Frustration over NHL Lockout Could Give Way To Apathy.

The jockeying and posturing continues in NHL CBA talks between the league and the players association, but it’s taking a toll upon this scribe.

As a free lance hockey writer, I’ll continue to faithfully document the saga, noting when hopes are raised whenever a new proposal is tabled by either side, and how those hopes get crushed when the proposal is inevitably dismissed.

As a hockey fan, however, I’m thoroughly fed up with his nonsense, and that frustration is starting to creep into my work.

Regardless of which side your sympathies lay (and I’ve made no secret mine are quietly with the players), this lockout was pointless to begin with, and becoming more ridiculous as it drags on.

The NHL and NHLPA are already down to the number for a revenue split (50-50) everyone knew would be the end result of this current labor spat. Now, it’s just a question of how they reach it to their mutual satisfaction.

But, of course, nothing comes easy in labor negotiations, and so we see the latest dance where the league sets a deadline for the PA to negotiate off its latest proposal, the PA refuses, the deadline passes, the league “pulls its offer from the table”, both sides blame the other through the media, the league cancels a block of games, and both sides again blame each other, while expressing ‘deep regret’ to the fans that it ever reached this point.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

What makes this so particularly frustrating is both sides admitted “there’s a deal to be done here”. Well, of course there’s a deal to be done here! You’ve both acknowledged the 50-50 split in revenues is the ultimate goal. The league came up from its original proposal (43 percent) and the PA came down from theirs (54 percent, “snapping back” to 57 percent if revenues were higher than expected). They’re on the same page now over the key issue of dividing revenue.

But both sides have to bluster and bully and posture, not wishing to appear “weak” in the other’s eyes, hoping to score PR points with a fan base growing more weary over the nonsense with each passing week.

It’s to the point where it seems a growing number of folks don’t care who’s right or who’s wrong. We all know the next CBA won’t be perfect or idiot-proof, and once it is implemented, the owners, general managers and agents will find loopholes to exploit to their advantage.

We know the best players in the league will continue to earn top dollar, teams will grossly overpay free agents, and even marginal talent will earn comfortable salaries worth far more in one contract than most fans will ever see in their lifetimes.

The owners, especially those in traditional hockey markets, will continue to thrive as the new CBA jacks their franchise values even higher, and more revenue pours into their coffers.

Those in non-traditional markets, especially those which are struggling, will once again have to do the best they can with the smidgen they get from revenue sharing, and hope things might be better over the course of this CBA than it was over the previous two.

You get the best deal you can, and move on. And if there’s problems which arise in said deal, both sides should be able to work them out without resulting to a lockout or strike.

Granted, I’m learning much about the business of the NHL, I’d rather be writing about the action on the ice, not the boardrooms.

I’m especially bored by the rhetoric from both sides. TSN’s Bob McKenzie aptly referred to it as “white noise”. Almost everything which has come from either side which hasn’t been a sign of progress in these negotiations is just blather. To quote a line of Shakespeare’s, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

Of course, neither side is really interested or concerned with what pundits, bloggers and fans have to say. They’re locked in their respective bubbles, fight it out “for the good of the game”, feeling assured the fans will come flocking back because, after all, they’re “the greatest fans in the world”.

They probably will, especially if this lockout ends in November or December and a reasonable semblance of this season can be played.

But I can’t help wondering just how much longer the NHL – a predominantly gate-driven venue which has tried to escape the label of “fringe sport” in the all-important American sports market – can keep abusing the good will of its devoted fan base with this seemingly continuous labor strife.

The league won’t lose all, or even most, of its fans, but it risks losing some of them for good. And if it continues having “work stoppages” every six or seven years, it won’t be able to replace those fans they lose with younger ones who have little or no memory of labor strife.

Losing fans to apathy is the biggest risk the NHL faces.

Say what will you about fan frustration, at least it shows they’re still emotionally involved. Those who truly no longer care if the NHL returns or not indicates a dying passion for the league, and that could be a greater concern.

In the meantime, there’s this lockout to get through, and while many of us hope it’ll be over soon, I can’t help but wonder over the potential damage to the league’s brand if it doesn’t.

Though I’ll continue to cover the NHL once this lockout is over, as a fan, I wonder if I’ll really be as interested in this league as I once was.

