For the third time during Gary Bettman’s tenure as commissioner, the National Hockey League has entered a lockout. The 1994-‘95 season was cut in half due to a lockout, and the 2004-’05 season was lost completely. With the players officially locked out on Saturday and the scheduled season opener fast approaching, the league and the players remain far apart on key issues in labor negotiations. It seems at the very least as though this season will also lose a significant chunk of games.
In layman’s terms, the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, or CBA, has expired. The CBA governs matters spanning from the division of revenues between owners and players, to the salary cap, to the rules regarding trading and signing players. With no CBA, the league cannot operate.
The casual fan might ask why the league just doesn’t come up with a new CBA in order to give us fans the hockey we’ve been waiting for all summer. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. In order for a new CBA to be passed, the team owners, represented by the league and Bettman, must agree on terms with the players, represented by the NHL Players Association. And the two sides remain as far apart as ever.
The main issue concerning the forging of a new CBA is “hockey related revenues.” Basically, the owners and the players cannot agree on how to split up the money made by the NHL. Under the last CBA, 57% of these revenues went to the players, and 43% to the owners. This time around, the owners are looking to get a higher percentage, while the players are willing to make minor concessions, but in general wish to keep the status quo. The owners argument is that they need the additional revenue in order to effectively continue running the league.
The two sides have been negotiating at a snail’s pace since July, with almost no progress being made. This trend is continuing even after the players have been officially locked out. This lack of progress has caused much frustration amongst fans who, mostly due to an ingenious media campaign launched by head of the NHLPA, Donald Fehr, blame the league and Commissioner Bettman for this newest lockout. What most fans fail to see, however, is that both sides are to blame here. Since the end of the last lockout, the league’s revenue has increased every year, and last season the NHL generated a record revenue of over 3 billion dollars.
In short, both sides in this dispute should be painted as greedy and unsympathetic to their fans. No matter how you slice it up, both sides will be rolling in millions of dollars. Going into this season, the highest paid NHL player is Nashville Predator’s defenseman Shea Weber. Lockout or no lockout, he is going to make 14 million dollars in the next year. In one year, he will make enough money to last him three lifetimes.
It is truly astonishing that both the NHL and its players have the audacity to allow their dispute over money to damage yet another season. It shows both sides true colors; that they really don’t care about their fans. It is even more unfortunate that both sides rely on these fans to make their living, and that they know it is ok to push them around because when they eventually do settle, the die-hards will come right back to the sport they love.
The fans aren’t the only ones hurting. Already, several teams have announced layoffs due to the labor stoppage. Team equipment managers, bus and plane drivers, zamboni drivers, concession stand workers, and countless over “average Joes” that rely on the sport of hockey to support their families (and make much smaller paychecks than the owners and players) are hurting, while the men who make millions either way squabble over single percentage points of revenue splits.