Thursday, September 6, 2012

The NHL Lockout Isn't Necessary but its Coming

On September 15th the NHL Collecting Bargaining Agreement is set to expire. The owners and the players are apparently more than willing to sacrifice another full season expecting one side or the other to eventually cave to the demands of the other.  Whose bright idea was it to set the CBA to expire days before training camp? It’s bad enough the two sides didn’t meet a lot during the summer and that only 4 owners bothered to attend negotiations but you play with fans emotions as they await the new season.  Why not set a CBA to expire a week after the season ends? This would hopefully force them to talk more during the off-season and give the fans a better mental state of mind regarding an upcoming season as the letdown would be a bit easier if a deal wasn’t reached. This also keeps teams from going out and signing players to ridiculous contracts and then trying to get under the new salary cap or teams trading away young players for veterans who are on their last legs and with a lockout may not even get on the ice with their new team (I’m looking at you Mike Ribiero). And what if the majority of the contracts couldn’t last far beyond the current CBA? While I wouldn’t want to have every player be a free-agent at the same time maybe there could be a stipulation that no contracts can exceed beyond 3 years of when the current CBA is set to expire.

In the new CBA the NHL is requesting players to take a roll back on salaries and to sacrifice a huge percentage of their shared earnings.  If I understand that correctly a player that is currently signed to a deal for 13 years and $100 million would see their salary reduced to $76 million.  Now what’s a few million to a superstar hockey player when the Average Joe is paying a fair percentage of their salary for tickets to a game?  Heck I think nose bleed seats at most Caps games are going to cost you at the least around $50 per game when buying single game tickets, compared to season ticket prices. 

When the NHL locked the players out 8 years ago the commissioner said how ticket prices would be reduced for fans yet Caps tickets have seen an increase every year as the team has gotten better. In fact at my work we couldn’t even sell tickets for $15, a loss for us, when play resumed, and now we sell out the day we put them for sale for at least $50.  DC fans are fair weather and while it’s a “well known fact” that NHL fans will come back right away its not a guarantee and its not fair to the fans, especially the die-hards.

The NHL is reaching its highest popularity in the US in years. Billionaire owners are willing to throw it away over a few million dollars to players and possibly billions of dollars in ticket revenue, merchandise sales and more. They’re willing to deprive fans of another season of Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Taylor Hall, and other young stars which will also lead to a lot of “what ifs” in terms of career statistics. For me personally I see the Caps window closing and it will suck to lose a year when they could be close to something while other teams are also probably headed towards a last hurrah with the team they have and veterans who deserve to go out gracefully may lose that chance.

Unlike other sports the NHL has competition. The NBA has a slight competition as shown by Euro Basketball and China signing some players during the lockout last season and keeping players for the full year and even some pick-up games that players participated in, while it wasn’t a financial reward they still made the highlights on ESPN and stayed relevant and in our minds. Baseball doesn’t offer quality options in Hispanic Leagues or the Independent League. The NFL has seen a lot of leagues fail or not measure up (USFL, XFL, CFL, NFL Europe). Hockey players can’t be paid as well overseas as they can here but they can still make some nice money and Alex Ovechkin even said that some foreign players may say to hell with the NHL  and not return. How terrible would it be for Evgeny Malkin or Nicklas Backstrom to go overseas and decide to stay there where they can be a superstar in their homeland and fans in their respective cities either lose them for a few years or the remainder of their career?

The lockout doesn’t affect just the players, coaches, and fans, it affects the ushers, the stadium ticket sellers, and the concession employees and beyond them it affects local businesses. In cities like Los Angeles and New York who has success with their basketball fan bases and the fact that they’re big cities with celebrities the financial burden may not be felt as bad. In cities like Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Edmonton and Calgary they don’t have other teams the financial loss will be felt. Even Washington DC and Detroit will see a huge drop off because their basketball teams suck and people don’t go to games. There isn’t a single time before a Caps game that I see Camille’s or any restaurant surrounding the Verizon Center jammed with people before games. When the NBA locked out business owners said they expected a slight drop off but not like they would if the Caps weren’t playing…well that time will be upon us in a little over a week. Unemployment stands at 8.1% and millionaires and billionaires are willing to let it worsen and that just sickens me. Don't worry about the common man cause in some fashion I got or will be getting my money one way or another.
If the NHL gambles on fans coming back because the average hockey fan loves the sport too much to leave it forever or to boycott it for more than a year and they’re wrong I can see the NHL having to fold. I doubt it will happen but I think given the financial situation of some of the teams, the current economy and how the future looks the owners are taking a giant risk. That’s also assuming that the player’s cave and give the owners exactly what they want, I’d love to see the owners cave.

I don’t want to lose another NHL season, it sucked last time and it’ll suck now. I finally have really good seats to games and get to attend the Caps season ticket holder event at Six Flags for some family bonding at both. Hockey takes my mind off the crappy Wizards and disappointing Redskins and its nice to be a part of the atmosphere and winning. It’s a damn shame the fans have to pay both in higher ticket prices and in losing games because the owners are greedy. If you can’t afford to run the club and make a small profit or take a loss then you shouldn’t be running a franchise.

When the last CBA was signed it seemed to me that the system was going to keep contracts under control and that they wouldn’t run amuck like they had in other sports but maybe I was just being young and naïve. No one forced these owners to pay these outrageous contracts or the commissioner’s office to approve them. Sure the fans want the owners to spend money and build a winner but no one is worth $12 million a year but if you’re willing to pay them that and even after the CBA has expired then why should you then tell them they have to take less?  You knew what you were getting into, in no other profession can you  reduce someone’s contract or salary in the middle of a deal like that. It’s a shame these kinds of things can’t be wasting money in the US legal system and with Congress instead of steroids and football bounties.

Again I don’t want to lose a season. I LOVE HOCKEY! Last time it took me a while to come back to it. I’m not so sure it will take me as long this time. I support the players in this battle and don’t believe the owners have negotiated in good faith. They set a precedent with the last CBA and its fine to request that the players give a percentage back but make it closer to a 50/50 split. Maybe there should be some mandatory thing across all sports where if the sport brings in so many billion then the owners get X percent and the players get the rest. Owners have a right to make more than the players but I don’t believe it should be a drastic amount given that there are a lot of players that only make a few hundred thousand. Maybe instead of thinking in dollars and cents for themselves everyone should think about what it means to America, and Canada, to the restaurant down the street, or the sports bar, to the employees in the arenas, and fans around the world. Think of feelings and passion and how times are tough and families, that help to pay salaries just want to get away from the daily grind and unwind with their family at a game or watching a game. It shouldn’t cost $200 for a family of 4 to go to a game and another $200 or more for them to buy food and souvenirs. Your average family can’t afford that now and won’t be able to any time soon. Owners should pay the players lower salaries on new deals and lower the price on the public.

 What will it take for the owners to wisen up? They won't listen to the fans that fill their arena, maybe it will take a star player, preferably not a Capital, going overseas and having a traumatic injury. Not one that will keep them out for a couple months but a torn ACL, or something requiring total reconstruction of the knee and missing not only the locked out NHL season but the following season when they play as well.

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