19 Comments

  1. Well said Lyle and bang on.
    Even if it gets resolved and they play it will be far from over from the fans.
    I would imagine a losing streak would be seeing nasty fans and any player that has a bad game will get ripped very badly.
    When you look at the last few years at how some players have gone from loved to hated very quickly i think the fans will be even worse now.
    And as soon as any team raises ticket or concession prices the backlash will be loud.
    Payback is truly going to be a bitch.

  2. This is all about honouring your commitments. The owners locked out the players after getting pretty much everything they wanted in the last CBA. Now they want to take back more. I understand that owners need to make a profir. If they did not feel that they could honor their commitments to their players, then they should not have signed deals with their players. Basically the owners are saying. “We’re stupid. Protect us from our stupidity”. Honor your commitments!! Otherwise, get the hell out of the business

  3. Bettman and the owners are nothing but bullies. The only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them, even if you get your ass kicked a bit.I have nothing but loathing for Bettman and the owners.How can you respect anyone who signs a deal with you and then tries to weasle out of it before the ink is even dry? I hope the players stand their ground, even if it means I never see an NHL game again

    • I could easily say the same thing about players honouring their contracts,guaranteed contracts.
      how many sign big deals and their play tapers off until the last year of the contract.
      how many sign in good faith and then demand trades where now the team gets maybe 50 cents on the dollar talent back.
      how many get traded and dislike where they were sent too and start mailing it in but refind their game when traded again.
      how many say they love thier team/city/fans and first chance they get sign with big market teams or cities where the chance for better endorsments
      how many show up when they feel like it or coast because they do not like the coach.
      i would say this is all equal to not honouring your contract and they get away with it because they know they will get paid no matter what.
      to say owners sign players and want cash back and are not honouring commitments is no different to players signing contracts and then not living up to them.
      you want big contracts and think you deserve them then why not have no guaranteed contracts where if you fail to earn them you get let go.
      your company can hire you for big bucks but if you fail you are out the door.
      owners pay big bucks and if the player underperforms he is still stuck paying him.
      and the players came out way ahead in the last cba with salaries going up 70% and team costs going way up but with no increase to the owners so it all came out of their pockets.
      so who are the bullies here,the owners who ended up worse off last time and want it evened up or the players who came out way ahead and love it so they want nothing to change.

      • I agree with both sides of this arguement here. The owners have shown that they cannot police themselves in terms of honouring the former CBA that they said would be their salvation. Coupled with the continued signings that they are now crying foul over due to the obscene lengths/values they are truly hypocritical with signing the deal in “good faith”.
        As for the players, your points were bang on. How many times does a player sign a contract only to become invisible until his “contract year”? Too many. I think the most glaring case of hypocrisy that stands out to me would be Alexi Yashin signing a contract in good faith while in Ottawa, only to demand a re-negotiation a year later and hold out when the team said no. I seem to recall he did this a couple of times as well while in Ottawa.
        My point to this is that neither side is “innocent” here, and both are hypocritical. Both sides need to man up and find the best possible deal to be had and quit the posturing. This way they may be able to salvage some of the rapidly diminishing respect they have with the fans and reduce an increase in the long term damage that they have already created.

      • I agrre that players have to live up to their agreements as well. Suppose your boss put a cap on the asmount of money you as a group could earn. You’re not happy about it, but you eventually agree to it. A few yers pass and your boss signs you and your co-workers to a contract that is well within the terms of the agreement. No sooner is the ink dry on the contract, your boss comes back and says he won’t pay you what you agreed to. How would that make you feel?

      • If you feel that players are not living up performance wise to their contracts , then structure contracts differently. Set a base salary for each player based on past and present performance and ability. Then add bonus clauses for performance. The better you perform, the more money you make. Doesn’t that make sense?

