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Jim Boone’s Blog: Give fans a voice

Fans cheer on the hometown Penguins during Game 3 of the Cup final. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Fans cheer on the hometown Penguins during Game 3 of the Cup final. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association deserve match penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct because they refuse to include fan representation on their committees.

I know my strengths and I certainly know my weaknesses. I cannot skate fast. I have no slapshot. Stickhandling? That’s for forwards. I’m an expert at tightening skates and keeping a positive attitude on the bench. I have never played hockey higher than the beer leagues.

Wayne Gretzky was the best playmaker ever. Bobby Orr was the most electrifying defenseman. Scotty Bowman was the most successful coach. Ray Scapinello was the best linesman. You get the picture.

Can Gretzky play darts? Probably not much better than the average Joe. Can Orr shoot hoops? Again, he’s probably average like the rest of us. Can Bowman cook? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.

So let’s put together a dream team to improve the NHL. Just because Gretzky can pass the puck like no other does that make him a leading candidate for our team?  Should Bowman be invited? Should Sean Avery?

It was with great sadness that I watched Brendan Shanahan assemble his 26 “hockey people” during the lockout in December of 2004. Shanny obviously thought he was covering the bases nicely when he sat down and prepared his list of think-tankers.

His list included players, coaches, GMs, owners, agents and television executives. Ron MacLean, host of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada was given a seat. It was admirable that Shanny was trying to improve the game, but he assembled a bunch of line cooks and forgot to invite the chef. The chef in this picture would be the fans.

Now back to my strengths and weaknesses. I have led the NHL Fans’ Association for the past 10 years and have learned a thing or two about NHL business along the way. The one thing I understand better than anyone on this planet is that fans are “outcasts” in NHL circles.

The guys inside the bubble think fans are jealous of NHL players; jealous of the money they make and the fame they hold. Truth be told, fans are certainly envious, but not jealous. Generally speaking, they think the outcasts are not as bright as they are regarding the game of hockey.

Sure, fans are at the bottom of the heap when it comes to playing the game, but I believe fans are, in many cases, in the driver’s seat when it comes to contributing ideas to improve our game.

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Fans are the lifeblood of NHL hockey. Collectively, we must insist that the power play specialists start listening more carefully to our opinions. We must push for our voices to be heard. There are business, marketing and media experts among our ranks.

On June 13, the league and PA will assemble their competition committee, comprised mainly of players and GMs, to study possible changes to our game. Outcasts are not welcome.

When asked to add an NHLFA representative to the group as an observer, the NHL and NHLPA responded: “The formation of the Competition Committee was an important element of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that was reached in 2005. The NHL and the NHLPA each decide upon the participants that represent their respective organizations. Since the committee falls under terms of the NHLPA/NHL CBA, it is not appropriate for outside ‘observers’ from your organization or any other group to be in attendance.”

I fully realize the competition committee is nothing more than a promise fulfilled by the NHL to the players during the lockout and its success is limited due to the ongoing bad blood between the NHLPA and the NHL. Martin Brodeur quit the committee last year citing a lack of progress. Nonetheless, it is incumbent on me as a representative of 30,000 member fans to request a place on this committee.

On April 29, the league announced the formation of the “Goalie Equipment Working Group,” which consists of five players and four GMs. Brodeur’s committee work resumes with his participation on this team.

In a dreamlike state, I’m waiting for an invitation for fan participation – an invitation to the paying customers, the clients that feed the industry. Every normal, successful business makes every attempt to know what its clients want in order to grow. That’s not the case in this industry.

Sitting as an observer on any committee would, at least, allow fans’ concerns to be heard, even though voting privileges on decisions would not be allowed. One day, I hope before I die, a fan representative will be on one of these committees.

This would be one small step for fans and one giant leap for the NHL. The dream team trying to improve the NHL would finally have a chef in the kitchen.

The co-founder of the NHL Fans' Association, Jim Boone is the chief operating officer for the Canadian Resident Matching Service and the president of Litnets Inc.

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