Some NHL fans say they won't return when lockout ends

| Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, 7:54 p.m.

Sitting in a hockey locker room, Steve Chase became the latest fan fed up with the NHL lockout.

Living in Los Angeles, Chase believed the league had squandered all the goodwill built in the area after the Kings won the Stanley Cup. His weekly pickup games with friends became his only taste of the sport he loved because of the ongoing labor strife that has dragged on for months.

So he took a poll of his buddies, then took a pledge:

“We're not coming back.”

Not for good. Just not after the lockout is settled, not for a while.

Chase started the grassroots “Just Drop It” campaign that encourages fans to boycott one NHL game for every game canceled after Dec. 21. No tickets, no TV, no merchandise — not a minute or a penny spent on the league, punishment for what he believed are continued abuses of loyalty on their fan base.

He made a video and started a Facebook page, urging fans to click the “like” button and join the cause. More than 11,000 angry fans have joined since the weekend — a puck drop in the circle compared to the millions of fans who attend games but the latest small sign fans won't again be easily won back.

“People are trying to crush the NHL,” Chase said. “That's not our goal. Our goal is just to get hockey back. Hopefully, somebody, somewhere cares about this and decides, ‘Guys, we've got to get back and talk. The fans are right.'

“They're fighting over our money.”

The days of letter writing and 30-second phone calls to sports radio stations have ballooned to steady streams of hashtags, Facebook posts and homemade videos from fans who just want to come in from the cold of this labor battle and watch their slapshots and saves. They are exasperated over a work stoppage with no end in sight and little regard for the fans.

Kind of like they sing in a song about union executive director Donald Fehr's old sport, some fans vow it's one, two, three lockouts and they're out.

“I wouldn't blame them if they did that by any stretch,” Penguins forward Craig Adams said, “but I can't predict that.”

In Pennsylvania, the government is getting involved in the mess.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey on Wednesday urged the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide additional assistance to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia businesses that have been adversely affected by the lockout. Casey claimed small business in Pittsburgh are losing nearly half of the $2.1 million in revenue generated for each Penguins home game. He wrote Philadelphia is losing $1 million in revenue from each lost home game.

For all the angry tweets, texts, threats and organized campaigns, fans likely will still pick up the remote and print out tickets as soon as the strife ends.

The NHL drew 20,854,169 fans when it returned in 2005-06 — 497,970 more than the total in 2003-04, the season before the lockout. The league saw an attendance uptick each of the next three seasons and totaled a record 21,468,121 fans in 2011-12.

“Our fan support coming back last time was outstanding, and we were probably a little bit surprised to see how good it was,” Adams said.

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