On Friday, as I prepared for my 4th annual men’s golf invitational, my performance on the greens and fairways were the furthest things from my mind. In fact, most of the conversation throughout the day focused on the probability of yet another NHL lockout and the ire of hockey fans around the world.
As we plodded along the 4th fairway, a 502-yard par 5, my friend, future brother-in-law, and unsurpassed hockey nut (@CraigMacLeod77 on twitter), said something that really stuck with me. “This lockout,” he suggested, “is different from the 2004 lockout. In 2004 the NHL locked out players in order to improve the game. This lockout is about one thing only – greed.”
Even though the current work stoppage is akin to that of 2004 in that they both were about money, that statement couldn’t have been more accurate.
If fans can recall, in 2004 salaries were spiraling out of control. Top stars like Peter Forsberg and Jaromir Jagr were raking in $11 million per season and the New York Rangers were paying out close to $37 million for Pavel Bure, Bobby Holik, Alexei Kovalev, Brian Leetch, and Petr Nedved.
In 2004, the National Hockey League was certainly broken. Player salaries accounted for an estimated 76% of total league revenue and team owners as a collective were on the brink of bankruptcy. In this instance, changes surely had to be made on the ice and in the financial books to improve the game and its profitability.
Today, however, 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).
Sidney Crosby recently summed things up saying, “basically when you look at (The NHL) it’s a partnership. If you look at the key principles of everything, we’re showing we’re willing to move, to sacrifice things.”
As I have said before, the most logical perspective for the NHL and NHLPA to take is that it is a partnership. It follows, then that since one cannot survive without the other, players and owners agree to 50/50 revenue split in perpetuity. The NHL and NHLPA are not willing to lose the majority of revenue, so the split makes perfect sense.
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.