        • That makes a lot of sense Dave except you would never get players to agree to that.
          Bonus clauses are also very dangerous to teams as it makes players selfish trying to get to bonus stuff and cause problems.
          Team bonuses are better but hard to agree to with top vs bottom types.
          There looks to be no real solution on contracts and that will continue.
          as for your comparison on my boss/company it happens every year all over the world.
          company does really well and employees get nice raises and bonuses and enjoy the spoils while they last.
          company starts going downward in profits and maybe takes some losses and employees get no bonuses and some lose jobs and others are replaced with cheaper alternatives.
          i have had it happen to me after a few good years and got laid off and had to go elsewhere to do a tougher job at much lower wages.
          now whether or not the company was suffering as bad as they say or not it does not matter as an employee.
          they say we have this much and offer you whatever or you do without.
          the players can say all they want about not believing the owners but in the end it is going to be just that way and the longer they fail to see that the less they sre going to get.
          if at the end of this cba things are great and on a big upswing and owners are pulling in way more then expected like the players did last time then the ball falls in their court and they get it their way next time.
          i have also worked in a union job and thats the way it went over the years,company does real well we got a great contract,company does poorly we had to give back and got less.
          the last one before i retired we got buried.
          hated it,not happy at all,but not unexpected and knew it was inevitable so had to agree to it.
          this is what the players are not seeing and why i think fehr is screwing them by making it worse.

          • @TopRightCorner
            Are you forgetting that the last CBA was forced by the owners on the players and proclaimed by the owners to be a league saving agreement that was absolutely neccessary for the league to survive and that it would fix all of their problems? Now they are trashing that same agreement as the ruin of the league because they can’t save themselves from…themselves. Bettman has done nothing but brag about how awesome the league was doing and how profitable it was right up to the expiration of the last agreement and now claims the opposite.

            P.S. The players salary did not go up 70%. I have nothing against anybody presenting their opinion but you have got to stop pulling numbers out of the air to support your arguements, unless of course you are Mitt Romney and then I guess you can’t help it:)

  4. Re: I wonder if I’ll really be as interested in this league as I once was.

    I won’t. That is all.

  5. What’s that, Lyle? Did you say something about a lockout? Now where did I put my knitting needles…:(

    • Flying V,

      I by no means pulled anything out of my hat.
      You should do some reading before calling someone out.
      the average nhl salary went up from 1.4 million to 2.4 million,you do the math.
      the league had great revenues,that is revenues and not profits,big difference.

      • Actually, I like to do research and in doing so will show you your error.

        The average salary in 03/04 (the year leading up to the last lockout) was 1.83 mil

        Salaries were rolled back to begin the new CBA in 05/06 to average 1.46 mil

        The average salary in 10/11 was 2.4 mil and in 11/12 it was 2.45 mil

        The average salary increased just under 70% from 1.46 mil – the average AFTER the players took a roughly 25% reduction (rollback) in their average salaries to start this last CBA so they in fact did not go up an actual 70%, they went up an artifial 70% as their salary was reduced from the 1.83 mil leading up to the last lockout to 1.46mil (a concession made by the players).

        The true salary increase is the difference between the 1.83 mil at the end of the CBA leading to the lockout of 04/05 to the current 11/12 average of 2.45 mil which is…

        A diffence of slightly less than a 35% increase. Half of your quoted number.

        Their pay was first reduced and then increased based on the reduction, not based on their actual average before agreeing to a pay cut.

        The league likes to through that 70% number around to try and make the players look bad but in reality that’s not a true reflection of the average salary increase players received as a result of the last CBA.

        I totally get how you thought the average increase was 70% but hopefully I was able to clearly explain (sometimes I have trouble with that) the true increase was actually slightly under 35%.

        Also I do know the deifference between revenues and profits. My point on that comment was that every single time Bettman was ever questioned in any interview he gave regarding teams in trouble, he always dished out his ‘things are all puppies and rainbows in NHL team viability land.’ I don’t ever recall any company or business that boasted about their success out of one side of their mouth while crying poor out of the other as much as Gary has.

        • Good points V.

          However crying about a 35% increase does not make me feel much better when they are screaming they got screwed.
          I am sure any person in the world would be dancing a jig if they got a 35% increase over the last 7 years,well unless you are a hockey player.
          While you can rip Bettman i can do that easily with Fehr.
          he is the master of talking out his butt and his numbers are just as pathetic.
          The king of con men and his proposals that look fancy but in reality change absolutley nothing and actually give the players raises is a joke.
          lets not forget for over a year he kept declining to negotiatiate and all this last minute stuff falls squarely in his lap.
          he has always tried the back door stuff first like waiting a year,killing the new alignment,hoping the league played under the old contract so he could pull his baseball move of striking right before playoffs,tried to screw things by going to court over labour laws and being very selective on how he spins things to the players.

