It was late in Thursday’s Press Conference. Gary Bettman had probably been on the podium for 10 minutes too long. You knew he was now fully on adrenaline. The media were inching towards the door to begin filing on one of the most bizarre, theatrical days of anyone’s adult life, and a simple question came from the back…
“Gary, are you concerned that franchises will be in peril if there is no hockey this season?”
The answer was just a simple, yet had much more meaning: “My bigger concern is if we make the wrong deal we’ll have more franchises in jeopardy.”
And that, in a nut shell, is why there was no agreement in New York City this week. It is a message that the NHL really has not trumpeted enough during this lock out. As wealthy as some teams are there are other in this league riddled with debt. And before you jump up and yell, that the teams are in the wrong locales, stop it! This isn’t a public trust, it’s a private club. A business where the owners decide where the teams play. If you don’t like that, tough! It’s a private business, with economic issues that need to be addressed. And the players and the owners both bear the responsibility of addressing those issues.
Are they close? Closer than Gary will admit and not as close as NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr thinks.
Looking to have the players fix the financial woes of the league is wrong. Looking to have the players help fix the financial woes of the league in imperative.
I’ve been told that 18 teams in the NHL lost money last year. Some more than others. That means that all 720 players of the NHLPA actually made more money than 18 franchises. I’m sorry, that sounds strange to me. I certainly don’t begrudge the players making an average of 2.4 million dollars. For my money, they remain the most personable, humble, loyal (yes, loyal) and athletic of any professional athletes on the continent. They have worked hard, for far too many years not to be rewarded accordingly for their talent. But so too should the franchises have a chance to optimize their earnings. And while mismanagement, poor player evaluation and incompetent marketing could be described as problems of subjectivity for the clubs, they all still deserve a chance to turn a profit. The latest owners’ offer would give most teams that chance. And again, before you try and interrupt and yell “move two.” Be patient. That will happen. And it will happen to the benefit of Canadian hockey fans and all the members of the NHLPA.
By the way, by not answering yes to the owners’ three conditions — 10-year term on the new CBA; five-year contracts and 5 per cent variance on salaries; all the compliance and transitions issues — Don Fehr and the NHLPA actually took more money out of the players’ pockets in this shortened season.
You see, if there was some level of agreement this week, hockey would have resumed on Dec. 22 with a 60-game schedule. It now appears we will lose that window and probably negotiate our way to a 48 game schedule that begins in mid-January. That’s a 20 per cent reduction in games from Dec. 22 and therefore a 20 per cent reduction on the already prorated salaries. The players should be asking: If by waiting these additional few weeks, will they receive an offer that will compensate for the loss of that 20 per cent of salaries? They should also be asking, would accepting the owners’ demands radically affect the projected growth potential of the game over the next decade?
But the owners do not go unscathed here. As the commissioner mentioned in his simple response earlier: “My bigger concern is: if we make the wrong deal we’ll have more franchises in jeopardy.” The teams must accept more responsibility for their business partners. We have harped time and time again about improving the revenue sharing system to well beyond even what the players have demanded. Maybe as much as $300 million to distribute throughout the league to create a financial opportunity for all the teams.
As franchises get closer to the break-even point and beyond, they will create a business stability that will foster corporate investment, franchise value and overall league prosperity. A prosperity that all owners and all players will share as Hockey Related Revenue grows. It boggles my mind why teams don’t help each other more, off the ice. Creating business parity will never jeopardize the competitive juices on the ice, but it will help 30 teams and 720 players prosper and avoid the peril which Bettman fears.
It is imperative for the players to help fix the financial woes of the league. And it is imperative for the owners in the private club to help their partners to a much greater extent.
I just hope we don’t have to wait much longer to see players and owners pulling in the same direction.