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.