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.
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.