Weekend NHL CBA Roundup (Bettman Edition) – August 12, 2012.

As the hockey world awaits the NHLPA’s long-awaited CBA counter-proposal, here’s a few observations of some of the notable CBA news of the past week. 

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s recent statement the league won’t consider playing this coming season without a new collective bargaining agreement generated lots of headlines and heightened anticipation of another lockout.

“I re-confirmed something that the union has been told multiple times over the last nine to 12 months,” Bettman told reporters after a two-hour meeting. “Namely, that time is getting short and the owners are not prepared to operate under this collective bargaining agreement for another season, so we need to get to making a deal and doing it soon. And we believe there’s ample time for the parties to get together and make a deal and that’s what we’re going to be working towards.”

OK, so Bettman didn’t actually come right out and say, “there will be a lockout on September 15th if there’s no new CBA in place”, but the inference certainly wasn’t missed.

What was amusing was the reaction around the hockey world, as though Bettman was saying something we didn’t already know.

The league made its intent crystal-clear back in May when it filed its notice of termination of the CBA to the NHLPA. What Bettman said on Thursday wasn’t news.

His comments served a two-fold purpose: dismiss the notion floated by NHLPA director Donald Fehr the two sides could continue working under the current CBA until a new one was worked out, and to spur the PA to make its counter-proposal.

A lockout seems inevitiable, but both sides continue to point out there’s still plenty of time to get a deal done, and both continue to express optimism over that prospect.

Of course, that could all be BS for public consumption, but the atmosphere remains far less charged than it was around the same time eight years ago, when both sides were playing hardball, and everyone knew a long labor battle was coming.

On a personal level, I’m still hopeful the two sides can reach an agreement without another lockout, but if they don’t, I share the opinion of a consensus of fans, bloggers and pundits who don’t expect it to be a season killer.

 

Bettman’s comments this week has naturally elicited strong reaction from NHL fans. Just a random sampling from the comments section of this site, or other hockey sites, clearly indicate NHL fans have little love or respect for the Commissioner.

I don’t believe Bettman lays awake at night worrying about what the fans think. To be crudely blunt, I also don’t believe he gives a shit what the fans think of him. If he did, we wouldn’t be worrying about a potential lockout, because he’d be afraid of pissing us off.

That’s not meant as an insult to Bettman. While I’m certainly not among his fans, I can’t help but admire how casually he deflects away criticism. Despite the volume of boos, catcalls, and criticism hurled his way, he just sails serenely on, smile pasted firmly in place. Nothing fazes him.

Bettman was hired to represent the team owners, to negotiate on their behalf and run the league for them. To do that job, you need the hide of a rhinoceros, the killer instinct of a shark, ice water in your veins, and balls as big as church bells.

Whether we like Bettman or not – and most fans, pundits and bloggers don’t – he’s well-suited for the job. That’s why he’s  lasted nearly twenty years as league commissioner, weathered two lockouts and raised the specter of a third. He may come across as smug, but it works for him, and for the people he represents.

Love him, hate him, or love to hate him, Bettman will press on as the NHL commissioner, ignoring his critics and doing whatever it takes within legal boundaries to rake in the revenue, increase the owners’ franchise values, and snuff out any militant labor talk from the players.

 

Pat Hickey of The Montreal Gazette pointed out another lockout would be a dubious distinction for Bettman, as it would be the third during his 19-year tenure as commissioner.

Hickey also noted the following about the Commissioner’s recent comments:

‘Bettman indicated that something called “fundamental economics” are the key to a settlement.

“The fundamental proposal, our initial proposal, relates to the fact that we need to be paying out less in player costs,” he said.

His comments sound eerily similar to his 2005 call for “cost certainty” but it’s difficult to reconcile the owners’ call for concessions when they have created the problem with wanton free-agency signings, long front-loaded contracts and insane signing bonuses.’

Indeed!

The real reason they “need to be paying out less in player costs” is because struggling markets are having a difficult time keeping pace with the rising salary cap floor. Player costs are already tightly controlled by a system which implements a three-tier salary cap, and escrow to ensure the players revenue share never exceed 57 percent in a season.

A more robust revenue-share system (something better than the rumored paltry amount of 6-7 percent) is obviously required, but the league once again seems intent on doubling down on having the players foot the bill by slashing their share of revenue, redefining hockey-related revenue, and rolling back their salaries.

 

Sportsnet’s Mark Spector recently made a boo-boo in a recent column where he attempted to dispel some CBA myths.

Overall, he did a good job at myth-busting, but his claim Bettman never specifically promised ticket prices would drop when the owners got the deal they wanted back in 2005 doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Player agent Alan Walsh took to Twitter documenting several occasions when Bettman in fact tied cost certainty to ticket prices in 2004 and 2005.

Odds are, you won’t hear Bettman making those statements this time around. The backlash from fans, bloggers and pundits would have him quickly backpedalling.

 

ESPN.com’s Scott Burnside recently suggested if there is another NHL lockout, the fans should stay away when the league finally returns to action.

Sorry, Scott, but you know that’s not going to happen.

