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Hockey fans important, just not influential

Our annual 100 People of Power and Influence list is again devoid of the hockey fan. That doesn't mean we think they're not important. It's simply because they don't have the unified voice that can effect change at the NHL level.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Our most recent issue is the 100 People of Power and Influence theme. As mentioned in a post last Friday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman finished No. 1 for the 10th time in 15 years.

The issue has Alex Ovechkin (No. 2 on the list) on the cover and will be available soon on newsstands and in the mail this week to subscribers.

The No. 1 question we receive year after year from readers is why the hockey fan isn’t represented on the list. To answer that, I’m going to re-print a blog posted in 2008.

What about the fans? You forgot the fans.

By far the most frequent question we receive after publishing the annual People of Power and Influence issue is why we don’t recognize the fans on the top 100 list.

Admittedly, the fans are just as important as the players and the owners. It would be impossible to have a multi-billion dollar industry without unconditional representation from all three sectors. The players provide the entertainment, the owners the infrastructure and ways and means, and the fans foot the bill for the entire project.

The popular misconception is that it’s the owners who front the bill for everything. While it’s true the owners assume the risk, provide the initial capital and cover any shortcomings, it’s the fans who provide the bulk of the revenue. How important is that?

But importance should not be confused with power and influence. While the fans have plenty of the former, they have none of the latter – at least not in a meaningful, unified way.

If the fans had any significant power or influence, there wouldn’t have been a lockout in 2004-05 (and 2012-13), ticket prices would be affordable in all 30 markets, and strong hockey regions such as southern Ontario would have multiple teams because the demand suggests it.

Even though there are millions of hockey fans out there, they have limited influence because of the lack of a unified voice. That’s not a criticism of fans, that’s just the way it is. If fans somehow found a way to not attend games unless tickets were $20 or cheaper, guess what, tickets would immediately become affordable. But seeing that it’s impossible to get all fans to be unified in their behavior, their power and influence remain forever virtual.

There is an NHL Fans’ Association that has done credible work for more than a decade. But with just 30,000 members, it represents just a fraction of one percent of all hockey fans. Sure, it conducts interesting surveys among its members, but the results surely aren’t enough to sway the opinions and decisions of the NHL’s powerbrokers.

(Addendum: Jim Boone at the NHLFA notified us earlier this month that the association, with 31,000-plus members, closed Dec. 8 after 15 years represented fans. “Unfortunately, the NHL and NHL Players; Association never respected this organization, their largest community of fans,” Boone wrote.)

That’s why on our list of the 100 most powerful people in the game, you’re not going to find anyone representing the fan. They’re important, just not influential.

For what it’s worth, ask each of the 100 powerbrokers and they’ll tell you they’re huge fans of the game. In that regard, there are fans on the list.

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the Post-To-Post blogFor more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazineFollow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN


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