Apologies from NHL, owners simply not enough to win fans back

When I was a kid, my mom used to tell me that part of saying you’re sorry means you won’t do it again. So as apologies to fans from team owners and Gary Bettman himself have begun to circulate this week, excuse my lack of enthusiasm at the notion that these apologies could actually carry some semblance of sincerity with them.

Such an act is specifically tough to swallow when it emanates from Bettman, who has presided over three lockouts during his 20-year reign as NHL commissioner—and has stood in front of the media to issue an apology each time. Bettman addressed the media earlier this week and had this message for fans:

bettman-gary_2882811“Most importantly to our fans, who love and have missed NHL hockey, I am sorry,”

“I know that an explanation or an apology will not erase the hard feelings that have built up over the past few months, but I owe you an apology nevertheless.

“As commissioner of the National Hockey League it sometimes falls upon me to make tough decisions that disappoint and occasionally anger players and fans. This was a long and extremely difficult negotiation one that took a lot longer than anybody wanted. I know it caused frustration, disappointment and even suffering to a lot of people who have supported the National Hockey League in many different ways.”

Similarly, Peter Karmonos Jr., owner of the Carolina Hurricanes, sent a letter to fans apologizing for the lockout, stating that, “As a fan, I understand how frustrating it is not to be able to watch your team in action. With the resolution agreed upon this weekend, we will finally have the chance to see the 2012-13 Carolina Hurricanes on the ice. I sincerely apologize for the delay, and for the hurt that it caused you as a fan.”

Mike and Marian Ilitch, owners of the Detroit Red Wings, released a similar statement to fans yesterday.

“We are sorry for the delay in starting the season and the unfortunate public nature of the negotiations,” the statement said. “Thankfully, with this new deal, we will be assured of a settled labor environment for many years to come.”

As these apologies emerge, the tough thing for fans to reconcile is why this process took so long. After seeing the outcome from the negotiations, fans have to wonder why we lost half a season to get to this point. And an apology to fans won’t fix that. After all, we lost hundreds of NHL games, we lost the Winter Classic—which was scheduled to be an epic showdown between Detroit and Toronto in front of more than 110 thousand fans—and instead we watched millionaires battle billionaires for more than four months while we could have been watching hockey.

Perhaps this wouldn’t be such a tough pill to swallow if not for the bad blood caused by the last work stoppage. Now, I’ll admit, despite losing an entire season of NHL action, the last work stoppage got the NHL to a good place where fans were able to witness a number eight seed hoist the Stanley Cup after beating out a number six seed in the Stanley Cup Finals. League-wide parity was emerging and making for a exciting game. The league was sitting on record-setting revenue.

Yet, despite all of these positives, fans were forced to endure another lockout to “fix” the league. I guess time will tell how much of a “fix” this new CBA will be, but the pessimist in me is simply waiting for ratification of the new deal so that I can begin counting down the eight years it will take until we get to the next lockout.

These apologies alone won’t win fans back. Granted, these apologies are likely just the first step that owners will take. Some teams have already begun to announce give-aways and contests, deals on tickets, and there have been some rumblings about the league possibly offering the NHL package to cable viewers for free this season (and possibly next).

I love hockey, as most of you do too. But as a fan, an apology is simply not enough at this point in time because, as my mother used to say, I don’t believe that the owners and the league sincerely mean that it won’t happen again.

Instead, as the letter from the Red Wings points to, I just believe the league bought themselves a greater amount of time until the next lockout.


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