Vancouver, BC (Sports Network) - NHL clubs in Canada have garnered plenty of
positive headlines for their "welcome back" initiatives, but if they truly want
to show their appreciation to their fans, they need to ensure their efforts
aren't just gimmicks.
Since the NHL formally ended its lockout over two weeks ago, fans in Canadian
NHL markets have been treated to plethora of promotions ranging from free game
ticket giveaways - in the case of the Toronto Maple Leafs, their home opener
was entirely free for fans - to increased access to team players through open
invitations to practices and, in some cases, even free beer.
Teams also have increased the grandness of their giveaways compared to years
past, everything ranging from game-worn jerseys to season tickets as well as
offering significant discounts on concessions and merchandise for fans
attending the first batch of games to start the season.
The gestures have certainly not gone unnoticed and have seemed to quell any
ill-will that may have arisen among their fan base as a result of the work
stoppage. But it also begs the question of why teams, particularly those north
of the border, don't make these kinds of gestures on a more frequent basis.
That's not to say clubs should get into the habit of doling out millions of
dollars worth of merchandise or tickets or booze each game, but the fact that
teams have been able to go above and beyond what they normally do on a year-to-
year basis shows that there is room for growth on the fan relations side.
Certainly when it comes to providing fans with access to their hockey heroes,
teams have hopefully learned a lesson or two from this recent experience.
One common criticism of Canadian NHL clubs is that they aren't always the most
eager when it comes to making their players assessable to fans.
It's not surprising considering the rock star status most NHL players enjoy in
Canada, but if there's one thing the lockout has shown is that fans will
respect the players' boundaries even during informal sessions as evidenced by
the crowds that took in various player skates during the work stoppage.
Some players, such as Ryan Kesler and several of his Canucks teammates in
Vancouver, took it even one step further, staging impromptu events in public
locations and inviting fans to attend via social media.
You'd have to think that all the NHL teams' extra effort in connecting the fans
to the players in the days coming out of the lockout has played a part in the
early - in some cases record-breaking - success that the league has seen both
at the gate and in terms of television ratings.
As far as discounts and giveaways are concerned, while it certainly isn't
feasible for teams to routinely give away concession food items or make their
merchandise available at bargain bin prices, having certain nights during the
season when there are still noteworthy or significant initiatives would go a
long way toward maintaining the positive relationships they developed, and to
keep fans excited about games even during long, drawn-out seasons.
In those cases, those special promotions don't need to be publicized in advance
and would, in fact, be better served to be left a surprise for the ticket
holders when they arrive at the arena.
NHL clubs have to be given credit for all the work they've done in trying to
restore fan faith in the sport and league, and for rewarding their fans for
their patience through the lockout and their continued support for a sport that
has now taken the game away from their fans three times in the last 18 years.
It's critical for them to remember that rewarding their fans and showing their
appreciation, especially for fans in Canada who tend to shell out more money on
average for hockey compared to their American counterparts, should be an
ongoing process and not something that ends when this shortened season does.
The Sports Network