On Hockey Conor Walsh
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — $3.3 billion.
That’s $3,300,000,000. Eight zeroes.
To look at that figure, it seems ridiculous that an argument over how to divvy up such an obscene amount of revenue has, at the very least, delayed the start of the NHL season.
But that’s what we’re looking at, and instead of being able to tune into NESN at seven o’clock tonight for the Boston Bruins’ season-opener, you’ll instead find a show looking at the 2012 Penn State football team.
All because the NHL’s owners and the NHL Players’ Association can’t come up with a way to split up what they’ve deemed “hockey related revenue.” Last year, the league raked in record-high HRR.
$3.3 billion, to be exact.
Now, it’s locked out for the second time since 2004-05 as the two sides continue to stare each other down under the guise of “negotiating” a new collective bargaining agreement.
It’s not my job to offer a solution, and I won’t pretend to be able to understand the intricacies of multi-billion dollar industry.
But these guys -- commissioner Gary Bettman, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, player representatives and the owners -- should be smart enough to figure this one out.
Especially considering the league was rendered irrelevant just eight years ago by another lockout, and, in the past few seasons, has finally gotten itself back on the map.
Let’s go through how we got here.
The players, by all accounts, got fleeced with the collective bargaining agreement that ended the last lockout, as the NHLPA bit the bullet and accepted a hard salary cap and salary rollbacks for players.
Understandably, the players don’t want to go down that road again. And so they brought in Fehr, a shrewd negotiator that had previously guided Major League Baseball Players’ Association through the 1994-95 players strike.
It makes sense. The players gave in last time around, and with the owners reaching for more again — with the guidance of Bettman, the lockout machine — they’re looking to hold their ground.
And so we wait, as the players continue to fight the owners’ proposals to cut the players’ piece of the pie from 57 percent to 49 percent.
I’ve got to say, though, that it doesn’t seem like Fehr’s doing the players much of a service to this point. Each cancelled game is money lost for the players — at least those that weren’t part of the exodus to Europe. Seems to me that 49 percent of another big year of revenues is better than 57 percent of the nonexistent revenue brought in during a lockout.
But Fehr continues to stare. And Bettman continues to stare. And the hopes of resolution continue to fade.
The NHL’s owners contend that 18 teams posted a deficit last season and that big revenues are led by hockey-crazed fans in Canada. In fact, according to Forbes, only three teams — Toronto, Montreal, and the New York Rangers — made considerable profits in the 2010-11 season, with several other teams posting profits.
So, for teams like the Maple Leafs, Canadiens, Rangers, Bruins, Canucks, Red Wings, etc., there isn’t much to complain about.
It’s the Phoenix Coyotes and Florida Panthers and Columbus Bluejackets of the NHL world that are hurting.
Gee, who came up with the idea to bring the NHL to such non-traditional markets?
We’ll answer it for you. Since Bettman took over as NHL’s first commissioner in 1993, eight teams -- Anaheim, Florida, Dallas, Phoenix, Carolina, Nashville, Atlanta and Columbus — have popped up in places where people, quite frankly, don’t care much about hockey.
The Atlanta experiment already failed, and it looks like Phoenix isn’t far behind. Some others, like Dallas, Carolina and Nashville, have fared better.
So, while the NHL owners bark about how many of them are losing profits, they need to take a look in the mirror. The league decided to expand its reach south of the Mason-Dixon Line. In large part, it didn’t work.
Maybe, the likes of Bruins’ owner Jeremy Jacobs could solve that problem by sharing the wealth to their less-fortunate brethren rather than hiding behind the veil of hockey related revenues and bickering with the NHLPA.
Bettman, Jacobs and the rest of the owners continue to stare. And Fehr stares right back. And there’s still no hockey.
I’ve made this sound more simple than it is. There are more moving parts to this CBA argument than just the HRR pie — notably contract lengths, unrestricted free agency restrictions and rookie contracts.
The point, however, remains. Both sides should be embarrassed that it’s come to this.
The NHL went down this road twice before under Bettman — as the 1994-95 season was shortened by a work stoppage — and the last one yielded the first-ever season lost due to a labor dispute in major North American leagues.
It nearly killed the NHL.
The feeling around the negotiations this time is that there will, eventually, be hockey this season.
The damage, however, may have already begun. The fact is, by the end of last season, hockey was back on the map. The NHL is sitting on a great television deal with NBC, and with many major American markets now housing many successful teams, it’s only going to get better.
But each game lost is a step down the relevance ladder, and it doesn’t need to be that way.
Who’s to blame for the NHL lockout? Who cares. Everyone involved shares the blame.
So, here’s my best solution. Stop the staredown, figure it out, and let hockey continue to flourish, because an extended, two-sided tantrum over how to share $3.3 billion is pathetic.