At midnight tonight, the NHL will face it’s fourth work stoppage since 1992. Four stoppages. In 20 years. Seriously? This includes the 2004-05 lockout that canceled the entire season. That’s the only time a major sports league in North America had cancelled an entire season due to labor unrest. I just don’t understand. The NHL was rebounding well, in my opinion, from the last lockout. Ratings and revenues were up and fans were happy. There’s been great playoff hockey too, but the league and players can’t figure out how to divide up their billions. I will fully admit that I really don’t understand all the ins and outs of the CBA, but I don’t really need to to know that there isn’t going to be any hockey any time soon.
Whenever there is a lockout or strike in professional sports I usually try and learn enough about it to be able to pick a side to support. In this case, I’m supporting the players. One of the things the players gave up back in ’05 to help end the lockout was to have their salaries rolled back 24%. I don’t care how much money you make, taking that kind of pay cut is big. Now, here we are seven years later and they want the players to roll back their salaries again. As the owners are crying that they’re losing money, they have signed 18 players in the last week for a total of $219.55M. Really? You claim to be losing money and you’re signing these types of contracts? No sympathy.
I do feel for the owners in one way though. The bind that they find themselves in, is with the contracts they offer to players. If teams are losing money, and I believe some are, one way to reduce costs is to keep payroll low. If they keep payroll low though, they may not be able to afford better players. Better players, in theory, leads to a better team which leads to more fans in the seats, more ticket revenue and possible playoff revenue. Of course this isn’t always the case and some owners might not have the best deals with the arenas they play in either. The option then is to keep payroll lower and not offer the super high guaranteed contract to free agents. Here’s where they run into a potential huge problem. If owners decide that they don’t want to offer big contracts in order to not lose money, the players could claim collusion. Major League Baseball went through this in the mid 80’s with the end result being that the owners had to pay the MLBPA $280M.
This puts the owners in a bit of a pickle. Sign players to higher contracts and risk losing money or keep contracts low and hope to turn a profit. After all, professional sports is a business. The idea is to make money while hopefully winning some championships. Winning championships increase the chance of making money through additional home games, concessions, etc... I don’t blame an owner if they choose not to sign a player to a super long contract or at a high annual average. That’s their prerogative as an owner. They know that if their team is not winning though, that fans won’t come out and support the team.
This brings us back to the dilemma at hand. In just a few hours there will be a lockout in the NHL. The owners/league and the players can’t decide how to divide up all their revenue and the people that suffer are pretty much everyone but the owners and players. I know that players won’t be getting paid and the owners still have to make payments on the teams they bought and/or the arenas they built, but all the arena workers and the fans are left with nothing.
I’m bitter because my interest in hockey had returned over the last few years and I was looking forward to the upcoming season. The Caps have a new coach in Adam Oates, they’ve made a few roster moves and would have been in good shape to win another division title. Guess it doesn’t matter for now.
It’s a shame that the parties involved aren’t even trying to resolve this. They had a deadline today and didn’t even meet. Completely asinine. They really need to pull their heads out of their asses and get to work.