The longer the NHL lockout drags on, the more damage that is being done to the overall sport of professional hockey in North America. The NHL has now cancelled all preseason games, which it declared “necessary because of the absence of a Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL and NHLPA.” This is rather unfortunate, as the preseason schedule was set to expose the NHL in markets and target arenas such as the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn – a potential new home for the struggling New York Islanders.
The NHL and NHLPA are meeting today through Sunday in an attempt to progress talks towards reaching a new CBA. On the table for discussion will be several “non-economic” related issues, which translates to things such as contract length, signing bonuses, and terms for unrestricted free agency. The ever-heated debates regarding hockey related revenue (where the two sides drastically disagree) are on hold, for now.
Preseason Games are Gone: Now What?
So, with the two sides essentially in a stalemate since the last formal discussion date of Sep. 12, three days before the expiration of the prior CBA, who is truly at fault here?
Listening to NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, you would be inclined to believe that the NHLPA needs to be much more flexible in their proposals. Daly was quoted earlier this week saying, ”You also have to have something to say. I think it’s fair to say we feel like we need to hear from the players’ association in a meaningful way because I don’t think that they’ve really moved off their initial proposal, which was made more than a month ago now.”
The fact that the players association has basically been “status-quo” in their proposal for a month is disheartening, as it is clear that they are trying to play hardball (as they should), but at some point the dialogue needs to be open for communication. You could be right to think that the NHLPA essentially delivered their proposal a month ago, and shut the door until the NHL basically caved into the players association demands. Nothing will be accomplished that way.
With the preseason completely canned, the start of the regular season is a mere 13 days away – Oct. 11. Daly said earlier this week that the NHL is ”100 percent focused on not missing any regular-season games and, hopefully, we can achieve that objective.”
Can’t the Players Just Play Without a New CBA?
The NHLPA has said from the beginning that they didn’t want this lockout, and that the lockout is the work of the owners (NHL). They “just want to play” and were even willing to play without a new CBA in place – but the NHL denied that option. While this obviously makes the NHLPA look like the good guys and the NHL the bad guys, there are several reasons why the NHL wouldn’t want to allow playing a season without a new CBA.
According to Eric Macramalla, an attorney who runs Offside: A Sports Law Blog, playing without a new CBA in place would be highly detrimental to the league’s negotiating power.
“Owners would never give up the leverage associated with locking out players. Being able to deprive NHL players of their employment and income can be pretty powerful. To forfeit that option would be to undermine your own negotiating position.
If the season ever started without a new CBA, the NHLPA would suddenly gain some leverage. If the owners did start the season without a CBA, their expectation would of course be that the entire season and playoffs would be played. The owners would not, for example, lockout the players mid-season and risk losing the playoffs.”
Playing without a new CBA in place gives the NHLPA greater power to strike, as well, according to Macramalla:
“However, without a new CBA it would be open, in theory, for the NHLPA to strike mid-season if it feels that things are not going well. That could wipe out the final part of the season and the playoffs. This approach would apply tremendous pressure on the NHL to get a deal done.
MLB owners started the season in 1994 without a CBA. The same Donald Fehr was unhappy with the offer on the table (which included a salary cap and rollback on free agency eligibility), and the players went on strike on August 12.
The rest of the season, including the World Series, was called off by Bud Selig on September 14. The move to cancel the rest of the season meant the loss of $580 million in ownership revenue and $230 million in player salaries.”
So it should be apparent that while playing without a new CBA in place sounds tempting, it’s simply not practical – and realistcally, it could cause even greater damage.
How Our Editors Feel – And Possible Solutions
Ken Miles: NHL and NHLPA are both at fault
Today, the game of hockey is in an excellent financial position. Regardless of your opinion of Gary Bettman, he has increased NHL revenue from $400 million to over $3 billion during his tenure as Commissioner. The NHL has also been successful in striking deals with major TV stations, resulting in increased viewership; arena attendance averages are at an all time high and the salary cap instituted in 2006/2006 seems to be working for owners and players.
So if the game is in a good spot, why are we faced with a labor disruption? The answer is clear – greed. The players, as a union, want to protect what is theirs without giving up the lion’s share of revenue, while the NHL and team owners are looking to stuff their pocketbooks on the players’ dime. It truly is a case of billionaires (owners) fighting with millionaires (players).
While fans go without NHL hockey for an undetermined amount of time, they surely are looking for someone to blame. The most accessible scapegoat, of course, is Gary Bettman. But if fans truly want to place blame on those who deserve it, they should look not only to the NHL commissioner and his employers, but also the NHLPA. It is both that are playing a game of cat and mouse while fans, vendors, arena staff, and all the other “regular folk” who depend on hockey suffer most.