          By also saying that the big cost increases to the owners is their problem is very blind.
          when you consider the 35% salary increase added to cost to run business over 7 years coming out of 43% of revenue how much profit can you really expect.
          These guys OWN the business not the players.
          When employees are taking home more profit then their employers there needs to be a correction.
          the players are saying they can play in europe instead and i say go ahead.
          they will never make anything close to what they make here but claim they will do it,ya bullcocky.
          what we have is nothing more then spoiled rotten children that do not want any change and Fehr is the one adult left that keeps telling them they are right and like all spoiled rotten children will listen to the guy that tells them what they want to hear.

          well now instead of getting a time out/go to your room they are going to get a good old fashioned spanking and i am glad and say it is very deserved.
          they had it way better then they ever expected and even after this gets settled will have it good.
          they have nothing to complain about but are shooting themselves in the foot.
          just wait until they do play and the fans get all over them when they play poorly or the usual suspects take some games off.
          you think they are crying now you have not seen anything yet after the fans rip them.

          • I don’t actually disagree with most of the things you are trying to say ripping one side over the other. In fact, if anyone went through some of my posts they might think I have a split personality because it appears like I’m taking sides against the players one day and owners the next when arguing against points being made in comments about this lockout. That’s because I think both sides should be equally ripped.

            The reason for this is that I believe both sides are almost equally at fault in this stupid display of chest pounding posturing media bargaining against each other with half truths being told to us daily. They are like the dumb ass Greek Gods high up on Mount Olympus squabbling over who has the most power to lord over us poor mortal humans while we are fooled into taking sides with one deranged God over another.

            They have the power to get a deal done but are more concerned with their own bloody images than they are with realizing that the longer they keep up their ridiculous postering with each other the more they are in reality just killing off their mere mortal fan base no matter which side we are on.

            Both sides need each other if they want to continue to have cajillions of dollars to split up amongst themselves but both sides want all the credit for what each side brings to the table because ‘it’s my table! No it’s my table! Rabble, rabble, rabble…’

            The longer they fight over this the more likely both sides are to start losing their devoted followers because we are all getting a little tired of the ‘poor me! I should be richer! No! Poor me, I should be richer!’ stupid arse PR through the media game these guys are playing. If both sides remain determained in destorying the other they wont have their precious All Mighty Game to attract their poor mortal pawns with.

            At the end of the day they need Chuck Norris to karate chop some sense into both of them.

  6. As a hockey fan, I promised myself that I would boycott the remainder of this season (if there is one) if they cancelled any games in November. I also promised myself that if the Winter Classic is cancelled, I will not be back to the NHL as a fan for the foreseeable future.

    Most of you won’t care, but I think it is important to let the owners know that, as a fan, I’ve had enough. There are other sports I can spend money on, and I’m going to do that.

  7. I haven’t been able to think of a reason why player reps like Mathieu Schneider are saying the NHL pulling their offer is “unfortunate”. The NHLPA wasn’t going to negotiate off of it anyway….

  8. I’m usually too busy to sit down on a Sunday and watch the NFL however yesterday afternoon I did just that. I’d forgotten just how entertaining football can be. There are alternatives and if this continues much longer people will discover those alternatives.

  9. this site may be the only place apathy hasn’t already cost the league the interest of it’s hard core fans. i recognize that Bettman is just the frontman for the owners but he may have outlived his usefulness, when your commissioner is booed everywhere he goes (save opening day in Winnipeg) as a representative of the league it’s bad optics and the owners may let him go to appease the fans when this ridiculousness finally ends. while i can understand the owners wanting to get it right this time (i doubt the fans will stick around for another lockout following this one) they also have to acknowledge that they’re largely responsible for the issues that are holding up an agreement and have to be willing to give up something to get the 50/50 split they’re so desperate to achieve this time. a reduction on salaries they negotiated shortly before the lockout is a non starter and the players have little or no trust in the owners to identify how much they actually make from their hockey teams as they have manipulated those numbers for decades. both sides agree there’s a deal to be made but can’t even agree on how big the pie they hope to split actually is. the only hope i see for hockey this year is for a moderate owner like Mike Illich to say enough’s enough and lead a boardroom coup that tosses Bettman & Daly and removes traditional power broker owners Jacobs & Snider from their positions on top NHL owner committees. if they cancel the Winter Classic this season is toast and the negotiations will stall.