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culture

Will the Leafs Still Feel the Love Post-Lockout?

Now that the labour dispute is over, die-hard fans might be a little less receptive to the team (and the league as a whole).

The Leafs are back in action, but will the fans keep turning up at the ACC in droves? Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/bigdaddyhame/3293785939/"}bigdaddyhame{/a}, from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/pool/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

For Leafs fans, the NHL lockout was the latest in a series of indignities going back a generation. For some, the labour stoppage represented a breaking point, and while they may not be turning their backs on the Leafs completely, their passion for the team—and the sport as a whole—has cooled considerably.

According to Julian Sanchez, editor of popular Leafs blog Pension Plan Puppets, his readers and contributors are showing their discontent with both the team and the league in a number of ways.

“It’s funny because it covers the spectrum of protests. Some will just watch on TV when they probably would have gone to a handful of games,” he says. “Others won’t purchase any merchandise when they would have normally picked up something Leafs related.”

He adds that Leafs fans are “like smokers that can’t quit.” Most fans, he thinks, will continue to follow the team in spite of themselves. But many of them won’t pay attention to the rest of the league.

“They are still Leafs fans, but the unnecessary lockout, the owners’ dissembling about the reasons, and the script that the lockout seemed to follow just served to make them less [enthusiastic about] the NHL as a whole,” he says. “So they’ll watch Leafs games…but they won’t be as invested in the rest of the league.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by fellow blogger Michael Forbes, who runs the Bitter Leaf Fan Page blog.

“I’m pretty well done with NHL hockey,” he says. “It used to be that on Thursday night I’d be happy to watch the doubleheader and watch Detroit play Nashville. Coming out of the lockout, that’s just not going to happen.”

He adds that he’s surprised how well he’s gotten along without the NHL. Other sports have more than filled the void.

“I was always a soccer fan, but I got really into watching the Premier League during the lockout,” says Forbes. “And what’s interesting is, my kids will watch it. My kids won’t watch a hockey game, but we get up on Saturday morning and watch the game and talk about it.”

Mississauga high school teacher and lifelong Leafs fan Ryan Maitland says that, while he’ll cheer for the team, they won’t be getting any of his money this season. Maitland figures he usually spends roughly $400 a year going to an average of three games a season.

“Despite being tempted by my brother-in-law’s 12-game ticket pack, I am not going to see a game this year,” he says. “I had some idea of getting a new jersey this year, but I’m going to wait for the foreseeable future on that one, too.”

He adds that his boycott is a result of his frustration with the NHL owners, not the players.

“[The owners] had to spend half the season coming up with the new agreement,” he says. “I mean, I see why the players had to hold out—every offer from the owners got progressively better. But seriously, that was a stupid bargaining process. You could tell in September that it was going to happen, with the ridiculous first offer presented by the NHL.”

All that said, however, Maitland admits that his disgust with the owners is at least partially mixed up with a broader frustration with the Leafs’ performance, and that his will might weaken if the Leafs were to exceed expectations this year.

“Let’s just say my resolve would be tested if the Leafs suddenly burst out of the gates, destined to be playoff bound,” he said. “It would definitely make my choice more difficult.”

Comments

  • Astin44

    Of course they will. We’re Leafs fans.

    46 years without a Cup win. 7 without a playoff appearance. A whole season cancelled. THIS is going to be the last straw? There is no last straw. For every fan saying they won’t buy a ticket, there are a dozen more in line.

    • http://twitter.com/mlse Pension Plan Puppets

      Ultimately, it’s entertainment so why should people deprive themselves of something they enjoy? Plus, as noted, there is such a huge base of Leafs fans that they won’t feel the pinch at the gate

  • Brent

    I don’t think that the lockout fallout will have any impact on ticket sales or ACC revenue. Astin44 beat me to the punch — there is always a waiting list for seasons tickets and for individual seats. The team’s implosion last year did seem to have a noticeable effect, but if there is something to cheer for, the seats will be full.

    Where you may see the lockout having more of an effect in Toronto is non-game revenue — merchandise and paraphernalia purchased by fans that may not be showing up at the ACC. Not sure if visiting teams get any revenue from those games — if so, they would lose out if there is a decline in smaller markets.

    • http://twitter.com/mlse Pension Plan Puppets

      James Mirtle asked the team and one person cancelled their season tickets. And I guarantee that if the Leafs ever get their act together they will regret it. Sports fandom isn’t about logic or else people would only cheer for championship teams.

      Merchandise would still count as hockey-related revenue so it could in theory have an effect but I doubt it’ll be tangible.

  • Wharfbishop

    The people I’ve felt most sorry for are owners of small businesses like sports bars, that have taken a big hit due to there being no NHL on TV.

    I therefore feel it is my responsibility as a caring citizen to go and watch as much NHL in as many sports bars as possible this year, while drinking all my system can take.

    But I won’t buy any official merchandise for a while.

    • http://twitter.com/mlse Pension Plan Puppets

      Now that hockey is back you should go to the owners of bars and restaurants that saw an increase in sales because the pool of money spent by consumers on entertainment had shifted to them and it will now shift back to those closer to the arena.

  • LeafsSUCK

    This city has a love affair with mediocrity; our mayor, our hockey team, our transit planning – until leafs fans actually stop buying tickets to games, the team will never get any better – why should they, they really DO have thousands of people willing to pay $400 for the shittiest seats in the ACC to watch the shittiest team in NHL history – Bravo.

    • http://twitter.com/mlse Pension Plan Puppets

      You do understand how supply and demand works right? The number of tickets available is finite so with such a massive fanbase it’s not a surprise that even if some people stop going that there will be more to fill the gap.

      Plus, the Canadian tax code is responsible for lower bowl tickets costing so much and always being sold as they are largely held by corporations.

      Not to mention that it’s funny to see fans in Toronto get slammed for supporting their team while fans in other cities are slammed for not supporting their team. Is loyalty good or bad?

  • Guy

    “their passion for the team—and the sport as a whole—has cooled considerably.”

    What are you basing that on? The Toronto Maple Leafs are the most profitable NHL franchise ever. NHL revenue increased 9% 2011-2012. The average team is worth 18% more than it was in 2010-2011.