Fans should make NHL work for loyalty

For NHL fans, the current labor stoppage is a complete Catch-22.

On the one hand, there’s nothing the fans want more than for the league and the players’ association to come to an agreement and get back to playing hockey.

On the other hand, if the league and the players’ association do come to an agreement and start playing games again, should the fans come back?

After all, this is not the league’s first rodeo, so to speak. There won’t be any guarantee in the new CBA (if they ever have one) that it won’t happen again, perhaps as soon as eight years from now.

Hockey fans are among the most loyal and passionate people. But how much are they supposed to put up with when the game that they love doesn’t seem to love them back?

That hockey-related revenue that the NHL and players are trying to figure out how to divide fairly, much of it comes from those fans. Unlike the NFL, the NHL does not get the majority of their revenue from television rights.

When the Red Wings return to Joe Louis Arena, I’ll be there because that’s part of my job.

I’m not sure how I’d feel if I were a season-ticket holder and I was dealing with the third lockout in commissioner Gary Bettman’s tenure.

The fans should probably make the league work a little harder to get them to come back.

Here are five suggestions of things that should happen if and when the season starts:

1. Ticket prices should be cut in half for at least this shortened season and 30-50 percent for next season. It sounds dramatic but the league can’t expect fans to come rushing back without some real incentives.

2. Parking for games should be no more than $10 this season, maybe $5. Every little thing adds up and fans who return should be rewarded with lower costs across the board.

3. Concession prices should be chopped dramatically. That’s where a lot of the owners make money but again, you have to lure the fans back. If I were the Red Wings, I would offer the $5 Hot and Ready deal at Joe Louis Arena for the remainder of the season.

4. Fans who already bought season tickets this year should get 50 percent discounts on season tickets for next season. In fact, Wings season-ticket holders should get an opportunity to buy Tigers tickets at a reduced rate as well. (Not likely.)

5. A few years ago, the Wings held a HockeyFest before the season. Fans got a chance to get autographs and pictures with their favorite players. Even though there won’t be a lot of time, all teams should offer a welcome-back party for their fans, free of charge, where they can have a similar experience.

For Wings fans only, when a deal gets done, the team should try to lure Nick Lidstrom out of retirement to play the shortened season. That would really get the fans to come back quickly.

I’m sure there are plenty of marketing gurus who can come up with more, even better ideas for what the league should do to bring back the fans. Let’s hope they have to work on that soon.

Charitable competition

Wings coach Mike Babcock and general manager Ken Holland were the big winners once again when it came to the annual competition to raise the most money in the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign.

Babcock and Holland raised $13,462 in two hours ringing the bell at Hillers Market in Northville, a 37.9 percent jump over the $9,761.06 they raised last year. An anonymous donor gave them $5,000.

Former players Chris Chelios and Kris Draper were a distant second, despite Chelios’ radio plea to listeners of 101 WRIF. The two earned $7,400.85 at Hockeytown Authentics in Troy. They were also the beneficiaries of an anonymous $5,000 donation, plus $1,000 from Caravan Facilities Management, LLC and $200 from the local 2002 Little Caesars AAA hockey team.

Former goaltenders Chris Osgood and Manny Legace came in third with $2,797, ringing the bell at a Kroger in Plymouth.

Former player Kirk Maltby and radio play-by-play announcer Ken Kal collected $778.84 at a Kroger in St. Clair Shores.

The total raised was $24,438.69, a 42.5 percent increase over last year’s total of $17,150.

“We can’t thank Ken Holland, Mike Babcock, some of the team’s most beloved former players and the entire Detroit Red Wings organization enough for this fantastic event that has helped move us toward our $8.5 million 2012 Red Kettle goal,” said Major Mark Anderson, general secretary and Metro Detroit area commander for the Salvation Army Eastern Michigan Division in a statement. “It was amazing to see just how many fans came out across metro Detroit to join the Red Wings in this friendly competition to do the most good for the hungry and homeless in our area.”