LOCKOUT: Suits v Sweaters

At 12:01AM Sunday morning, the NHL stood by its promise.  Should no consensus be met on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the players would be locked out.

Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer).

For some veterans of the sport, fans and players alike, it’s the sting of an old wound returned.  Only eight years ago, we lost an entire season to a lockout over a similar theme: the “economics” of the game.

The NHL’s perspective: 

The owners have been functioning for the past seven years under an agreement that distributes 43% of hockey-related revenues (HRR) to themselves and 57% to the players.  Time spent with this contract, a changing economic environment and rising costs of operation (according to the NHL) have brought them unanimously to the position of seeking to change those numbers in their favor.  Not in an attempt to slight the players, the league believes that their best chance for continued growth, like the 3.1 billion seen since the implementation of the last CBA, is to retain control over a higher percentage of HRR shares that can be pumped back into the operation of the sport.

The NHLPA’s perspective:

The players already have given into many requisitions of the league in recent years including the salary cap and salary rollbacks outlined in the (now expired) CBA.  To the union, this move by the owners is purely for monetary gain, and they see no reason why  there should be more concessions by the players when the sport has seen notable growth under current definitions of HRR share disbursement.  The players have been willing in their proposals to lower their share percentages over time, by a small margin, but they are unwilling to take such a drastic cut as outlined in the owners’ proposals no matter the time frame.

Now, we’re at the hard part.  Who do you side with?

Either way you pick, it’s a lose-lose.  Join #theplayers and you are still out a hockey season, sticking to your guns, with a salary (you aren’t getting paid) that, let’s face it, might be a bit more than you’re worth.  Join the #NHL and suddenly you’re a hockey-hating bully who doesn’t give a puck about #thefans. Right?

The players want to play hockey, and they take their game as seriously as they do their paychecks, because it’s their livelihood.  As much frustration as there is, aimed at either side, including animated calls to action or outrageous personal claims, (Yes. Yes I’m sure that you would play hockey at the professional level for free.  You’re probably being recruited right now for your mad NHL ’13 skills), it’s all coming down to the money.  Money, that at the business end of things, the NHL does not believe it has to sustain the league under current CBA definitions.  The NHL is not the money-generating super mogul that some might perceive it to be, and it’s very much a reality that most players are overpaid in relation to what the sport truly creates in revenue at the end of the day from guess who… the fans.

The NHL does not (I’m assuming) “hate” the fans.  Sure, they are naive to think that after this latest move of theirs that everyone is going to bounce back into the stands without an ounce of hostility, but then again, what choice do the fans have?  It is going to get increasingly harder to maintain younger generations of fans if every few years there is another lost season, and the older more seasoned hockey fans could quickly become fed up with a league they feel is disrespecting their years of loyal patronage.

It will all work itself out in time.  Every proposal so far has moved the two sides closer and closer together, but not quickly enough to avoid the bruising of another lockout.  The NHL will continue to fight for a higher percentage of the HRR and the players’ union will keep trying to negotiate the numbers in their favor.  After all, it’s a lot easier to hold onto the money now, than fight for it back later, (ever heard of the players locking out the NHL?).

Ultimately, the NHL will get a slightly higher percentage, and the players will see a slightly lower percentage, and unfortunately it may take a long time for those numbers to be settled.  NHLPA executive Donald Fehr has said that he prefers shorter contracts, but it might be in the best interest of the players to land a longer one if the terms are something they can live with for awhile, because predictably, the end of another CBA will be the start of more negotiations, always with the potential for another lockout.

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