Down and (Locked) Out

The NHL’s labor woes rather depressingly mirror the United States Congress… no compromise, no progress,with little thought to their constituents until votes/dollars are needed. Rich folks bicker over who gets more gold from the goose, not caring one whit that they’re squeezing that goose to death.

It's not going to slap itself

(h/t Easton Hockey)

Derailing the NHL’s modest momentum with a lockout will reduce the money pot the owners and players share. So how is holding fans hostage helping their bottom line? It’s not—yes, the league needs a new CBA, but the chasm between the two sides speaks more to a clash of egos than a reasonable negotiation.

The NHLPA, thus far, seems more willing to inch toward the middle than the owners’ coalition. To be fair, players are seen more favorably by default—after all, most NHL team owners are barely known by their teams’ fans (Ted Leonsis is an obvious exception), and the financial gulf between workaday fans and team owners precludes much empathy.

Still, regardless of who “wins” these negotiations, the fans will lose. It’s hard to see any positive outcome to this fight.

Let’s suppose, for example, that the owners excel in the negotiating room and snag a notable increase in their share of the pie. Perhaps the concessions include a player salary rollback of some small percentage. Even more miraculously, the season somehow starts as scheduled.

How many of those reshuffled dollars will be passed on to the fans? $0.00. In fact, rather than a reasonable 5% or 10% reduction in ticket prices, expect yet another increase next season and for the foreseeable future. There’s no pretense of “We pass the savings on to you!” in the world of professional hockey.

Add to that the cancellation of various events (e.g., the Caps’ season ticketholder party), uncertainty regarding if/when games will be played, the inability of fans to resell tickets until a deal is signed… well, fans are already getting the shaft no matter how this squabble ends. If you factor in the arena vendors and security, the equipment suppliers, and the myriad small businesses and individuals (including the Capitals’ office staff) who rely on the NHL to make their livings, then these stagnant negotiations are even more unforgivable.

Here in the District, the competition for the public’s sports entertainment dollar is increasing. The Nationals are not only succeeding, but they’re an eminently fun team to watch. The Redskins will likely stumble to another sub-par season, but excitement about RGIII has eclipsed that concern for many. A lockout will almost certainly reduce demand for Capitals tickets, drain the Caps’ season ticket wait-list, and dilute ticket value for the Caps’ season ticketholders.

In other markets, teams already struggling to build a fan base would give up any gains they’ve made in recent years, precipitating potential bankruptcies, relocations, and perhaps even contractions. One could argue that contracting a couple teams and moving a couple others would be good for the league’s long-term health… but making such decisions hastily due to the financial impact of a lockout is beyond foolish.

The eager anticipation hockey fans feel as each September approaches is instead trepidation and uncertainty. If the season does happen, it will be met with sighs of relief (tempered with frustration) rather than the usual shouts of joy.

If there’s no season? Anger, and gradually apathy, will replace joy — and those feelings will linger, to the detriment of players and owners alike.

So, owners: The longer a lockout looms, the more damage is done to the NHL brand, your bottom line, and your future earnings. All you’ll be earning is the disdain of your customers.

Players: The fans who enable you to become millionaires by playing a game that you love are sick of these shenanigans… don’t forget how good you’ve got it.

So get it done, folks. Drop the damned puck.

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16 Responses to Down and (Locked) Out

  1. We survived losing an entire season. We can survive losing a couple of week’s worth of games. At the end, as much as we love it, it’s only entertainment. If they don’t want our money, fine.

  2. Of course we can survive — that’s the point. All this squabble is doing is pointing out to fans that, y’know, being without the NHL isn’t that big a deal. That’s not good for the league, and you’d hope the owners and players realize it.

    To be honest, I don’t care whether there’s a season or not anymore; it’s sad they’ve already pushed the hockey joy outta me. I just want it resolved one way or the other so we can plan our lives to accommodate this rather significant season-ticket investment.

  3. Paul Savage says:

    Unfortunately, I think you are wrong. Even though I would love to think that another lockout by the NHL would hurt, in truth it won’t. Fans will still come back. Why? Because ice hockey is a very exciting game to watch, and the NHL has the best talents in the world.

    Initially the NHL will get hurt, but in the long run, it’ll not only survive, but thrive.

  4. Todd says:

    I think it’s funny about all the vitriol directed at Bettman in that he’s the one behind the lockout. He’s taking his marching orders from his bosses, the owners, including Ted. Guaranteed if they wanted the season to start, Bettman’s not going to do the lockout unilaterally.

