Lock Out or Check Out?

This little article is an enlargement on my response to the news on Brian Burke’s suggestions for settling the difference that have led to the lock-out.

Though I may not understand all of what Mr. Burke is proposing, one thing that I do understand is that both sides are in the wrong.

The PLAYERS, on one hand, have salaries that are ridiculously high (just like they are in most other ‘pop’ sports – baseball, basketball, etc.) and they need to be recognize that these salary levels need to be made more reasonable. I know that one of the reasons, if not the main one that there appears to be more support for the owners in this dispute is that the salaries are seen to be way out of proportion to the societal value of the ‘product’. I suppose that it’s simply a matter of market value coming into play but, nevertheless, when teachers, doctors, engineers and, for that matter, essential ‘blue collar’ worker/contributors see themselves make a fraction of the income the ‘average’ player in the NHL gets, it takes away from the credibility of the whole system.

Yet, the OWNERS are just as, if not more, responsible for this present state of affairs than are the players. If they had been more fiscally responsible and ‘long-term’ responsible, this situation would not be upon us. But, in their shortsightedness, they vigorously participated in the escalating bidding wars in order to get the ‘stars’ that would hopefully bring them over the top in the matter of success and to present a more attractive product to their markets. Though the idea has merit in itself, it also has horrendous ‘costs’, especially in terms of buying away the future for present glory and creating another reason for the sport to be seen as a less credible product. To make things worse, this practice has shown itself to be, for the most part, a failure (ie: Rangers, St. Louis, Toronto, Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington, etc.). The owners are the ones who have mainly helped to create this high salary base in a sport where it has never been altogether that very popular below the Canada/US border (except in areas where it is well entrenched or is a natural part of the population’s psyche – northern US?)

Also, though only in a related vein, the perceived need by the league (owners) to expand, expand and expand into new franchises has brought in huge weaknesses in the league’s financial foundation and, for those who understand the game, a serious dilution in talent with a resulting mediocrity of product. More loss of credibility for the sport. (By the way, there’s a bit of the miracle of hindsight here.)

So, as to my opinion, simplistic as it very well is, all I can propose is that:

– The PLAYERS accept that there be some sort of salary cap (most of us in the average working world live with that).

– The OWNERS must develop some sort of effective self-policing system which will prevent some of them (St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils, most recently) from initiating further rounds of self-destructive bidding wars. (The problem with this is that is may smell like collusion which may cause problems.)

In any case, I believe that the longer this lock-out/strike remains in place, the likelier it will be that small market US teams will be forced to fold.

I don’t think, in the long run, that Canadian teams will massively lose out (maybe Ottawa) but, look for teams where hockey is not a natural or is too new (Anaheim, San Jose, Phoenix, Tampa Bay, Florida, Nashville, Columbus) to suffer severe blows that could very likely lead to bankruptcy and closure.

Can Mr. Bettman really make these teams ‘hold the fort’ while they lose massive amounts of money because of a lost fan base? I doubt it. We used to have the Colorado Rockies, the Cleveland Barons, the Atlanta Flames, etc. It wasn’t seen as a BAD thing when they folded, simply a recognition of something that was tried but didn’t work.

In closing, as to the likely closure of one or more teams, as a result of this lock-out, that’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself.

7 Responses to Lock Out or Check Out?

  1. Flyers_Fan_In_LA says:

    I blame the players and the NHLPA mostly for this lockout. They knew what the rules are and they aren’t making serious concessions in light of the $$ situation of the league. And don’t tell me that the former head of the SEC is “cooking the books” for the NHL. I simply won’t belive that a guy with Levitt’s reputation would do such a thing. It is too profitable for him to keep doing audits like this for other companies, sports etc….

    Re: Bettman, do you think it is possible that he is under pressure from the owners to break the union? I think he is. He is a failure at his job considering the condition the league was in when he took over. Yes they make more money now but it was on HIS clock that scoring went down 20% and ABC-ESPN bailed on a 600 mill TV contract leaving nothing other than a commission deal with NBC.

