Downtown Nashville hasn't seen a crowd like this since last year's playoffs (PHOTO: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports)

NHL Progress In Nashville Threatened By Lockout

My wife and I used to like the Cheesecake Factory. Then we went to its Nashville location in Green Hills on a particularly busy day with extended family in tow. The crowded conditions weren’t the problem. The girl working as the hostess that day was the problem.

All we wanted to know was how long we might have to wait for a table – the kind of information that most people in that job will be able to give you without a whole lot of effort. Her response:

“It will either be more than 30 minutes or less than 30 minutes.”

There’s no more worthless answer she could’ve given us. All we wanted to know was whether we should plan to come back and give the restaurant our money at some later point in the day. All she wanted was for us to do anything other than ask her for information. She didn’t care one way or the other because somebody else would replace us. I’m assuming someone did, but we didn’t return with our money that night and we haven’t been back since.

I don’t know what that girl’s doing for work these days but I’m guessing she isn’t working for the Cheesecake Factory anymore, given her enthusiasm. If the NHL intends to keep this lockout going, it ought to hire her as its mouthpiece. She’s perfectly suited to the job: her answer can work for any question!

Q: Will the group of six owners meeting with players today negotiate in good faith?

A: The owners will either negotiate in good faith or they will not negotiate in good faith.

Q: Is NHL COO John Collins really considering leaving his job with the league over its poor management of the lockout?

A: Mr. Collins is either considering leaving the NHL or he is not considering leaving the NHL.

Q: When will the NHL lockout end?

A: The NHL lockout will either be over soon or it will not be over soon.

The whole of Music City has been singing the three-month, no-good, dirty rotten NHL lockout blues, but downtown in particular is beginning to sing with a little less fervor lately. Bridgestone Arena has been the centerpiece of downtown Nashville for a decade and a half, and for the second time in seven years is being forced to pay the toll of not having all those money-generating Predators home games it had expected. As Dirk Hoag notes today at On The Forecheck in an open letter to the Preds’ member of the Board of Governors, that’s very costly given that the city just signed a new arena lease with the Predators based on the notion that having the team there drives the downtown Nashville economy.

When even hardcore Predators fans begin demanding their money back and saying they won’t return as full-season ticket holders, all because nobody with negotiating power in this lockout actually seems to be using it, you have to begin to wonder how much permanent damage is being done. Sure, some hockey fans will come back right away whenever the league does – they’ll just be glad there’s a game on. But how many of them will be persuaded by the bad taste in their mouth just to keep an eye on how things are going, to root for the team without actually spending any of their money on going to games? How much of the progress made in markets like Nashville over the last seven years – progress earned solely by hard work on and off the ice – will be rolled back by the heels-dug-in approach that has characterized this lockout? Even if the league doesn’t hire that girl from the Cheesecake Factory, I think I know its answer to that question:

“Progress in markets like Nashville will either be rolled back or it will not be rolled back.”

Right now, because of how the power dynamics within the league work, there’s zero focus on the long-term damage being done to the NHL’s credibility with the people who actually pay all the bills – the fans who buy tickets and concessions for 41 home dates a year, plus playoffs. Like the hostess at the Cheesecake Factory, the NHL simply assumes that any fans who decide they don’t care anymore because of the lockout will be replaced by new fans. That is either a smart decision or it is not a smart decision…and I know which possibility I’m leaning toward.

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