Playing With Fire

The NHL has officially locked out the players.  This is a self-inflicted wound that could quickly go from superficial to critical because the NHL simply cannot afford to alienate its fanbase a second time in 8 years.

It was the current Commissioner, Gary Bettman, who claimed that the 2004-05 lockout provided “cost certainty” to the NHL.  Well, if it did, why do they need to lockout the players now? And while the lockout may have provided cost certainty for the NHL, I cannot help but notice as a former season ticket holder, my costs increased a lot once “cost certainty” had been achieved.

Deputy Commissioner, Bill Daley, had this gem of a quote tonight:

“I’m sure we will keep in touch in the coming days and schedule meetings to the extent they might be useful or appropriate. We are sorry for where we are. Not what we hoped or expected.”

I’m sure we will keep in touch?  Does he understand that the season is supposed to open in 25 days?  The first exhibition games are supposed to be played in 10 days. The NHL is coming off their lowest-rated Stanley Cup Final since 2007.  The powers that be need to realize that in the U.S., hockey comes in fourth, a distant fourth, to the other major sports.  I’m just not sure that U.S. fans will forgive hockey for a second work stoppage in eight years.

And think about this.  When the salary cap came into existence in 2005, it was set at $39 million.  This past season, the MINIMUM salary floor for a team was $48 million while the cap was $64 million. Since the cap is set based on a percentage of league revenues (57%), that means league revenues have grown from $2.06 billion to almost $3.5 billion since the lockout started.

Now, the players shouldn’t escape some of the blame for this mess.  They could have been willing to agree to things like delayed free agency and an end to ridiculously long contracts.  But, the fact remains that the owners best offer to the players was 49% of hockey revenue to start.  That would have chopped $7 million off the cap of each team, but that offer also lowered the players’ percentage each year.  That’s an unrealistic proposal and the owners need to realize that before they destroy the goose that has made them all rich.

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  • blmeanie  On September 16, 2012 at 7:18 am

    I’m not sure there is a goose. the NHL doesn’t yet have the tv contracts and revenue from them to make money hand over fist like the other leagues. I have no problem with the league’s offer…it just needs to have Bettman’s head on the platter along with it. Show the players that the leadership of the league has been misplaced all these years, bring in somebody strong and reach agreement on fair levels with a plan to grow the game in TV and delete out some franchises along the way making talent on ice better per team.

    As a disgruntled fan due to the Atlanta team moving (and a former season ticket owner myself) I don’t contribute to the pot they can’t figure out how to divide. People like you are the ones they need to be concerned about. People willing to go to Knick games (gag) or now Brooklyn games instead of Ranger games with your disposable income.

    If I lived in a four sport city again in the future and there was on the same day a:

    NFL game
    MLB game
    NBA game
    NHL game

    (I know this isn’t logical that all would play non-playoff games on the same date)

    I’d choose the NHL game to go to and spend my money. Live NHL action is amazing and the NHL doesn’t even know it. Ticket prices and marketing should be ramped up to get new fans into arenas at any expense. Lowering ticket prices for all, faithful and new fans would pack every game and then TV would follow as interest grows. Seems simple to me and I never took a marketing course in college all those years ago.

    • nysportsfanatic  On September 16, 2012 at 10:33 am

      I would go to the baseball game simply because there is nothing better than sitting in the stands on a nice day with a beer in one hand and a scorebook in the other. But, I get your point, live hockey is awesome and it is the sport that translates the poorest to television. Actually, I think there was a day in 2010 when the Yankees, Giants, Rangers and Knicks all played. The Knicks game was an exhibition and the Yankees game was a playoff game, but still!

      So why didn’t hockey work in Atlanta? I don’t buy the “warm weather” hypothesis as I lived in Dallas for a few years and fans there loved hockey once they got to know it. (True story- at one of the first games after the Stars moved to Dallas a bunch of fans in my section freaked out when the goalie left after a delayed penalty. They thought he had misread the clock!)

  • blmeanie  On September 17, 2012 at 10:50 am

    there are many anecdotes like you goalie story in traditional non-hockey towns…

    Atlanta not working, in summary was due to poor management.

    The ownership group the last 6 or 7 years (changed rather quickly from the ownership that brought hockey back to Atlanta) owned the Atlanta Hawks as well and are a bunch of former frat boys, spoiled by Daddy’s money, and only bought the Thrashers because they were attached in the deal to buy the Hawks.

    The “Cinderella affect” (stepchild) on the Thrashers was so significant that in the year before their final year I believe the salary cap was in the mid to high $40’s and the Thrashers salary ended around $28m. A terrible GM (my opinion) was handcuffed further by bad ownership that had no intention of putting money into the team. Further bastardization of the brand was done (my guess) by the owners in how they managed the joint books of the Hawks and Thrashers. They stated over and over that the Thrashers were losing boatloads of money and that is why they were selling. Oddly the fanbase over the years wasn’t coming out for the Hawks either (nether team was setting the world on fire) and I think lots of expenses etc. were funneled into the Thrashers P&L. Plus the NBA tv contracts were certainly more lucrative.

    Bottom line – owners that never wanted the team and the result being losing teams that turned off even the die-hards because personnel decisions so obvious to save a penney were killing the team.

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