In this battle between millionaires and billionaires, there is only one true victim, and that suffering individual is the one filling their pockets: the hockey fan.
PENTICTON, BC. – As the negotiations are starting to heat up between the National Hockey League (NHL) and the National Hockey League Player’s Association (NHLPA) for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in time for the upcoming season, fans are left wondering if they will get to watch their favourite team, and their favourite game this fall. While they were somewhat reassured by the NHLPA’s Executive Director Donald Fehr when he stated that the players were willing to start the season on the old CBA, fans were quickly given a dose of reality when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hinted that there would be a lockout if no new deal was reached come September.
While it certainly would appear that such negotiating tactic is Bettman’s preferred choice, one would think that a fresher, more modern approach would be preferable especially considering that the last time both sides had to renew the CBA in 2004, the NHL lost an entire season.
At that time, through lobbying and promises that the owners wanted a hard salary cap and proper revenue sharing in order to fix the disparity between the big and small markets, fans were in majority supporting the owners in that quest. The group of owners looked united and sincere in wanting to make the league better, preventing the disparity seen in Major League Baseball from happening in the NHL. Fans wanted a fair playing ground. Fans understood that while the players are the draw, they have guaranteed contracts and the entire risk sat on the owners and with that risk, a bigger piece of the pie is expected. Unknowingly at the time, the fans were taken for a ride.
NHL Players’ agent Allan Walsh (@Walsha) cited Gary Bettman from 2004:
The NHL was given carte blanche, a unique chance with fan support to fix its problems, to find a long term solution and to protect themselves… against themselves! The players’ contracts were rolled back by almost 25 percent at that time, a huge concession. They agreed to an entry-level contract, limiting the income of young players joining the league. Mostly, they agreed to a hard salary cap.
Granted, the NHL with Gary Bettman at the helm did not predict that the Canadian dollar would remain as strong as it has for as long as it has. Since most of the NHL revenue comes from Canada, Bettman failed to predict that the league revenues would keep on climbing the way they have, raising the salary cap to the point where many teams are guaranteed to lose money before the puck is even dropped and that, by spending at the cap floor!
But the goal here is not to make this about the process of Gary Bettman, as we’ll have other opportunities to do so. The fact remains that he had his chance to fix what was broken and he did not. He is now trying to take a hard line with the players but this time, fans can see right through him.
Bettman is wanting to fix the NHL as a good commissioner should. The problem is that he’s barking up the wrong tree! The battle is no longer a players’ issue. The battle is between the owners and that’s where Bettman needs to focus his energy. The owners need to get a proper system of revenue sharing and clean their own backyard this time around. But for the sake of the game, they should not try to put it all on the players this time around as they won’t win this battle. If he wants to play hardball, he should try baseball. The NHLPA has the fans’ support in these negotiations and Bettman has no one else to blame but himself.
Having said all that, why do I get the feeling that the NHL doesn’t care about what I think, about what the fans think? Why do I have the feeling that many owners feel the same? Could it be because they know that hardcore fans will return no matter what?
I bet that the owners of teams in non-traditional markets, where there is the NFL or NBA as competition don’t feel the same. I’m pretty sure that the owners in Dallas, Columbus, Florida, Tampa Bay, San Jose, Anaheim and New Jersey (amongst others) are concerned about the short to mid-term consequences of a lockout. Those teams work their butts off to bring fans in the seats and a lockout could be devastating. The problem is that the owners and friends of Bettman, don’t have that worry and truthfully, they don’t seem to care.
But then again, millionaires on both sides want to get rich. The billionaires want to get even richer. In the meantime, I’m a fan who dances with wolves, waiting impatiently to be eaten by one, or both of them. While I wait however, my support is entirely with the players this time around.
Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!
En français: Danse avec les loups: point de vue d’un partisan