    I’m with the players on this one. The owners swore that the new CBA would “fix” the problems. Apparently not. But it’s the players’ fault that the owners keep handing them these big contracts? What was Parise supposed to say, “Thanks. But I’m really not worth this much money. I’m not signing for a penny more than $50 million”?

    Do more profit sharing. Have the players give back a little. Everyone goes home a bit unhappy, which means that the proper agreement was probably signed.

    Of course, seeing from the NBA and NFL lockouts how ruthless the owners can be, and seeing how the NFL is risking completely ruining its good name by locking out the referees over less than $20 million, this type of greed by the owners doesn’t surprise me at all.

    I mean, where is it written that you are guaranteed a profit from owning a sports team? I must have missed that lecture in my Constitutional Law class.

  5. @PAUL, you’re right people will come back, and clearly I agree that hockey is an amazingly entertaining game.

    Where another lockout will hurt is the league’s chance of ever getting a big-time TV deal. It could (and will) harm teams in marginal markets. It’ll hurt their merchandise sales. It will push away many on-the-fence fans outside of the mega-hockey markets. And it’ll piss off the hard-core fans.

    Lockouts always suck. But when the country is struggling to recover from its second-worst recession in history? Wow, that’s a bad time for the NHL to have this fight over more money than any of us will ever see.

  6. @ TODD, well said. And yes, any time all parties in a compromise are a bit unhappy, then it was probably a good compromise.

    (And I can only assume you mean other articles re: Bettman vitriol).

  7. Todd says:

    Mike,

    Yeah. Other articles, posts, commenters, etc.

  8. Grooven says:

    Wasn’t this all supposed to have been taken care of last time?
    For long-time fans, a lock-out will be frustrating. And they’ll fill the void with watching “Miracle” and “Mystery, Alaska”, or will move on from hockey altogether, as we saw happen with the last lock-out, maybe never to return (or at least take a long while to thaw out from the icy casting out).
    But after working so hard for all of the newer fans, one would think that the league and teams would want them to stick around. But so many of them won’t. They’ll move on to the next sport (or trend) du jour.
    Sell out streaks? Growing the fanbase? Television ratings?
    While there was something nice about only 5000 fans in the seats years ago (a seat for feet, a seat for coats, etc), being in a capacity building makes for a more compelling game. Rock the Red and so many other slogans will have to fall by the wayside if the barely-occupied returns. And I’d be willing to bet the return of the $10 gate-price seat is nowhere to be seen.

  9. @Mike: I feel for you when it comes to the money you’ve sunk into season tickets. But here’s another question: have you ever thought about refusing to pay until there’s some sort of confirmation that the season will be played? With so much uncertainty over the start time of the 2012-13 season, wouldn’t you be justified to hold back your dollars? By the same token, wouldn’t that mean that your current seats, or their rough equivalent, would still be available once the labor dispute is resolved?

  10. @Eric, that’s a really interesting idea: Why are we still paying each month, in advance, for a product that may not ever exist? For now I suppose it’s okay as there’s still a CBA… but if the CBA expires and no new one’s in place, then season ticketholders have a legitimate beef if teams continue charging them.

  11. @Mike: I was in the same boat during the lockout when Comcast double-charged me for NHL Center Ice. Took me months to get a refund – well into April 2005. If they don’t intend to play the games, then why should they get to keep your money?

  12. TG says:

    Eric,

    The problem is that, with a waiting list, odds of us getting the same seats are limited. And while similar may be OK, if we are sitting with friends / family, it will be harder to give them up with no guarantee of being able to sit with them later.

  13. Cuthbert says:

    Lockout or no, in view of the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression, a relatively meager 11% collective increase in inflation over the last five years, depressingly familiar annual playoff flame-outs, rapidly rising player salaries, overpriced concessions, diminishing promotions, and rapidly declining quality of on-ice play since 2010, the 68% increase in Caps lower bowl season ticket prices since the 2007-08 season stands in stark contrast — and serves as as a cold (so to speak) reminder that professional hockey is first and foremost a business, and the fans first and foremost are viewed by the league, the players, the owners, and the media as a revenue source.

  14. @ Cuthbert: Damn, that’s a compelling analysis, and right on point. Well done, sir.

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  16. Rob says:

    Please get the deal done!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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