Hockey fans vent anger over lockout

Fans in Flyers and Rangers gear watch the Winter Classic last Jan. 2 at Citizens Bank Park. The labor impasse is threatening to wipe out the whole NHL season. YONG KIM / Staff
Fans in Flyers and Rangers gear watch the Winter Classic last Jan. 2 at Citizens Bank Park. The labor impasse is threatening to wipe out the whole NHL season. YONG KIM / Staff
Posted: December 22, 2012

You won't see many Flyers-related gifts under Christmas trees this year.

Fans are fed up with the NHL's lockout - the third work stoppage in the last 19 years - and some say they won't watch the sport when the labor dispute ends.

As a result, fans seem reluctant to shell out money for gifts connected to hockey.

"I will not be back," said Jeff Jenkins, a Richboro resident who sells recognition award programs to businesses and hospitals. "I have done without hockey for three months and have more time for other things now. The league does not deserve my money. I have spent over $100,000 on Flyers hockey in the past 20 NHL seasons. No more. I am done."

Jenkins said most of the money was spent on season tickets, which he had for 20 years before canceling them before this season.

In two of the last three seasons, Jenkins purchased Winter Classic tickets for his son as Christmas gifts, taking him to Boston and Citizens Bank Park for games in which the Flyers played the Bruins and New York Rangers, respectively.

"I've spent money at Flyers charity auctions and games because I'm a fan and my son plays hockey. We have great memories of the things we've done together, and I wouldn't trade them for anything," Jenkins said.

But he is baffled by how the NHL and the players' union have disregarded the fans.

"I can't believe they can't compromise and move forward when the league is growing," Jenkins said. "They were getting new fans, they had a new TV deal. Why do they keep shooting Santa Claus?"

Roy Johnston, a financial consultant from Exton, has been a Flyers season-ticket holder since 1972. By this time of the year, he has usually purchased some Flyers gifts for his grandchildren.

Not this Christmas.

"There's no motivation. There's no Flyers this year," he said. "I'm angry, and that's part of it, but the Flyers are just out of my mind. Flyers gifts at this point have no meaning to my grandkids."

The lockout has diminished the income of arena workers (some have been able to work other events) and has hurt businesses around the Wells Fargo Center. Experts estimate the lockout costs area businesses close to $1 million per Flyers home game, and if it lasts the entire season, the city would lose about $1.3 million in wage taxes paid by the players.

Without hockey, Comcast and the NBC Sports Network have had to scramble to fill open slots. College basketball has been among their additions, and The Comcast Network has added five AHL games involving the Adirondack Phantoms, the Flyers' AHL affiliate.

Jim McGinley, a self-proclaimed "puckhead" from Northeast Philadelphia, is one of many fans who hope arenas are empty when teams return for the first game.

"I'd love nothing more than for the parties involved to be greeted with a fan lockout," he said. "With the networks' feeds going live, let them skate out to empty arenas . . . not 30 percent to 50 percent empty. I mean, stone silent."

McGinley acknowledged "this would never happen in places like Montreal, Toronto, and Philadelphia" - hockey-crazed cities - "but there would be no better final word" to the lockout.

The Flyers play to sellouts at most home games. They sold 18,280 season tickets this year and, according to a club executive, fewer than 1 percent (182) have canceled them during the lockout.

Despite the fans' loyalty, Ray Saggese, a police lieutenant from Northeast Philadelphia, said the NHL's repeated labor problems have cast a shadow on one of the best memories in Philadelphia sports history.

"In a town like Philadelphia, one can never get tired of talking about the days we grew up, watching our beloved Broad Street Bullies in the '70s," he said, adding that those Flyers "have always been our Rocky."

Saggese, who deliberately left a string of Flyers Christmas decorations off his tree this year, wondered if the leaders of the NHL and the NHLPA "realize they are ripping out the hearts of the very people who have placed them in the positions they are in today?"

Fans pay outrageous prices for tickets and concessions, Saggese said, and yet, the NHL and players "cannot agree on how to split their gold up. It's just greed. Where are their heads? In a financial atmosphere such as the one our country is in, they should be elated to have any revenue."

The NHL had a record $3.3 billion in revenue last season, and players averaged $2.4 million in salary.

"They don't realize where the money is coming from," said P.J. Boyle, a longtime Flyers fan who grew up in Pitman and is now retired and living in Florida. "I love hockey and I go to minor-league games down here, but I'm done with the NHL."


Contact Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @BroadStBull.

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