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NHL lockout drives some Lightning fans to seek refunds

When Jim Creson received his $1,400 refund for the two Lightning season tickets he canceled because of the NHL lockout, he gave himself a present: a new set of golf clubs.

"If I have to sacrifice hockey, at least I'm going to enjoy myself playing golf," Creson said. "I'm terrible, but I love the game."

The Citrus Park resident loves the Lightning, too, and after attending games for more than 10 years sprang for season tickets for him and 13-year-old grandson, Isaiah Wilson.

But Creson, 51, a software developer who had two 300-level seats, said the lockout soured him, and reclaiming his money was his small protest.

"The owners need to know the fans belong to this team, too," he said. "It's not just the players who are going to determine whether your team is successful."

Creson is not alone. About 100 Lightning season-ticket accounts have been canceled because of the lockout, team spokesman Bill Wickett said.

The actual number of tickets canceled could not immediately be determined, but suffice it to say, an organization with a season-ticket base of about 10,000 and a 20,000-seat stadium to fill can't afford defections.

For some, taking their money from the team with which they live and die is the only way to voice their disgust at the spectacle of the league and players arguing, and perhaps going to court, over how to split $3.3 billion in revenues.

And with the lockout in its 95th day and a second season in eight years close to being lost to labor strife, feelings are raw.

"It really wasn't a debate," Orlando's Linda Hamilton said about canceling two 100-section tickets with husband Stewart, who owns a construction firm.

"When they said they were locking the doors my first thought was, 'I'm done.' I can protest. I can yell and scream on social media, but nobody hears it. My money is my voice and my money can be spent elsewhere to do more productive things."

Responded Wickett in an email: "We're disappointed for all hockey fans but, in particular, the season ticket members that are our lifeblood. We know the passion and commitment they have for the Lightning and, like them, we look forward to the return of the game. We have worked hard to service our season ticket members on a one-on-one basis and take a long-term approach when it comes to maintaining a strong relationship with them."

•••

The Lightning gives fans three ways to manage their season tickets during the lockout.

Make no changes and you get 10 percent interest toward food, beverages and merchandise. You can get 5 percent interest paid in monthly installments following any missed games to be applied to the playoffs, if there are any, or the 2013-14 season.

Then there is what Hamilton called "financial divorce."

It was not an easy decision, she said, despite the arduous 90-minute drive each way she and Stewart face between Orlando and the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

But Hamilton has what Stewart calls a "hockey addiction."

To see the now-canceled Winter Classic between Detroit and Toronto at the University of Michigan, the couple — both 46 and with five kids — bought a 20-game Red Wings ticket package.

Total investment, including their Tampa Bay seats: $8,000, all refunded, Hamilton said. They now have season tickets to the ECHL Orlando Solar Bears.

"It's like a two-sided coin," she said. "I feel good because I'm standing up for something. I'm using my voice to be heard. At the same time you miss it. My love is the love of the sport first, so I can't abandon hockey, but I can abandon the NHL, financially, for now."

•••

That the NHL is even in this mess so soon after the 2004-05 lockout is what burns Shawn Berger, who canceled two 300-level seats for a $700 refund.

The IT specialist from Palm Harbor blames both sides for the lockout. He figures players can get by on less money since some are playing for less in Europe. "But (owners) can't completely railroad the players, either.

"So, I said if they're going to play this game and not get a deal done then I'm going to put my money where my mouth is. That's the only way they'll know we are truly dissatisfied."

Besides, said Berger, 40, "I have a 2-year-old daughter who would rather go to Disney World than a hockey game."

Family obligations, too, were central to Bill Buchalski when he, wife Laura and daughters Ashley, 19 and Kristina, 18, discussed canceling four 300-level seats.

But games are "family time," said Buchalski, 50, of Spring Hill, a supply chain manager. "They bond us and make us feel closer."

No way could he cancel, though he is disillusioned because he sees negotiations to end the lockout as simply "a battle of egos" between commissioner Gary Bettman and the players' union chief Donald Fehr.

"I don't think it's about money," Buchalski said, and added, "It hurts the fans. It hurts the people that work. I don't think that's something they've considered."

He said he believes fans will return to the game when the lockout ends, "but with a little bit of distance, a distance of, 'You do this again and I'm done.' "

Some aren't waiting.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@tampabay.com.

NHL lockout drives some Lightning fans to seek refunds 12/18/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 10:30pm]
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