By Melissa Andus and Angelica Rodriguez
The NHL and NHLPA have kept fans in suspense all off-season with their negotiations for a new CBA. With the current CBA expiring in exactly one month (September 15), there remains the looming threat of yet another lockout for at least part of the upcoming season.
Considering the current negotiating climate is civil, yet uncertain, it’s a given that some fans will start to become a little antsy with the situation. Two NHL fans have banded together to create a movement voicing their displeasure with the whole process, and they’re calling it “Unfollow NHL.”
Unfollow NHL is a planned mass unfollowing of the NHL, its teams and players’ social media pages should a deal not be reached on September 15. Alexa (@QueenCrash) and Kerri (@GardenFaithfull) are the two fans behind it, and came to the consensus of building the project after a Twitter conversation.
“I saw Kerri tweet about how fans should boycott buying NHL merchandise and I tacked on that if there was a mass unfollowing of their social networking sites, that may get the fans’ message across too. We took both of our ideas and ran with them,” said Alexa, a graphic design student and Chicago Blackhawks fan who has multiple projects, her biggest of which is Pucks and Pixels (a graphic arts company centered around hockey).
So far, the movement has its own Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr pages and, according to Alexa, there have been ideas such as picketing NHL headquarters and withholding payment of season tickets. Since its inception last week, these pages have grown in size and traffic, and it seems to be an idea that at least a few people have warmed to.
“We’re approaching 1000 followers on Twitter, and our followers are very engaged with the Twitter account. We’ve been doing interviews with media, which is just crazy,” said Kerri. “Some people think we won’t be able to change much, but once we explain to them our rationale and our reasoning, they tend to come over to our side.”
Unfollow NHL is also asking fans not to purchase any merchandise or even visit NHL shops, a smart move as that is where both sides would be hit the hardest. Basically, in theory, this project as a whole would alert NHL officials and the NHLPA to the fact that fans aren’t happy about the idea of professional hockey being put on hold for the third time in 18 years. In practice? Maybe, maybe not. Here’s what we have to say on the subject. (Mind you, we’re not on the same side… come on, we’re rivals, for God’s sake.)
So why should fans back this movement? “Fans are angry and they’re looking for a way to show it. They want a way to convey their discontent to the NHL. [Unfollow NHL] essentially give them an organized way of doing it…” Alexa responded when asked the initial reaction to the movement.
No one can argue with the fact that the fans are annoyed. They should be. They are the ones paying money for tickets, merchandise and concessions, money that goes directly into the pockets of the owners and players. Yet they are the ones who have no say and end up having to find something else to do with time that normally would’ve been spent on their favorite pastime.
Those who criticize the idea would say the movement isn’t solving anything or that there is no point to what they are doing, but the girls don’t look at it that way. Their motto is “We the fans will not go quietly into ANOTHER lockout!” and by unfollowing all social media sites, they are making their voices heard.
Kerri put it best when she said “Think about the power we have if all fans of all thirty teams actually stand together on this issue.” When was the last time fans of all thirty teams stood together on an issue? Sure this won’t result in a new CBA but sitting around and continuing to pour money into a league that isn’t even operating at that moment doesn’t solve anything either and these girls realize that.
Honestly, it’s a lose-lose situation for the fans and many feel they should be allowed to stand up and be heard. Alexa and Kerri are giving them that opportunity and many fans rightly are taking it. They know they aren’t going to stop a lockout from happening. But they hope maybe, just maybe, if they get enough people, their voices will linger in the ears of men on both sides to push them to reach a deal sooner rather than later. And if it does, consider this a huge win for two girls who just wanted to be able to come home and turn on the TV for a game.
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While fans are certainly welcome to voice their opinions and be persistent about it, the number of people involved (so far) is relatively small compared to the entire league fanbase. The NHL’s fans are large, multi-national, and diverse, and although we’re sure a great many of them are plugged into social media to get their hockey fix, 870 Twitter followers and 114 Facebook likes (as of this writing) are just a fraction of a single team’s fanbase alone.
Granted, this is just the first week of Unfollow NHL’s existence; however, there’s also been a fair bit of criticism floating about Twitter regarding it. While Kerri and Alexa say overall that the response has been positive, some social media responses have not been, to which Alexa responds with, “If they do or don’t [join], that their prerogative. But for other fans, they want a way to share their voice, their opinion. They want a way to send a message. Unfollow NHL is for them.” She and Kerri are dedicated to building the group and making it stronger.
Getting everyone on the same page and to believe the same things, however, provides a huge challenge for any fan movement. It seems as though there are enough people who have voiced either indifference or disagreement with the idea, which will weaken Unfollow NHL’s impact.
Let’s also point out that the CBA negotiations have nothing to do with the fans. Yes, the NHL would be weak without us, but this has everything to do with the owners wanting more money and the players being unwilling to give up everything just yet. The fans are affected by the outcome, but in many ways only emotionally. They aren’t the ones who will be losing money in the event of a lockout – if anything, they’ll be saving a bit by not buying tickets and memorabilia. A lockout hurts everyone directly involved — the players, the league and organizations (who are losing out on revenue), not to mention the countless arena employees who rely on jobs selling concessions, etc., to try and help pay their bills.
As for withholding payment of season tickets, the only thing that will happen there is that fans will lose their tickets. Seeing as this doesn’t look to be a season-long issue, it doesn’t sound like that’s a very smart idea if you’re a die-hard fan who hates to miss games. No doubt a lot of fans understand that, and also don’t want to give up tickets they’ve had for years (if that’s the case).
Related is the idea of boycotting merchandise, to which Jesse Spector of Sporting News pointed out that last time there was a lockout, the league was clever enough to drop prices on everything. A sale on hockey merch is practically irresistible, and no doubt the NHL will try and capitalize on that again. Few fans would turn that down.
Which ties in the last point: hockey fans are going to come back. Hockey fans have always come back to the game once it’s started again. We might find ways to get our fix on smaller levels, but once we know the NHL is up and running, we are there. The numbers might have dropped a bit, but not enough to concern anyone in the league, and this time around, the players have made it damn near impossible not to side with them. And we watch hockey for the players, not for the suits in the rafters.
While Unfollow NHL is well-meaning, ultimately it misses the mark. A mass unfollowing would, at full impact, likely prompt the league to get rid of social media accounts, and that means the people who run those accounts lose their jobs. That’s all. And while enough fans banding together might make a splash, again, we’re talking tens of thousands at the very least.
It’s unlikely that tens of thousands of people feel that compelled to stop supporting their favorite teams and players because they won’t have hockey for a little while. The NHLPA has played this in their favor almost perfectly, making the owners (once again) look like the bad guys. And we all love the players, don’t we?
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Regardless of our opinions, however, Alexa and Kerri push on, asking everyone to unfollow the NHL, NHLPA and everyone associated with either on all social media sites. As Kerri said, “There are two sides meeting at these negotiations and neither one of them represent us.” No matter where you stand on this movement, unfortunately that is something we all can agree on.