I’m so old, folks, I can remember reading (in newspapers, no less!) some pundits making similar suggestions during the lockout of 1994-95, and again on “teh interwebz” during the NHL’s nuclear winter of 2004-05.

Both times, hockey fans ignored those suggestions.

Sure, some fans may stay away. Some may be so justifiably disgusted with how the business of hockey is ruining their enjoyment of the game they spurn the NHL and never return.

Those fans, however, will be in a distinct minority.

The league, and yes, the NHLPA, all understand how devoted we NHL fans are. We may not have the numbers of professional football, baseball and basketball, but we are fanatical about our beloved game.

Team owners are willing to risk a third lockout in 18 years because they know the fans will not only return, but for every one they lose, they’ll eventually gain two or three more as memories of the lockout fade and focus shifts toward the game action.

If they were genuinely concerned about losing fans, they wouldn’t be courting the option of another lockout.

7 Comments

  1. i don’t blame the large market teams for not wanting more revenue sharing when the league seems committed to the financial sinkhole in the desert that is the Coyotes. it’s not just the small market teams not making money either, Chicago admitted that despite playing the maximum amount of games the year they won the Cup they still lost money and it will be several years before they expect to be in the black.
    under Bettman’s leadership the NHL has ventured into non-traditional markets with an astounding lack of success. recent enthusiasm in Winnipeg and Minnesota doesn’t count as they were both previously NHL cities. almost all the teams in the south are struggling. success on the ice doesn’t guarantee profits either as most of the teams that have won the Cup in the past 15 years are in the lower half of the league in attendance, with former Cup winners Anaheim, Carolina, Colorado, Dallas, and New Jersey all at below 87% of capacity. Attendance itself is a fairly misleading statistic as teams have to show a certain attendance to qualify for support from the league and do this by all but giving away tickets. the average NHL ticket price (for non premium tickets) for the 2011/12 season was $57.10 and there were only 12 teams above the league average with 1/2 of those being Canadian teams. of the 12 teams above the league average only 2 (Pittsburgh & Boston) were among teams having won the Cup in the last 15 years.
    if you were to look at these statistics through the eyes of a casual observer you’d have to wonder why the NHL all but ignores it’s rabid fanbase in Canada in favour of the obviously disinterested population of the southern US. i get that the NHL is trying to grow it’s fanbase and i can understand how attractive the American market is but to be taking all of the revenue sharing from Canada and sinking it into failing markets in the US instead of doubling down in markets that would actually support their teams in say Markham, Hamilton, or even Quebec seems ludicrous.
    you have to wonder how long the NHL will get away with the contempt they’re showing to the Canadian fans who support their product. by showing an obvious bias to teams in the US they open themselves up to huge losses should there be another financial crisis like in 2008 (there’s already rumblings of that with debt in US households at record levels).

  2. If you want a strength of market and love for the game you have to look at Canada. We have JUNIOR teams that can sell out their local arenas sometimes. I believe there are a few markets in Canada that would do well to have a team. I believe if a few of these markets were to expand to a team, it would allow greater profits that could in fact justify moving teams into non-traditional markets in the future.

    I also don’t think ALL are a failure. Florida, Carolina, Tampa, Nashville have all actually done pretty well for themselves considering the market they are located in. I think they only two teams in dire straits of needing a new location is Columbus & Phoenix.

    • I disagree with your assessment of Columbus. While the team is suffering due to lack of playoff exposure, the fan base is there. The team needs to string together some solid seasons showing that they are in fact turing around to re-ignite the passion that is there.

      There were a lot of mistakes made early on by rushing players who were not ready for the NHL. Honestly the only player that was ready in my opinion was Rick Nash. All others should’ve had at least a year in the minors.

      I think Carolina is one of the teams that should be relocated. While the argument can be made that there is a solid fanbase there, it appears to be a “fair weather” one. How many times have there been stories of only 3000 fans being in the seats? Granted those are quickly forgotten when the team has a solid playoff run, only to have it happen again the following season.

  3. You all made good points but you need to think bigger and a tv contact in the US is where the real money is, not gate sales. In order for this league to ever survive in the future it will do so beyond just gate sales and merch. The fans/customers can only pay or will be willing to pay so much.

  4. @Ron Moore the NHL has already signed a National TV contract in the States (10 years with NBC and it’s Networks which includes Versus)so that ship has already sailed. what this means is there’s no big infusion of cash coming which is probably why the NHL is taking such a hardline in the negotiations.

  5. 1) Its almost a done deal that there will be a 3rd Bettman lockout. However I do NOT believe it will be a “season killer”. Wy? The [players will cave
    2) Beyond the inevitable bluster we will surely hear when the players proposal is rejected later today, the players will start to et antsy when pay cheques don’t start arriving in October and by ThanksGivig their wives will start to nag them that X-mas is coming!! :)
    3) Seriously, there will be a 2 month work stoppage, and play will resume around the holiday season. Few will miss a few regular season games, and the Winet Classic will be a huge success that will quickly erase the current acrimony

  6. Я думаю, Бетмен піхву, і кожен піхву потребує хороший шуруповерти один раз в той час.