Oh hey, look. The NHL has once again locked out its players in yet another labor dispute. Yay! Has the whole sports world gone lockout crazy? Are us regular citizens missing out on something?
Find out within ...
Somewhere in a darkened, cigar smoke-filled room the owners and commissioners of two of the three major sports leagues in the United States ... and hockey ... decided that having three lockouts in the course of a year was the BEST IDEA EVER! We have no idea from whence this idea sprung forth, yet, since they are the almighty overlords of professional sports we accept this as a vital business component necessary for their survival. Obviously.
Sure the NFL is struggling financially in no way shape or form, and their ownership didn't even do a good job in putting forth an adequate excuse for the lockout to happen. Yet it happened. The NBA put forth a valiant excuse that "competitive balance" was the order of the day, oh and that every team should be guaranteed a profit. Well, if you flip those two statements in order of priority you get a more accurate vision of what the NBA wanted. We can sit here and debate all day about the "psychic benefits" of running a sports franchise, but we won't get into that right now.
That brings us to the little brother of the professional sports world. A sport so massively popular in Canada the only possible comparison you can make is to the NFL in the United States. Yet, in the States hockey is a distant fourth in terms of viewership and seems to be carried by the large Northeastern cities and upper Midwest cities. Outside of that, in the U.S. popularity of hockey is ... ehhhhh.
As someone who knows next to nothing about the actual sport of hockey, I can easily see why the economics of the NHL are skewed. Because, much like Major League Baseball and the NBA, hockey has local TV contracts as well as National TV (Versus, NBC) revenue that is skewed to market size. Team financial success in the NHL is more closely tied to ticket sales than any other league. Therefore if (like the Avalanche) you go through a rebuilding stage or just plain-old bad teams, your attendance suffers. And when attendance suffers, the team loses serious money.
Meanwhile the larger market hockey teams are raking in money. So much so that the disparity in the haves and have-nots is enormous. However, one must ponder: if after locking out the players for an entire season in 2004-05 and making players take a 24% rollback in existing salaries in order to fit under a smaller revenue share (due to missing said season) where is the wisdom of repeating this exorcise? Particularly when revenue sharing within the sport is so bad. Why is this happening again? (Keep in mind NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has presided over lockouts in 1995, 2004 and 2012)
I do not blame fans of every sport for suffering from lockout fatigue. Particularly when on the NBA horizon we could see yet another lockout in 2017 if either the players or owners opt-out of their current CBA. In a weird way, baseball has taken a practical, incremental approach to negotiating labor contracts that has produced labor peace for almost 20 years. Why can't the NBA and NHL do the same? You can't blame guaranteed contracts because MLB has guaranteed contracts with cost controls at the beginning of a players career, much like the NBA.
I'd wager it is because almost every team in MLB either makes money or has the opportunity do do so with their robust revenue sharing. Yes, the Yankees make billions of dollars more than everyone else on the planet, but they also have to contribute a sizeable chunk to revenue sharing, every year. Revenue sharing is actually a great idea put forth from former MLBPA director Donald Fehr (now current director of the NHLPA). Essentially he reversed the order of what the NBA did and what the NHL is trying to do now. He said, agree to revenue sharing BEFORE you come at us (bro). Revenue sharing goes a long way to helping long-term sustainable of a baseball organization. Yes, it creates laziness (like Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals fans will tell you) but it also removes the "we aren't making money" excuse for attempting a lockout.
Why haven't the NBA and the NHL gone this direction? I believe that you have intransigent big market owners who like their heavy profit margin (above the rest of the league) and being forced to share isn't part of their business plan. Big Market owners control both the NBA and the NHL and they keep coming back to get more money from the players share of the revenue pie. Small and medium market owners want more of that revenue pie too, but they should be asking for revenue sharing from the large market owners. In reality, when your business makes billions of dollars a year, it stands to reason that you should get your own house in order before you extract more money from the players.
When small market owners have to rely on ticket sales and meager local television packages (like the NHL) it leaves the only recourse to lockout the players, yet again, and repeat the same old tired story. It shouldn't continue. Owners in both the NHL and the NBA need to understand that robust revenue sharing like the NFL and MLB have is the only way to go. Yes, those are more popular sports, but their economic models seem to work for them and the NBA and NHL should follow suit. As much as I detest the way the NFL conducts business and its arrogant, heavy handed way it rules the sports world ... their revenue sharing is also tip-top and creates a robust revenue model.
I'm sick of the back-and-forth. I don't like hockey, but I can sympathize with hockey fans. The arguments are worn out: one side says, "greedy owners" and the other, "those dern players with their dern money need to shut their yaps and let the owners do whatever they want". It's tiring.
End the madness. Share the revenue.
Twitter: @jmorton78 https://twitter.com/#!/jmorton78