Disputed Revenue Should Be Used To Sustain and Grow Hockey
As the deadline for a full NHL season passes, I sit back and wonder how could we ever let this happen to the game we love again? Here we are, coming off record years of attendance, ratings and revenue – yet the two sides cannot even sit down to discuss how to divvy up millions of dollars in a billion dollar industry. I’m not going to bore you with the financials, and I’m not going to sit here and write another “Shame on the NHL, NHLPA” article (not that they don’t deserve it.) But here’s my plea for both stubborn sides to think outside the box, which I think is not only possible, but essential to saving their future at this point.
First off, let’s dispel some rumors and PR talk. The NHLPA has claimed “we will stand together” and “we gave up everything last time”. First of all, you’re playing with fire. You will break. This fight is not worth it. The average NHL career is a median of 4 years. That’s right, 54% of your union will sacrifice 1/4 of their lifetime earning potential with a full season lockout. To expect the union not to break is unfair, and frankly dumb.
Now I understand the NHL bent you over and spanked your bottom in 2005. It hurt to give up so much. But you did not give up everything. Not even close. All over the world, companies are restructuring compensation. Welcome to economic reality. My friend who works for the City of Detroit – and again, I’m not going to bore you with every journalist’s favorite three lines on despair we’ve faced in Michigan – was recently forced to give back 10% of his yearly salary. On average you make in 24 minutes of ice time what he makes in a year. That’s sacrifice. So no, we’re not sympathetic to the 7% you stand to lose in a system where the league average yearly salary was $2.4 million as of 2011-12. Take your sob story somewhere else.
And the owners are just as bad. For every Phoenix there’s ten franchises that made money. And let’s remember that this is the system YOU designed. If you cannot make money in your own system, why should the players trust you to build another one? You lost your credibility with your irresponsible fifteen year contracts and colossal mismanagement of your own financial framework. Again we don’t want to hear it. We’re in a economy of small business failure. If you can’t make it work, sell your team to someone who can.
Now, I like to view myself as a problem solver, so here goes nothing. Neither side deserves the disputed revenue. That’s painfully clear to me. I propose we sign a short term agreement, and allow a third party organization – comprised of hockey minds from all sides of the game – to invest that money back to the sport.
How does that look? Well for starters, we need to consider the future of the game. The NHL is not at the danger of becoming a regional fringe sport, it is one. Let’s invest money in non-traditional areas and grow the game we love. Unbelievable organizations, started by true fans and caretakers of the sport, have started that movement. But they need our help. Let’s invest in organizations like Pure As Pond, who are working right now to bring Hockey to inner city youth in Detroit. Companies around the country mandate their employees to grow their brand, community development, and after hours programs. The NHL needs to do more of the same.
We need to think about the hurt the two sides have caused to the rest of the hockey world. Arena staff, broadcasters, concession workers and beat writers depend on the game for their livelihood. We need to invest in our partners, not drive them away from the game. A fund needs to be set up to support these individuals. How can we grow our game if we have no one to write about it? How can we expect people to wake up every day not knowing if they have employment? There’s selfish, and then there’s this. It’s embarrassing how you’ve ignored this vital group.
Lastly, we need to make the game affordable again. Hockey cannot hold itself to the standard of the other major sports. The product does not match the cost at this point. The owners simply should not be trusted to lower ticket prices. We need to freeze tickets where they are at for the length of the new deal, and use some of the disputed millions to discount ticket prices by a fixed percentage.
Hockey fans are the best fans in the world. There’s no denying it. We sell the game wherever we go, fueled by a blind love we have for the sport that defines most of us. But the act is becoming tough to defend. I’m tired of calling cable companies to buy ridiculous channels – while the WNBA is on ESPN prime-time. I’m sick of supporting a sport that is only talked about when one of the “united brothers of the NHLPA union” drives his own co-worker headfirst into the boards.
I’m not sure how much more I can stand. And if you lose me, forget the casual fan, because you’ll have lost everyone. I hope both sides have the foresight and the intelligence to see what lies ahead of them. I pray that this era of hockey becomes the start of a bright future for the NHL, and not the beginning of the end of a once great thing.