Last week I was delivered a package from the Philadelphia Flyers. Now most of you would think that’s a good thing but as a Flyers season ticket holder I knew it was a nothing more than a joke. As I opened the envelope and reviewed the tickets for all the great games in my season ticket package I knew it was a long shot I’d actually attend any, not because of other obligations but because once again the lights have gone dark on the NHL. Rinks and practice facilities around North America have officially gone dark as of 12:01AM Sunday Sept 16th with no end in sight.
This is the second lockout facing the NHL in the past decade. The last one in 2004-05 wiped out the entire season and it was the first time since 1919 the Stanley Cup was not delivered to any team. Because of the severity of the last lockout there is a great amount of fear surrounding what may happen with this one. Die hard hockey fans like myself around the country fear the worst. Commissioner Gary Bettman said it himself that hockey fans are the greatest, most loyal fans in the world which I absolutely agree with him on. Hockey is a niche sport and those of us that watch daily live and breathe with it. The problem is that loyalty is now being used against us. The commissioner and owners know for a fact fans will return no matter how long the game stays inactive. Arenas will fill whenever a new deal between the players and owners is struck and both sides will capitalize on our wallets. Sadly the only way to make a statement is for fans to stay away from the game they love once it’s returns.
The bottom line is this lockout, just like the last one, is about splitting up a large sum of money. The NHL is coming off its most profitable season ever incurring revenues of over $3 billion. Under the Collective Bargaining agreement that just expired the players were collecting 57% of hockey related revenues. The owners feel that’s too much and would like to lower it down to 47% which would be a significant loss for the players.
Commissioner Gary Bettman in my opinion is the worst commissioner in all of sports. A lockout is in fact a choice not a mandate. He could have chosen to have the league operate under the old CBA for this season while the owners and players continued to negotiate a new deal. His sport just finished a record breaking season in which revenues were at an all time high and now he puts that in jeopardy as sponsors will question the NHL brand. The NHL has clearly hit its stride over the past few years as a mainstream sport in America. They’ve had a great relationship with NBC sports and ratings have increased every year for the past handful of seasons. The competition is at an all time high as the NHL has seen a different champion every year since the last lockout which is unheard of. Why now throw it all away and risk everything you’ve built up since the last lockout? That’s the choice of a commissioner who in my opinion has no connection what so ever with his fan base and sponsors.
A lot of players are already making plans to play in the Russian hockey league the KHL. Many younger players under 25 will also play in the minor leagues while the lockout is in place in order to stay in shape and sharpen their skills. Teams are prepared to not start the season on time if at all. Many teams including the Flyers and Buffalo Sabres will begin refunding season ticket holders on a month by month basis for any games that are cancelled. The NHL released a statement that they are open to negotiating at any point and it’s up to the players to step forward with an offer.
The bottom line is the players gave up so much during the last lockout what else could they possibly give. The way I see it the real issue here isn’t the amount of money the players make but the amount of money the owners make and how they divide it amongst themselves. Like many other leagues the NHL has certain franchises that make much more money than others. The Flyers are in the elite category of top money making franchises in the NHL along with teams such as the Rangers and Red Wings. The issue at hand is there are lot more teams treading water and barely making revenue and they depend on those big market clubs like the Flyers to share revenues with them to keep them in business. By taking more money from the players you’re still not solving the revenue sharing issue amongst the teams. The players association has said it many times and it’s pretty clear for anyone following talks the owners need to get their issues in order before they ask the players to give back more money on top of the loss they already incurred from the last lockout.
With that said it could be a while before we see an NHL game. The players are very unified on the subject of the owners needing to figure out a way to divide their revenues first. The owners feel the players need to give back more money. Training camp was set to open next week with regular season games set to kick off October 11th. Right now no talks are scheduled in the next few weeks which tells me both sides aren’t budging. The Winter Classic was set to take place New Year’s day from 115,000 seat Michigan Stadium between Detroit and Toronto. It’s a game that brings in huge amounts of money for the league. My prediction is that the best case scenario is for that game to serve as opening day but if we get to a point where no deal is struck in time for the Classic it could mean no hockey for the entire season. Unfortunately when that deal is struck, whenever it might occur, myself and other fans will open our wallets and go back to the rinks to support our teams because we love hockey. Until then, for those of us that really need our hockey fix if you live in the Philly region and have Xfinity tune into channel 858 which is the NHL network. They’ll be playing old games during the entire lockout which will keep reminding us all why we’re fans of this great sport.