For countless weeks we have talked about the roller coaster that is the CBA negotiations. With every rise up the track, fans fill themselves with hope of the NHL returning. With every dive down, they scream out in frustration that the two sides have created a toxic situation.
There is no question the ride has been unpredictable, even for those on both sides of the table. Don Fehr has misjudged Gary Bettman. The Commissioner has no idea what the Executive Director is going to do next. Hence the renewed disclaimer vote and the class-action suit that will be the talk of the weekend.
And make no mistake, both the league and the players are in finger-pointing mode right now.
For what reason? I’m not sure anymore.
The one thing I can guarantee is that it’s not helping anyone (and I really mean everyone) love the NHL game.
I honestly believe the arguments will be settled and, within seven days, the NHL and its players will sign a new collective bargaining agreement for the next decade. I fully believe that fans will eventually return, first in a trickle, then with a rush, as we play the 48-game schedule.
But for me, that’s not enough.
The two sides have to keep the negotiations in the room. Even though they can’t stand each other right now, they have to begin to tell the fans directly, or through the media, that the highest level of professional hockey is a fine form of entertainment and is worth the anguish of this lockout. Remember, these guys are actually negotiating to be 50-50 business partners.
Everyone understands that creating a new labour agreement is a difficult process. It’s not sports, its purely business. Like General Motors and its employees, like the government and the teachers, the rancour gets ugly. But the passion that consumers have for buying a car, and that parents have for schools is very different than what a sports fan has for this game.
And please, before every taxpayer starts slamming me for saying sports are more important as the education system, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that this sport has been successful because of the fierce passion its fans have had for pro hockey.
That passion has been negatively transformed because the two sides of this dispute have not really empathized enough with the paying customer. And they’re now on the verge of doing a great deal of damage to an industry dependant on the paying customer.
It’s for that reason and that reason alone, that both Don and Gary, players and league, must put their anger and distain aside in the public domain and say a little. Talk to the fans like the NHL and its players really understand what the fans are going through. Tell us; yell at us, that they will fix this quickly, quietly and for a long, long time.
The time has come for both sides to tell us that they believe in this partnership as much as we believe in the game. The scores that must be settled between the two sides can still be settled within the bargaining process, but not in front of the microphones.
The players have to stop calling out the commissioner. The owners have to stop throwing anonymous barbs the way of the union. Plain and simple, it is not in the best interest of the business of the NHL.
Remember, the one they’re partners in. This business can only suffer from these inane pouting fits.
The league and players have to act like the professionals we know they are. They have to act like they’re smart businessmen who believe in the business and the sport, even through these hard times, and will make fans of every kind to want to buy a ticket to a game.
The healing process has to begin now, long before they sign their names to a new agreement.