John Ladalia: Advertisements on jerseys may be an easy way to restore revenue potentially lost
Just over 2 days ago the former writer of the SNY Rangers Blog Jesse Spector brought up an interesting idea on Twitter in regards to the current NHL Lockout:
@jessespector: “If ads on uniforms meant the NHL never missed … Do you tarnish the classic jerseys like that of New York and Montreal?”
Now this is a very interesting take on the matter, so could this be a deal breaker in the ongoing negotiations between the NHLPA and the owners? Most fans would probably not agree with ads on the jerseys, but we are not talking about adding a million different ads like the HC Davos jersey for example, but just something that signifies a major investor in the team. For the Rangers, would you mind seeing a Chase bank symbol on the bottom of the jersey that is tucked in or even over the left shoulder if it meant to get the boys back on the ice?
By opening the door to uniform and ice advertising, the NHL also would have the opportunity to bring about labor peace. If hockey’s current plight isn’t proof enough, is that this is a business, with the objective being to squeeze every last drop, why not take the investment of ads on a jersey to get the season going? Because these revenue streams would be new, they could be defined in such a way as to act as a buffer against a decrease in the players’ share of hockey-related revenue. So the owners could get the greater share of HRR that they want, while the players would be able to be paid at the rate specified by the contracts they signed.
Also with the NBA already agreeing to do the same with some of their uniforms, why not have the NHL do the same? Or does Gary Bettman really want this season and potentially more to be completely locked out? This is the direction that sports are going in general. Several NHL teams already wear advertising patches on their practice jerseys, like the Rangers for example who had the “DKNY” logo on their practice jerseys which was seen during the 24/7 shoot for HBO this past season. So why not have them wear something like that year round? If this can get the NHL lockout over with, would you be on board with it?
Lauren Newman: NHL and NHLPA are both at fault
With all the rumors and talk of this ongoing lockout, both sides (NHL and NHLPA) are to blame. Both sides are guilty of fighting over the one thing fans hate the most—greed. Although both sides have to share blame, I sympathize and take the side of the NHLPA. That said, I side with the NHL players because they are trying to keep and protect what is theirs. The NHL and the NHLPA need to come to an agreement sooner rather than later because they are losing fans, and money, each day this lockout continues.
It makes me sick to think that these billionaires are fighting with millionaires for more and more money, not to mention this is not the first lockout by Gary Bettman and the NHL. Hockey is a great sport and one would think that these players should want to play for less money due to the fact that they are dedicated and truly love the sport, but that is totally unrealistic. No one wants to “work” without getting paid what they feel they deserve.
My Closing Thoughts
Personally, I feel that advertisements are jerseys in most American sports is not a matter of if, but when. As John pointed out, they are already on their way to the NBA. The potential revenue brought in from advertisements is just too tempting for sports organizations to deny. However, I still feel it taints the jerseys or uniforms in general. No one wants to see advertisements all over a uniform, but it’s going to happen, I’m sure of it. Especially as hockey in America becomes even more profitable and popular.
I don’t feel the either the NHL or NHLPA are totally in the right here. Bettman is an easy target, yes, but he is clearly not helping his professional tenure with this current lockout. You don’t need to look any further than Twitter to realize that many of the biggest names in the NHL are fed up with Bettman and the league’s bullying with contracts. The players are honestly limited in their power, as they are athletes in the league subject to the owner’s approval, and the owners are the ones cutting the checks at the end of the day. Burn a bridge with an owner or organization and you’ll be kicked to the curb faster than Sean Avery.
The players need to also be realistic, too. Paul Bissionette’s attempt to have sympathy because he asked who would be willing to take a paycut in order to play backfired, badly. Most of these athletes are commanding multi-million dollar contracts and are playing a game – not saving lives or something heroic. Americans, Canadians, Europeans – it doesn’t matter where you live, everyone is suffering from pay cuts, being laid off, or working multiple jobs. I think these athletes forget where some of them came from, and are out of touch with the rest of society.
If it means the players have to jump down to a 50/50 split with owners, so be it. If you’re Brad Richards earning $12 million a year, even a 25% reduction in salary means you still make $9 million a year. What a hard sacrifice.
I know owners signing contracts with athletes and then trying to weasle out of them by redesigning the structure of sports contracts with a new CBA is sleazy. That definitely upsets me and I think many owners were hoping to accomplish just that, as the enormous size of contracts of stars like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, and Sidney Crosby screams high risk. But even if they had to forfeit a little of that salary in order to increase the stability of the league – then maybe it’s money they are better off sacrificing in the first place.