Bobby Gallahue ’14
The NHL is again headed to what looks like its second lockout in eight years. They have one of the most diehard fan bases in all of professional sports and risk alienating them once again. The fans came back after the first lockout, as proven by the $3.3 billion in revenue the NHL pulled in last year, but will they return again?
The debate between the NHLPA and the league is about money, which surprises no one. The revenue split between the players and the owners is 57/43 in favor of the players, a rarity in pro sports as 50 percent or under for players is the norm. This current model of labor sharing will not be continued in the NHL, as the latest proposal from the owners asks for a 50/50. The owner’s initial proposal had a 57/43 split in favor of them. Besides the fighting over revenue, owners want to decrease the salary cap. The cap is $70.2 million at the moment. This is higher than the $58 million of the NBA, a league that pulls in $600 million more in revenue. This would in effect reduce player salaries, something the NHLPA is contesting. These are the main points of contention. Some of the minor points they are fighting over include third party arbitration over discipline issues. At the moment if a player is disciplined for a high hit or other egregious penalty and decides to appeal the fine, Commissioner Bettman hears the appeal and makes the decision. This is something that needs to change.
Reading various sports blogs, almost all argue in favor of the players. They paint the owners as greedy and capitalistic, fighting over a couple revenue percentage points. What they fail to address is that 18 NHL teams lost money last year. If the top five teams and the bottom 25 teams are grouped, the top fiveposted a profit of $212 million while the bottom 25 lost $86 million. If these bottom teams can increase the amount of revenue they receive and pay out less in player salaries, they might be able to operate in a profit. These owners have a lot at risk; bankruptcy could mean losing everything they have built up. Many teams are just trying to survive; they don’t have the massive amounts of money everyone believes they do. Players won’t be affected if a team goes under, they can go and play for another team. At the moment players are playing overseas, while the owners cannot make any money. However, neither the players nor the owners suffer as much as the American sports fans. They are the ones who truly lose out in the situation.
The third week in October should be the best week of the year for American sports fans. It is the only time that all four major sports league are playing, or rather should be playing. This glorious week has been ruined each of the past three years by labor disputes. Last year it was the NBA who had their lockout. The year previous was the NFL, who was producing an inferior product due to their lockout and lack of training camp. Now the NHL has decided to have a go at ruining this week and succeeded wonderfully. The fan has become disillusioned with professional sports; they know lockouts will occur every time that the labor agreement ends. These lockouts always end with both groups unsatisfied, and the fans lose out more than anyone. Therefore the next labor debate will be even more contentious. The old adage “more money, more problems,” applies perfectly to the state of labor in sports. Fans need to take back control; they are the ones who provide this revenue and therefore can take it away. All the players and owners understand is a loss in revenue. There has to be consequences in order to change the behavior of owners and players. A boycott of the first week of the season would send the correct message. Fans must let the leagues know how disheartening a cancelled or significantly shortened season is.