There's going to be a protest when the NHL returns. That much is certain. It may be signs or booing or empty seats. It may be something social media helps organize and formalize: Fans "locking out" arena concessions or official merchandise or banding together to boycott the opening week of games.
I'm not a believer in a massive, season-long boycott. Getting hockey fans organized for something that massive would be like herding a roomful of cats on a Red Bull bender. (The cats are the Red Bull. Not us. Red Bull is the magic elixir for proper cat herding. I read that on Wikipedia.)
Besides, hockey's our crack rock and we can only put down the pipe for so long.
That said: There are, and will be, fans that don't come back. And what the NHL and its players are completely, baffling, extraordinarily ignorant about is how easy it'll be for them to walk away from the game, and how their apathy will serve as an example for others that are on the fence.
The News & Observer has a piece on Thursday that deals with Carolina Hurricanes fans that have cancelled their season tickets. There aren't many, but some of the voices in this story are from the franchise's early years. They're die hards; and they've had enough.
From The N&O (via Kukla)
Randy Hill decided not to ask for a refund, but doesn't plan to renew when next season comes around, whenever that might be.
"I'm highly unlikely to get them again," Hill said. "I've been a season-ticket holder since Greensboro. Hockey's cheated on me twice. I don't know I really need to be going back."
The Hurricanes said one percent of season-ticket holders have asked for a refund. (The team does not disclose the size of its season-ticket base, but it is believed to have about 7,000 full season-ticket holders and about that many who purchase smaller packages.)
"We appreciate the people that have kept their money with the team and we understand that, for differing reasons, some people have asked for a refund," Hurricanes president and general manager Jim Rutherford said.
So it's about 140 fans that have asked for a refund, and the Hurricanes are doing what they can to keep their money. From Luke DeCock, the team's lockout policy:
The Hurricanes are paying 5 percent interest on money paid for 2012-13 season tickets and offering discounts for future ticket purchases — 10 percent off 2013-14 season tickets and 5 percent off 2014-15 season tickets.
That could be enough to keep fans on the hook. The majority of fans are on there anyway, ready to be pulled into the boat when the NHL and its players get back on the ice.
But there will some, like these Hurricanes fans, that don't come back. The deeper the lockout goes, the more fans will leave. It's not going to be through some petition or pledge drive or Twitter hash-tagged boycott. It's going to be dedicated fans who evaluate their finances, think about how this League had punched them in the stomach and spit in their hair twice in seven years, and then reallocate their entertainment expenditures to cover life's more pertinent costs.
The biggest difference between 2005 and 2012, to that end: One glance at Facebook, one search on Twitter, and they'll know they're not alone. That's comforting and empowering to fans, and should scare the feces out of the National Hockey League.