’s economy, racism in hockey and the labour battle.
Colorado’s Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, San Jose’s Logan Couture, Boston’s Milan Lucic and Montreal’s Brandon Prust are among the players who have tweeted the video Makkonen admits leans in favour of the NHLPA.
But the video is also firmly on the side of the fans, among whom Makkonen hopes to start a broader discussion about their role in the labour battle.
“Even if we can’t directly make an influence on the owners, I think we can make an influence on the NHLPA maybe, the players, and kind of motivate them, help them see perspective, which obviously influences the negotiations,” said Makkonen.
“I don’t want to accept the idea that we’re just supposed to sit back and think we’re these small figures and just do nothing,” he added. “And at least I want to believe that as a big group and as a whole that together we can really make a difference.”
Makkonen’s video, and a petition he started at Change.org asking NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to start the season on time that has reached nearly 20,000 supporters, is the most popular of several online fan initiatives to avoid a lockout.
About 15,000 petitions are started on Change.org per month, according to campaigns director Jordy Gold. He says online petitions have been an effective tool for mobilizing large numbers of people quickly around an issue.
Gold cited the petition by Trayvon Martin’s parents Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman, who was charged in the fatal shooting of their son, as an example of how effective petitions can be. That petition garnered more than 2.2 million signatures and is credited with bringing the case into the public conscious.
Makkonen’s petition may eventually have a similar influence, said Gold.
“Janne, for example, has said he feels like the fans have been taken for granted,” Gold said. “There’s been a lot of editorials written about that. So I think this is one of the ways that fans can speak up and say ‘This is not OK, you can’t take us for granted, this is not an option.'”
Meanwhile, several fans are using the Twitter hashtag #nolockout to call for action.
UnfollowNHLSept15 asks fans to stop following the league and players on social media websites as well as putting an embargo on purchasing merchandise from NHL.com. Nohockeylockout.com meanwhile has organized protests outside the league headquarters in New York as well as outside the Bell Centre in Montreal and Boston’s TD Garden.
Neither account has many followers. UnfollowNHLSept15 had just over 2,500 as of Tuesday while Nohockeylockout hadn’t cracked 1,000.
It’s difficult to measure how fans will react to a lockout. Five months into the 2004-05 lockout a Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll found only 28 per cent of self-described fans said they missed professional hockey.
Yet the hockey business thrived when it returned after the scrapped season. The splitting up of US$3.3 billion in annual revenues is a key part of the current labour negotiations. Seven years ago that number was $2.1 billion.
Still, even if the fans return to the game, a researcher at Simon Fraser University hopes the NHL is paying attention to fan reaction online.
Peter Chow-White, an associate professor who studies social media’s impact on society, says the league’s brand could be damaged if fans are ignored. But he added it remains to be seen how the league responds to online fan protests.
“If the fans can show enough dissatisfaction and actually raise what could be considered to the NHL a threat to their ticket sales then they absolutely could have an impact,” said Chow-White.
“Whether or not they actually go to lockout, at the end of the day it will be the lawyers and the players and the owners and the commissioner (who) will decide that. But (fans) could very well play a factor.”
Chow-White is skeptical hockey fans will have a similar influence to other online movements, such as the Occupy protest. He pointed to what he sees as a lack of organization between fans, and that the labour dispute doesn’t make a meaningful impact on the mainstream.
“As far as what people will put their energies into in terms of protests these days, I’m not sure labour dispute between extremely rich people will get people worked up. …
“It seems a fairly mild venture at this point.”
Still, he says it is too early to tell what will happen and doubts fans will leave the sport in droves similar to what happened following baseball’s 1994 lockout. A significant reaction from the NHL would depend on protests being a threat to revenue, but Chow-White doubts even that would prevent a lockout.
For his part, Makkonen is optimistic he is making a difference. He says all he wants is a quick ending to the lockout.
“I think just what everyone wants is to see hockey next year,” he said.