    With the price of an NHL frnachise at 50 mill – how else would you get teams to give up and fold?

    Lastly, the union has NO OTHER MARKETS to sell their players in. Europe can’t offer 600 NHL players jobs at NHL prices. Goodenow better be careful that Bettman isn’t serious because I can see the union getting broken here. Yes, they will fight in court etc… but the NHL will win. At the same time EVERYONE will lose. The teams will NEVER fill the seats the same way. TV will cover NASCAR, golf, poker and xGames and will FORGET about hockey. At the same time NOTHING is being done to fix the 20% drop in scoring.

    Both sides should agree to play and use this season to hack out an agreement that is fair based on how the NBC TV deal works etc….

    A lockout is only making a SMALLER renevue base for the players. Basically, by holding out – they are guaranteeing that they will NEVER get anywhere NEAR the money they once did. They are also hurting the game in such a way that the players NOT YET in the union will feel for generations to come.

  2. hockeyhead says:

    good point about the poker. i guess they will have to edit hockey like poker and only show the hands that have the action or in hockey’s case show games with only hits, shots, pp and goals. americans are to impatient (sp) to watch hockey.

  3. 19Yzerman says:

    The players are not to be blamed for signing BIG money contracts. It would be financially ill advised to say to your boss “I am flattered that you feel I am worth a $65,000 per year salary however I would like you to pay me $32,000 since it is closer to the average annual income and it will secure the profitability of the company”

    A salary cap would be like telling Southwest airlines that since it is the only USA flagship that is making money that they shall have to conform the the practices of its disfunctional competitors. If you keep wrecking your race car you will out of the race. In these times of economic difficulty its time for the NHL to allow teams to LIVE and let DIE.

    Its time for the fans to start making demands. We want lower ticket prices, a game program at every seat, autographed pucks for ever child, free parking for vehicles with 6 or more passengers, and all seats that shall be plumed for free beverage dispensing.We the fans have spoken and we intend to stand firm and Shoulder to Shoulder on the fore mentioned issues which are not negotiable

  4. Rysto says:

    – The OWNERS must develop some sort of effective self-policing system which will prevent some of them (St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils, most recently) from initiating further rounds of self-destructive bidding wars.

    Wouldn’t that be a salary cap?

  5. shortcat1 says:

    Not necessarily. A salary cap would be an imposed limit for each player or gross limit for each team. This would be an understanding, formal or not, set up by the owners that they would not participate in bidding wars.

    Keep in mind that this is somewhat simplistic. It gives the owners credit for being able to exercise restraint in their dealings with the players. I don’t expect that this would happen though something like it should happen. There is still going to be the need, on their part, to present the product that will attract the most sales (tickets, etc.) but even that has its pitfalls – very expensive, in the end, as we can see.

    The Canadian Football League has a strong team salary cap and I don’t see it doing that badly. Mind you I don’t know an awful lot about how the league is succeeding. I just see what I see on TV. It may be, of course, just a lot of media hype making it look like a really heavily fan-supported sport.

  6. shortcat1 says:

    Hmmm. I wonder if the owners will get into a bidding war over those demands.

    Somehow, I don’t think so. Bottom line, we’re not important enough… we’re not their bottom line.

  7. shortcat1 says:

    Can’t agree that this is the player’s fault. It is insomuch as they gladly encouraged the massive escalation in salaries (why wouldn’t they?) but they are only joyful participators in the bidding wars that the owners shortsightedly intitiated and increased over the years.

    Salary bases only rise because those who pay them agree to have them rise. I’m by no means a marxist but I do recognized that, in the end, the ones who have the wealth do have the final say as to how it will get distributed. It may be that they will see fit to distribute more but, usually that is only it they see that it’s to their benefit, that is that they will make even more themselves.

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