The Top 5 Biggest Losers of the NHL Lockout

If you are a hockey fan with a Twitter account you are most likely very familiar with painful complaining. It seems that every NHL beat writer, hockey sportscaster, and virtually everyone I follow from Canada has been lamenting the NHL lockout on Twitter for a couple of months. Is it deserved? Yes, absolutely. Will it change anything? Obviously not.

I am just as guilty as everyone else of producing these depressing tweets with the hashtag #EndTheLockout, but it is getting hard to stay optimistic. With the league and the NHLPA meeting tomorrow, I feel uneasy. Negotiations feel like they are getting down to the wire. Either there will be a shortened season or we will have yet another full-season lockout. The precedent the NHL has set for lockouts is a huge problem and there is speculation that fans might fight back this time. But with the most tribal fans in the US and Canada, would a Bruins or Canucks fan really stop buying season tickets and merchandise? Honestly, I don’t think so. The fans are clearly the losers in this battle between the owners and the players, but who else is losing?

Here are my top 5 losers in the 2012 NHL lockout (in no particular order):

1. The Fans– this is incredibly obvious. As a fan myself, I know just how awful this lockout is.

And as I waited to for the lockout to end during the Presidential election (which clearly didn’t happen), I secretly hoped someone in the audience at the debate would ask about what Romney and Obama would do if they were at the bargaining table. Although that question wasn’t asked at the debate (which in retrospect is a very good thing), Obama did talk about it on Jay Leno- and he was right on the money. Good job Barack, you got my vote. Thanks for addressing the most important issue plaguing America today.

 

2. Teemu Selanne- Selanne, an unquestionable future Hall of Famer, is 42 years old. He is at the end of his career and this lockout might cost him his last hurrah for the Ducks. When asked if he would not play in the event of a full season lockout, Selanne said this, “Probably. It’s hard to say for sure, but year after year it’s getting harder and harder to get ready for the season. When the season starts, it’s going to be fine. But doing all the right things at this age, that’s the hardest part. But, you know, I’m more sorry about this hockey world and these younger players. I would be sad to go out like this, but I got more than I really dreamed out of it.” Depressed yet? What about when Joe Sakic had this to say at his HHOF induction, “I lost a year of hockey. It would have been 21 years instead of 20. That’s what you lose.” Okay hold your tears Anaheim fans, I still have three losers left.

3. Small businesses with Ties to Hockey- This includes merchandise shops, bars, and restaurants around the unused arenas. One sports bar owner from Edmonton said this, “It’s like anywhere from $60,000 to $80,000 (in lost revenue) a month. And that’s just us, never-mind the big bars.” These owners are furious. I mean, the millionaire league owners and players fight over hockey related revenue, escrow, and make whole while at the same time putting Mr. Joe Shmo Hockey Man out of business? This Montreal man took his complaints to YouTube…

4. The Minnesota Wild- The Wild made potentially the move of the year with the off-season pick up of free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. No doubt Minnesota paid a ridiculous amount of money to do this, but there was a palpable excitement in the air. I watched on Facebook as my friends who are Twins fans posted about hockey (which is a huge deal). Will Minnesota be able to keep up the hype without any games? Maybe, but definitely not like what it would have been if the season had started on time. According to USA Today, “They have sold the equivalent of about 4,000 new season tickets since the day the 13-year, $98 million contracts for Parise and Suter were revealed, signaling the most-anticipated season in the franchise’s 12-year history. Thanks to the NHL lockout, though, the mute button has been pushed on the buzz.” And who likes a buzzkill? No one.

5. Team/League Employees- As a student studying Sports Industry Management, I really feel for the Team and League employees who are getting royally screwed over by the lockout. One day your job is secure and the next the St. Louis Blues are laying off 20 employees and dishing out pay cuts at the speed of light. Not to mention everyone trying to find a job in hockey (gotta love hiring freezes right when I am finishing graduate school). Some employees are being downgraded to four-day work weeks and some are taking permanent pay cuts. FAIL.

Other notable losers: The Pittsburgh Penguins who were favored to win the Stanley Cup, League sponsors, NBC Sports, and the City of Detroit.

And that’s how the cookie hockey season crumbles.

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NHL Off-Season Main Goal: Knock out the Lockout

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While speculation is at an all-time high about the NHL’s CBA negotiations, one thing is for sure; if an agreement is not made by September 15th, the NHL players will be locked out. If this happens, it will be the 3rd time Bettman has allowed the NHL to go into lockout. The only thing that seems to be agreed upon by Don Fehr (NHLPA) and Gary Bettman (NHL) is that there is a ‘ wide gap ‘ or ‘ meaningful gulf ‘ between the sides.

