|Can you hear me now?|
Protests change the dynamic of human dialogue. They grab attention. They make those in power uncomfortable. They are factors in driving change.Without question, the public dialogue shifted and the voice of at least 250 diehard fans was injected into the conversation. "Big" media coverage has been strong and, from this vantage point, fair (Channels 4, 6 and 10; Columbus Dispatch's Hunter and Puck Rakers). The protest sure grabbed NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's attention, as he spoke to the "passion" of the Columbus fans yesterday, and Blue Jackets staff who were present were certainly standing at attention. In fact, one could point to John P. McConnell's open letter to ticket buyers and fans as a preemptive response to the protest.
Honestly, I'm a tad surprised that the protest was so effective from a public communication point of view. The organizers were smart (lucky?) in picking a date where there was no meaningful (at least to Columbus) sporting event going on and filled the sports news hole with an organized, civil, passionate and brutally effective call for change on McConnell Boulevard. I clearly was wrong to have misgivings about the timing, location and structure of the protest. The organizers did a great job.
Whether the protest is a factor in driving real change within the executive suite of the Columbus Blue Jackets remains to be seen. A protest rarely yields an immediate result. Even the celebrated Detroit Lions (NFL)-related "Millen Man March" of December 2005 didn't yield results until after the 2008 season...but you certainly can bet that Lions ownership knew where the fans stood on the team's leadership. I'm going to suggest that Blue Jackets ownership - the folks who made sure that "hot liquids" were available on a cold day - also has a pretty clear feel for how the protesters and their supporters feel.
YUP, YOU STEPPED IN IT - [In the interest of not tarring and feathering a young Detroit Red Wings ticket sales executive whose Twitter account took a broadside at Blue Jackets fans and has since apologized for his dumb behavior, I'm removing this section. As my friend Rick Gethin says, we expect behavior like that from other team's fans - not their employees.]
The Hockey News' interview with NHL Players Association director Don Fehr and THN's coverage of NHL commisioner Gary Bettman's All-Star game weekend post-Board of Governors meeting press conference (with a little commentary from Fehr as well).
I think every NHL fan should be cognizant of (if not concerned about) the potential for an NHL work stoppage (strike or lockout, same effect on the fans) in 2012-13...especially with Columbus poised to host the 2013 NHL All-Star Game.
IT GETS BETTER - As I said, protests work. I cited the "Millen Man March," where Lions fans marched outside Ford Field in the hopes of seeing Millen's reign of error come to and end.
The Lions' house reporter conducted an interview with team owner Bill Ford following the Lions' first round exit (Hey, it's a work in progress up there!)...something I thought that everyone might get a kick out of reading.
Keep in mind that the Lions have been on an upward trajectory from the NFL cellar over roughly the same period of time in which the Blue Jackets have gone from the playoffs into the NHL sub-basement. I find it inspiring to see a sports franchise owner who has been down so long finally get a chance to savor a degree of success. And the one-year turnarounds of the 09-10 Phoenix Coyotes and this season's Florida Panthers have proven that it's possible to turnaround a terrible team even more quickly in the NHL.
There IS hope, but - as the Lions have shown - it takes the right people to make it happen.
REGIS, I'D LIKE TO PHONE A FRIEND - Full kudos to the Blue Jackets for not just landing the 2013 All-Star Game, but also for landing it as a quick followup to John P. McConnell's letter to ticket buyers and fans. It's abundantly clear that the team is in choppy waters vis a vis ticket sales (suffice to say that the team is heavily discounting plenty of tickets, sometimes giving them away, to get rear ends in seats this season), and next season's ticket package sales were shaping up as gruesome. The protesters said it well yesterday: Love the team, hate the direction. It's hard for a team to sell tickets when they just can't deliver the wins...or even be competitive on many nights.
All-Star Game announcement is filled with All-Star lures for people to buy ticket packages, which makes perfect sense. The once-in-a-generation opportunity is an incredible lure to hockey fans.
The All-Star tie-in with CBJ ticket packages also is a way to stem the hemhorraging of STH's while the club gets its act together. So that buys the club a year to begin its turnaround. But following the "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" theme of this section header, lifelines like this don't come along every year. This is mulligan of the highest order...I just hope that the Blue Jackets hockey ops group doesn't blow the opportunity and begins the road to recovery quickly and wisely.
ONE GOOD PICTURE - I love this photo, from the first day of training camp, with Rick Nash and Jeff Carter putting young defenseman David Savard in the proverbial no-win situation. That the Nash-Carter combo didn't pan out...mystifying.
And now we're left with trade rumors. It's been that type of season.