by Paul Regan
Why is everything about the money? This is the complaint of hockey fans all across the United States and Canada as the National Hockey League currently stands in the midst of its second lockout in the last decade. From the fans to the players to the owners to the employees, everyone loses in this lockout.
The labor dispute between the NHL owners and players resulted in a lockout of the NHL Players Association that began on Sept. 15, when the collective bargaining agreement expired. In that agreement, the players’ share was 57 percent of hockey-related revenues. The owners want to decrease this share by close to 10 percent, as well as change free agency contracts and put term limits on contracts. Even though NHL revenue has increased substantially over the past few years, the greed of the owners is leading them to reduce the amount that they pay the players.
“It’s disappointing that the owners sign all these guys and some guys were signed within the last week before the CBA was up,” said rising NHL star Ryan Suter, who signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the offseason. “Now, they’re trying to go back on their word. It’s frustrating, disappointing. It doesn’t seem like that’s the way you operate a relationship or business.”
Both the players and owners are still far apart in their negotiations. On Oct. 16 the players rejected an offer of a 50/50 split of revenues. In the following week, they made three separate counteroffers to the owners, but each was rejected. The latest news from the lockout has the owners and players resuming negotiations soon after weeks of stagnation. However, a location and date have yet to be set.
The question is not “when” but “if” the season will ever begin. There is still the possibility of a shortened season, similar to that of the NBA last year. But the NHL season, which was supposed to start on Oct. 11, will not begin until at least Dec. 1. And that is only if a deal between the owners and players is reached at some point in November.
An indication that the league might not plan on having an NHL season this year was the cancellation of the Winter Classic last Friday. The game was scheduled to be played between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs at the University of Michigan’s Michigan Stadium. The absence of the Winter Classic this year forfeits a great hockey tradition and an opportunity to showcase the sport. On a more local level, the cancellation has a large economic impact, as the event would have an estimated $15 million effect on the Ann Arbor area economy.
Local high schools and colleges also miss out on the opportunity to play at the venue in the week after the Winter Classic game.
The hockey team at my high school played at the Philadelphia Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park last year where the Winter Classic was held between the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers. The game between two local high schools was a great experience for the players and students alike.
The lockout has a far-reaching impact, beyond just the players and owners. The economic effect of the NHL lockout is a heavy burden for many different parties. Primary and supporting employees of NHL teams and hourly wage earners in the stadiums are prevented from earning a living while the lockout is in effect.
Local businesses are also struggling through the lockout. It is estimated that area businesses make about $1 million in revenue per hockey game. When NHL teams aren’t playing, these businesses are missing out on profits from 41 games during the course of the season. Mike Darr, who owns two bars in the Arena District in Columbus, Ohio, has seen notably slower business.
Darr said, “It’s frustration. Both the league and the players just need to get the deal done.” Also affected adversely by the lockout are television and radio stations that broadcast NHL games, publications that cover the NHL and sponsorships with companies that use the NHL as a platform for advertising.
The lockout also weakens the fan base of the NHL, which is already waning as it is. Two lockouts in the last decade do not help the NHL gain popularity, which the league needs to accomplish if it wants to compete with the other major sports in America.
The greed of the owners negatively affects the casual hockey fan, who might lose enough interest if no season is played that they may not return to the sport in the future. The current lockout might lose the fans that the NHL had gained after the 2004-’05 lockout.
Without support from the fans, there is no $3.3 billion (NHL revenue last year) for owners and players to argue about. Fans’ financial support keeps the NHL in existence, but they have no input in the bargaining. NHL officials and players say they feel sorry for the fans. Some die-hard fans are saying they will protest the lockout by not renewing their season tickets, but history also shows that the majority will come back because they love the game of hockey.
For the sake of the fans and the area businesses that rely on the NHL, the players and owners must find a way to compromise. The owners need to realize that it’s not all about the money, and the players need to understand that they won’t have work unless they make a deal with the owners. Professional sports should be about the enjoyment of the viewers, not a power struggle over money.