Proteau Sees a Light
Adam Proteau at the Hockey News seems to regret the positions he took during the labour dispute in 2004, and vows to do better covering it this time around:
But this time around, fans and the hockey media who are supposed to represent them have reason to be much more skeptical than they were nearly eight years ago. This time, there is no overriding principle worthy of shuttering the league’s doors for a full season. This time, you believe what you hear at your own risk…
…Why do the players have to keep financing bad business decisions like the money pit in the Arizona desert when it’s Bettman and the owners who are responsible for that strategy? If the owners can’t control themselves, handing out contracts such as the first one Ilya Kovalchuk tried to sign with New Jersey, why should the players have to pay? If we want to talk about how many cars and mansions Sidney Crosby has, why aren’t we including Ted Leonsis’ personal lifestyle in the discussion?
These are the questions that should have been asked more often in 2004 and I take full responsibility for my role in the NHL’s disinformation campaign at that time. But you can learn your lesson and I believe I’ve learned mine, which is why I believe this next labor clash won’t be about making ticket prices affordable for working class families or giving a team like the New York Islanders a better chance at winning. It will be about the ultimate goal of the last lockout: increasing franchise values.
Some credit to Proteau for taking responsiblity (which means what exactly?) for his foolish coverage of the last CBA circus, and for promising to do better this time. Still, I doubt very much whether very many other hockey writers do anything other than line up reflexively behind Bettman again.
I also doubt very much whether Gary Bettman cares what Adam Proteau writes this time around. The NHL needed the media last time – because there was “an overriding principle” at stake – to parrot the lies that successfully convinced the fans that up was down. This time the dispute is merely about money and it is a dispute that Bettman has already won with the settlement in 2005. Proteau and the rest of the hockey media might have made a difference last time, but Bettman does not need them now. The press has been made irrelevant.
While Proteau correctly identifies that the ultimate goal last time was increasing franchise values, I don’t think he understands how easily Bettman turned him into a chump. Bettman convinced Proteau et al that he was really working on behalf of small markets and fans who were paying too much for tickets. He even blamed the dead puck era on small market teams that couldn’t afford to buy scorers. A new CBA was supposed to leave us with 30 healthy franchises in 30 vibrant markets.
In fact, Gary Bettman had two goals, both of which were realized in spades. First, he recognized that the only route to increased revenues (and therefore higher franchise values) was to drive the best players and best teams to the biggest markets. New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles were basket cases in 2004. The strongest teams were in places like Ottawa, San Jose and Tampa.
So Bettman’s best trick was pretending he was protecting small markets while he demanded (and eventually) wrote a CBA that clearly tilts the playing field in precisely the opposite direction – toward the big markets. The results have been obvious: Boston, Chicago and LA have won Cups while the Rangers have gone from missing the playoffs every year to making them. Despite a CBA that was supposed to ensure poorer teams could compete for their stars, we’ve seen a steady exodus of players from the hinterlands to the big cities. Meanwhile, the problems among the have nots actually got worse with ownership blowups in Phoenix, Tampa, Atlanta, New Jersey, Dallas and Columbus.
The second goal was to force the players to accept a fixed percentage of an artifice called hockey related revenue. The teams no longer decide how much the players are paid. The CBA determines it. The player percentage of revenue used to be the result of adding up all the individual contracts. Now the average player salary is negotiated between the NHL and the NHLPA and individual contracts are forced to that average. A bottom up system was destroyed and a top down system was implemented.
Under the old system, players had a great deal of leverage when negotiating with teams looking to hire them. Under this system neither the NHLPA nor the players have any leverage. They can’t collectively get any more money and they can’t prevent the owners from forcing them to take less in every CBA negotiation. Bettman did not just win the labour dispute of 2004 – he won every future labour dispute, too.
Several years later, Adam Proteau realizes he – and his peers – were played for suckers? Gary thinks that is pretty funny. Proteau now sees the light and now believes the owners may be setting a new standard for avarice?
Gary laughs even harder.