Here’s Why the NHL Lockout Does Nothing for the WHL or AHL



by Kolby Solinsky
Editor, White Cover Magazine

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There seems to be this sentiment in Vancouver (and, I can only assume elsewhere in Canada) that the now-a-real-thing 2012 NHL Lockout will result in a business boom for the WHL’s Vancouver Giants and the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat.

The thought seems to be that hockey and sporting events are a matter of supply and demand, that with the Canucks out of the picture, the Giants and Heat will suck up all the remaining hockey fans who had their fall months completely booked on account of all their Canucks tickets.

But, really, the Canucks have sold out every game since 2001. They have the longest active home sellout streak in the NHL, and the third longest in North American professional sports. If you want tickets, somebody has to die, and then all their children have to die.

Let’s face it: nobody was going to Canucks games, anyway.

They were a loved but untouchable experience. People treated the one or two (or zero) tickets they got every year like they were the birth of their first child. They got there early, took the day off work, paid $35 for parking and another $76 for beer and hard liquor.

Coffee costs over $4. Pop is upwards of $5, and the collectible cup is non-negotiable.

I can only assume that the same is true in Calgary (8th in North America), Edmonton (12th), Montreal (10th), Winnipeg, Toronto (5th), and even possibly Ottawa.

Hockey in Canada is special, but its commercialization makes it inaccessible for the average fan. This is not new, but it certainly hasn’t changed.

This is in no way a personal gripe against capitalism. I understand money, and I hate when the “average fan” tries to bring this up in a tried-and-true discussion of the lockout. I hate hearing people at Rogers Arena, when the Canucks are about to lose, yell things like, “I pay good money to be here!” (Yeah, because Kevin Bieksa is worried about your equity while he’s trying to pummel Mike Richards.)

All I’m saying is, if nobody was going to Canucks games anyway, then why would they suddenly flock to the Giants, or the Heat? Both arenas are out of the way, especially Abbotsford’s. Wouldn’t people take the thousands of dollars they’d save on the Canucks and stash it for a rainy day, or for something more useful? You know, something they actually want, not something they want to want.

You can’t force feed someone a product they have proven to not be that¬†interested in. Sure, the Giants and Heat have loyal fanbases, but so do print newspapers and Polaroid. It doesn’t mean their niche group of diehards can sustain them, financially, or boost them, financially.

The Vancouver Giants saw a bit of a surge in interest during the 2004/05 NHL lockout, but that may be a little overrated. After all, it can’t be forgotten that the team’s play improved considerably that year over the previous, and it would be easy for one to guess that the Giants increased tax bracket in 2005 was more the result of their better play as a team than it was of a non-existent NHL.

The Giants, at that time, were still a young upstart franchise, and any little bit helps. That year, they made a short playoff run, coming up short against the Kelowna Rockets, and then made the Memorial Cup in 2006, winning it in 2007.

2005 wasn’t just the year they were the only real hockey team in town, it was actually the first year they became a real hockey team.

So, hooray. But, since then? Well, interest for the new WHL season certainly isn’t unanimous across Greater Vancouver, especially when most people probably foresee a lot of free time and a lighter wallet and breathe a sigh of relief, as long as they know none of their rambunctious bros are watching.

You’ll hear more and more that junior hockey is better hockey, and that the WHL and American Hockey League are both more exciting than the National Hockey League because the players are fighting harder and working harder, knowing that they need to prove their mettle every night if they want to make the show. Your friends without economic freedom will rant and rave to you that beers are cheaper at smaller arenas, and that the fans at the Pacific Coliseum are better than the fans at Rogers Arena.

In all those ways, they’re right. The hockey is better in the WHL, and the AHL. The food is cheaper. The parking is sometimes free. The fans are better, because nobody’s worried about spilling mustard on their suit, or about what their plans are after.

But, it’s always been like that.

On the front of Monday’s Vancouver-based issue of 24 Hours, the newspaper showed a customer (most likely one of their interns) choosing between a Canucks and Giants jersey, supposedly saying that money that would have gone to the Canucks will now go to the Giants.

Well, since when?

I own two Canucks jerseys. I don’t own a Giants one. I have no problem with the Giants. In fact, I think their uniforms are much nicer than the Canucks’ ugly killer whale floating below a stenciled-on reminder of what city the NHL club plays in. I think the Canucks jerseys are tacky and uninspired. I think the Giants jerseys and colours represent the province better than the Canucks’ do.

But, would I buy one? Is it worth the $150, or $200?

No.

Giants tickets aren’t much over $500, but I still won’t buy them. Now, would I spend that on a pair of Canucks tickets? Yea, probably.

Am I suddenly going to ditch my Friday plans because the Giants are on TV, and gush that I never realized how they good they are until now? Am I going to start tuning into Team 1040 all the time now, because they cover the Giants and a much more professional and refined ESPN personality with connections to big time sports personalities doesn’t? Am I going to drive all the way from White Rock to East Van, and commit to the game and the $15 tickets on Tuesday when the game’s on Saturday? Are my friends and I going to start watching the Abbotsford Heat all of a sudden, because the Canucks aren’t on TV?

The answer to all of those is, “No.”

Sure, I may go to a game or two, but I won’t commit to them for 2013. Most nights, you’d have an easier time getting me to Ceilis. I’ll go to more Mariners and Seahawks games in a given year than I will the Giants or Heat.

And, while I have no problem watching or cheering on either of those below-NHL level hockey clubs, the lack of Canucks hockey won’t make me flock to them like a dog to cheese, because I still have the NFL.

I have the World Series. I have Champions League soccer. I have my Blue Bombers. And, again, I have the NFL.

I never watched the Canucks because I didn’t have any other options. I wasn’t starved for sports. I didn’t watch it because it was the thing to do.

I watched the Canucks because I love the Canucks. 

I occasionally watch the Giants or the Heat because I like them, and I like their product, but you can’t buy love, and you can’t fake it either.