Unsteady Ground

It is that time again in the hockey life cycle as the Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire on today (September 15, 2012). It seems like it is now just a foregone conclusion that the NHL will have a labour dispute and not be able to solve it in time to save the next season. In 2004 the same thing happened as both sides found it hard to agree on anything which led to a lost season. No hockey in 2004-05 was supposed to be an extremely damaging prospect but it actually had little effect on the NHL overall. Canadians came back in droves to the sport that they loved and people in the strong markets did the same. The smaller markets suffered but not many people cared, aside from Winnipeg and maybe Quebec City, because nobody missed hockey. In fact the NHL continued to grow after the lockout with new rules upping the offence, until recently, and a new deal that many believed was essentially what the owners had wanted. The system seemed to be working as Gary Bettman stepped up to the podium after the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals to report on the state of the league. He reported that the NHL had seen a profit of $3.3 Billion, more than ever before, as the league seemed to be operating well. There were the issues though as New Jersey, Nashville, Florida, and a number of others teams were suffering to pull in fans. Despite a number of possible other areas the NHL continued on with suffering franchises which became the only real business issue for the league. Still making $3.3 Billion meant that something was working and so going into the upcoming CBA negotiations the main issues should have been coming from greedy players. Instead though the issues came from the ownership who claimed that the system was not working and there needed to be an adjustment. Mainly an adjustment in how the NHL helped the smaller franchises with the division of revenue sharing. The Owners wanted to take a percentage of the hockey revenue from the players, they had 57% from the last CBA, and move that money to the revenue sharing pool to keep the struggling franchises alive. The players were completely against this claiming that it was not their decision to put these franchises in places that would not accept hockey. So the CBA negotiations turned in to the usual posturing and threatening that has become known to every sports fan.

It is clear that something is wrong here and it is not something in the business model of the NHL. There is no way that the league can claim to be earning $3.3 Billion in revenue this year yet claim that the system is not working. They will make the claim that they lost $200,000 last year but that is impossible if they made $3.3 Billion and even if they did lose that amount of money is nothing in the bigger picture. There are holes in the system of course with teams struggling to stay alive in the big sports market. That is the fault of the owners though who let Bettman fight for teams that will never work, see the Phoenix Coyotes, despite having other cities willing to do anything to get a team. To put that on the players is simply ridiculous for the owners to ask. It is a sign that the owners believe they can do whatever they want after clearly winning the last CBA negotiations. The lockout is looming and will likely happen for the simple fact that the owners are looking to take everything they can get. As the players and owners fight it out the fans suffer with the season in serious danger as it seems clearer than ever that the third-party of the equation is and always will be the forgotten. The fans will need to wait but there may be some hope as the Winter Classic between Detroit and Toronto is around the corner and represents a massive source of revenue for the NHL. Both sides will likely not want to see the opportunity pass by and so the season could be saved even if it starts halfway through. Either way the lockout is here and will be here for a while as the owners seem to need a math lesson and the players need to keep a united front all the while the fans suffer in yet another CBA negotiation that will likely end with a half season of hockey for 2012-13.

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