So what does this mean for NHL fans? Well, if an agreement isn’t made, it means no hockey for a while. This also means decreased revenue and excitement around hockey, which has been growing exponentially the last 5 years. If the NHL has a lockout it will be horrible for the expansion of the game both in North America and abroad (global preseason games have already been cancelled)…

Don Fehr has suggested that the game should continue until an agreement is made. “Under the law, if an agreement expires, that may give someone the legal ability to go on strike or in this case to impose a lockout,” he said. “There’s no requirement that they do so and if nobody does anything you (can) continue to work under the old conditions.” But Bettman and the NHL owners do not have any intentions of operating under the current CBA, even if it means no 2013 season. According to Bettman, “We reiterated to the union that the owners will not play another year under the current agreement”. If the CBA is not finalized by September 15th, there is a good chance a lockout is imminent.

But what is everyone even arguing about anyway? Well, the league wants to make sure the owners are protected. They are trying to lower salaries for players and essentially put that money back into the owners’ pockets. According to Don Fehr on NHL’s proposal, “Seems to us that all of the revenue-sharing payments would be paid for by player salary reductions.” Revenue sharing is definitely the biggest issue at hand. The NHL’s current proposal includes an 11% cut of hockey-related revenues going to players (changing from 57% to 46%). Do the players or the owners really need this money? No, probably not. But they definitely want it and they will fight ’til the death (or until September 15th) to come to a compromise.

Personally, it seems that both sides are hard-lining. I mean, yesterday’s meeting lasted less than 2 hours. But hey, isn’t that what negotiations are about? Ask for more than what you want, and don’t let up until the very last second. And we aren’t at the very last second, not yet. I am pretty optimistic that the NHL and NHLPA will work out an agreement, because if they don’t they are hurting virtually all of their stakeholders (players, owners, league, agents, and the fans). Don Fehr and the NHLPA are expected to give their first counterproposal to the NHL on Tuesday 8/14. And hopefully in the meantime, fans don’t attack Gary Bettman and demand hockey. For now those fans will have to wait patiently… or make aggressive memes.

NHL nixes pre-season games in Europe

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According to the NHL, this upcoming season will be the first season since 2007 to not have preseason games in Europe. The reason for this change stems from the logistics associated with the NHL’s expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The CBA remains in effect until September 15, 2012 which is right at the beginning of when the preseason should start.

Sports Business Journal wrote this week, “Sources said that the NHL was ‘willing to schedule them, but an agreement couldn’t be reached with the NHLPA over how cancellation costs would be handled in the event of a work stoppage.'” So, because of a potential lockout teams can’t promote the sport to fans abroad? In my opinion, this is a horrible situation for the NHL. Deals need to be worked out, but the importance of these games is clearly being overlooked. At the NHL GM meeting, GMs accepted that games could not be scheduled and the CBA could be tabled. Instead they should have scheduled the games, and cut their losses if cancellations occurred (which they most likely wouldn’t anyway). The GMs also could have taken a look at the CBA to try to figure it out before the summer ends. Commissioner Gary Bettman actually said he doesn’t know when talks about the CBA will start, “Ask the union. We’ve been ready. But I’m not concerned. There’s lots of time.” Sure, lots of time, but at the expense of the European preseason.

I recently went to London and met with executives from both NFL UK and NBA International. Both the NFL and the NBA are doing everything in their power to grow their brands in Europe and get an increasingly International fan base. The NBA is doing pretty well, because basketball is such a global sport. They are growing on a grassroots level, and utilizing social media to gain fans. The NFL faces challenges from rugby fans who doubt the amount of padding used, but the the NFL is still bringing an American football game to London each year. They also are attempting to bring an NFL team to the UK for good. On the other hand, NHL games aren’t even played on TV in England. There is no deal with the networks that allow for them to be played. (Sidenote: this is not the case everywhere in Europe, it varies by country). In the UK they play AHL hockey games on TV. Do you really expect to get new hockey fans from watching the AHL?

The NHL needs to get into the arena of global sports. It is exciting, it is not like anything else (no competition like football has with rugby or baseball has with cricket), and it has prominence in countries spanning the globe (US, Russia, Czech Republic, Sweden…etc). But the first step to attaining this goal was to grow the NHL fan-base in countries that already have a love of hockey. NHL players need to get into their arenas, interact with their fans, and boost the NHL brand. Without these pre-season games, it is a huge step back for the NHL and for global hockey.