Feature: NHL teams try to win back fans after lockout

2013-01-13 01:35:53 GMT2013-01-13 09:35:53(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

VANCOUVER, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- "Sorry" seems to be the new buzz word around the National Hockey League.

As the NHL Players Association and 30 team owners finalize their tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement and get back to work, reportedly on Jan. 19 for a shortened 48-game schedule, it seems anyone involved with the 113-day lockout is apologizing, or at least being asked to make one.

On Thursday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman started the wave of remorse in apologizing to the fans for the third lockout to take place during his volatile tenure, now approaching 20 years at the helm.

"Most importantly to our fans, who love and have missed NHL hockey, I'm sorry," said Bettman. "I know that an explanation or an apology will not erase the hard feelings that have built up over the past few months but I owe you an apology nevertheless."

On Friday, coach Alain Vigneault, who has led the Vancouver Canucks to back-to-back Presidents' Trophy titles as the NHL's top regular-season team, said the organization was planning something special for the fans when play resumes but couldn't get into specifics.

"I think anybody who's associated with the game is very sorry with what happened," said the Quebec native. "But there's nothing we can do about it right now except move forward and move forward by showing them (the fans) that we care about their support."

While the seven NHL teams in Canada will have little trouble attracting fans back in the hockey-mad country, it is different story in the United States.

In such non-traditional markets as Florida, North Carolina and Nashville, among others, teams are pulling out the stops to attract fans. In Dallas, where the Stars finished 28th in NHL attendance during the 2011-2012 season in selling 76.8 percent of their regular-season tickets, team president/CEO Jim Lites told a local radio station this week the organization is arranging a deal for children to win back fans.

Lites told radio station The Ticket the plan is offer children-under 12 free tickets in the upper deck at the American Airlines Center during January and February with the purchase of an adult ticket.

The Tampa Bay Lightning finished 13th overall in league attendance last season, filling 96.2 percent of their seats, but are offering a limited amount of 24-game season tickets for 200 U.S. dollars that includes a 25 dollar gift certificate off team merchandise.

Further down the Panhandle, the Miami-area Florida Panthers are promoting a free offer to the season opener if tickets to three other games are purchased.

In Nashville where the Predators have struggled to attract fans in the country music capital, the team is offering 100 single game tickets throughout the season for 10 dollars in the upper deck, a price unheard of north of the border in Canada where even cheap seats are expensive.

The New York Islanders who play out of the antiquated Nassau Coliseum and will move to a new arena in Brooklyn in 2015, are trying to lure fans out to Long Island with a 20-percent-off ticket deal for students and seniors. Military personnel can get 50 percent off seats, but not for games against the New York Rangers, the Isle's hated rival.

Even in an established hockey market like Pittsburgh where the Penguins have won the Stanley Cup three times and boast arguably the league's greatest player in Sidney Crosby, the team has planned a host of promotions for fans.

During the first four games, ticket holders will receive a coupon for three free concession items and can purchase team merchandize for 50 percent off. In addition, there will be week-long program of contests to win season tickets and a trip to see the team in New York, among others, via social media and the Penguins' website. The team's training camp next week will also be open free to the public at Consol Energy Arena.

Buffalo Sabres defenceman Robyn Regehr who participated in the labor negotiations told media this week the lockout was "a pretty ugly chapter in the NHL" and the league had a lot of work ahead of it in its relationship with those who support the game.

"The one I feel the worst for are the fans," he said. "There is going to be a level of, I don't know if you want to call it animosity or whatever, but I think it's fully understandable because of the situation that just happened."

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