Neely delivers check to fans with news of ticket price hikes

Neely delivers check to fans with news of ticket price hikes
February 28, 2014, 7:30 pm
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Mike from Attleboro - the leading contributor to Michael Felger's old mailbag and one of Felger's favorite callers to his radio show - is now writing occasional pieces for Today, he gives his take on his hero Cam Neely’s appearance on Felger’s show Thursday, defending the astronomical season-ticket price hikes imposed by Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs.

When he wore the spoked B, Cam Neely was the prototypical NHL power forward. A player who filled the net, delivered crushing checks, and took nobody’s crap when he was on the ice. He was the living embodiment of everything we as Bruins fans expect from our players and love about our team.

And sadly, on Thursday, Cam did what no Bruins fan ever thought he could. He came to represent everything we, as fans, have always hated about our team.

Jeremy Jacobs.

Listening to Cam Neely - my favorite player ever - carry Jacobs’ water on 98.5 The Sports Hub as he tried to explain the new, astronomical season-ticket prices, represented a new low. These increases were a blindside hit that Ulf Samuelson would love, on a fan base that has already seen its prices skyrocket. But there was Cam, trying to make JJ’s new ransom demands sound like something that was both reasonable and overdue.

I remember vividly feeling bad for Cam last year when, after the lockout ended, he had to come on the air and describe the what sort of baubles and trinkets Ebenezer Jacobs was going to try to use to appease the common rabble that fill his barn. Yesterday, I just felt betrayed. Not because Jeremy Jacobs is a money-grubbing scoundrel; we already knew that. But because Cam was doing his dirty work.

Jacobs has made a fortune in Boston treating Bruins fans like ATMs that only have a withdrawal button. The only times he’s changed his ways to help this team’s on-ice product was when he was forced to.

Jacobs was always willing to field a team good enough to get in the postseason, but never willing to spend the money to put them over the top.

That was a business plan he and Harry Sinden employed, to Cam Neely’s on-ice detriment, from 1975 through 2005. A little capital invested here or there and Bruins fans wouldn’t have had to wait 39 years for Lord Stanley’s return. But JJ didn’t care about anything but the bottom line. To paraphrase Bruins assistant GM Jim Benning: If Jeremy Jacobs gave Bruins fans half of Mike Ilich, we win another Cup. Or two. Or three.

The real feelings of shattered trust with Cam stem from what he was supposed to represent when he took a front-office position with the team. After years of organizational neglect, and a bungled post-2005 lockout strategy that turned the B’s into a glorified expansion team, Bruins fans revolted. Jacobs was left an emaciated, and totally alienated, core of season-ticket holders, none of whom trusted him. He couldn’t talk to these fans any more than Ted Nugent could speak at a PETA convention. He had to do something.

First, he tried summoning his son Charlie from Buffalo to take the heat for him. I have nothing against Charlie Jacobs, other than his last name, but sending him to run the Bruins was like sending Fredo to learn the casino business.

Enter Cam Neely.

When Cam Neely was hired as vice-president of the Boston Bruins, I was excited. Here was a guy who knew the miserly ways of Jeremy Jacobs first-hand. In my mind, there was no way Cam was going to simply be a puppet and watch as JJ counted his cash and let a roster full of promising players rot on the vine.

Most importantly, Cam knew Bruins fans. He knew this fan base, which used to pack an old, reeking Boston Garden just to see the Bruins. Brutal concessions? Two tiny, antique message boards that would have embarrassed the MBTA? Didn‘t matter. The only “game experience” that mattered to them was the team on the ice. Cam knew that, and knew what they wanted – and expected – from the organization.

And our hopes were realized. Cam Neely and Peter Chiarelli built a winner and brought a Cup back to Boston with a team that captured the hearts and souls of those diehard fans that stuck with this team for 39 frustrating years.

But what fans didn’t see in our jubilation was what Jacobs wanted. Jeremy Jacobs’ goal to secure a “big trophy” wasn’t because winning suddenly mattered. That big trophy was just a means to charge bigger prices. He may have had to beg the fans to come back in 2005 and ’06, but now he was going to make them pay.

Because, as Cam’s comments confirmed yesterday, the competition Jacobs really cares about is in the box office. Outpacing the four other American teams with higher ticket prices is more important than beating the Canadiens on the ice. The “secondary market” prices are more important than the prices their fans can afford. Soon, the blue-collar season-ticket holders who are this team’s lifeblood will be replaced by folks who care about the “game experience” and if they can get a healthy wrap that’s gluten free.

And the shift in the fan base will reflect the new product on the ice. Little by little, the TOTAL on-ice commitment to winning has begun to waver. Offseasons and trade deadlines that are more Building 19 than building a dynasty. A “spending to the cap” mantra that has shifted to “make it look good, but watch the bottom line.” JJ has Cam and Peter playing with house money and won’t double down until this current group busts out.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Just last year, we fans sat through months of acrimonious lockout negotiations and watched as the players took it on the chin and handed the owners concession after concession. Jacobs got himself another 7 percent of total revenue. Now we’re supposed to believe he needs to raise prices again?

It’s a bitter pill to swallow under normal circunstances. But with Cam Neely serving as the new mouthpiece for JJ’s corporate greed, it’s depressing as well. For Cam was the savior. The guy who embodied everything black and gold, who restored our faith in this franchise, who spearheaded Lord Stanley’s return to Causeway Street.

Now he’s just a guy Jacobs hired to hand you the bill.