I’m feeling a lot less optimistic after the meetings this week between the NHL and the NHLPA. Gary Bettman did not respond positively to the NHLPA proposal – and by that I mean he did not soften the league position at all – so it is now clear that the league is on a path that was laid out years ago, about the time the ink on the last CBA was drying.
Gary Bettman today: “We think we’re paying too much in salaries… We want something close to what we envisioned eight years ago.”
(I can’t be surprised at this because the system that emerged in 2005 put the players squarely in the crosshairs for 2012. The NFL and NBA learned from the NHL lockout and all three leagues are sitting in the catbird seat. The idea that Gary Bettman and his cronies would put any value on labour peace at all was wishful thinking.)
The real problem, of course, is that Bettman is not afraid of any long term damage from a lockout. When asked about that today, he responded with “We recovered last time because we have the world’s greatest fans.” Gary crowed about this factor at a meeting in Boston earlier this year.
Revenues snapped back quickly for the league in 2005-06. There was a cost, of course, but that cost was quickly overwhelmed by the return. Bettman expects the same this time, and he is very probably right. Diehard fans – which includes pretty much everyone reading this blog – will suffer through the lockout but happily return when the games resume. Casual fans will hardly notice if the league doesn’t start on time. They don’t come on board until the playoff races begin to heat up anyway.
I’m sure the NFL and the NBA figured out football fans and basketball fans are just as great as hockey fans. The sports entertainment industry has decided that the baseball experience in 1994 was the outlier (and a big reason baseball has enjoyed labour peace ever since), not the norm.
The league imposed the 2005 CBA on the players and Gary believes – probably correctly – that he has the leverage to impose another one on the players in 2012. And that’s the plan.
Those who were hoping that the new NBC TV deal and the Winter Classic might provide pressure points on the league were also indulging in wishful thinking. Their hopes were dashed with the news that lockout protection was built into the contract with NBC. This is not surprising – one would expect a possible lockout would be part of the deal – but it is surprising to me that NBC is obligated to pay even if the entire season is cancelled. (Or maybe not, considering the relationship between Comcast and the Philadelphia Flyers.) Anyway, the league put together a $300 MM warchest in 2004. They don’t need it this year with the NBC payments.
The NFL stayed firmly on track and won. Likewise the NBA. Why would hockey proceed any differently now or in the future? Bettman isn’t negotiating.
He’s imposing again.
Postscript: Small mercies. At least Gary isn’t prominsing lower ticket prices or 30 competitive franchises in 30 healthy markets. The only promise is that the players are going to get a lot less money.