I haven’t made a post in more than a month because 1) almost nothing has happened, 2) almost nobody has managed to write anthing very interesting about the almost nothing and 3) I’ve found it hard to motivate myself to add to the pile of the almost nothing.
The most recent NHL offer represents what is basically Gary Bettman’s final one before the league starts losing games (and revenue) for real. If Shoalts has the details more or less correct, the shape of the final CBA is at least in front of us.
In other words, we’ve reached crunch time. From the beginning I’ve said that Gary was coming for about $200 million a year. If the players take (more or less) what is on the table now, Bettman’s plan has worked out perfectly. For now, this is exactly where he wants to be. Way back in July, Greg Wyshynski published an interview with a player who explained why a 50-50 split – what’s now on the table – was unacceptable to the players. I wrote:
The owners think they can force the players to give them another big whack of cash. They appear willing to shut down the sport to get what they want. They believe the players will give them pretty much what they want before too many games have to be cancelled. They don’t think the players are willing to stay out long enough to threaten the season. This negotiation is not about resolving issues between the parties. It is about leverage and money and how the owners will go about the task of taking all they can possibly take.
All of this seems fairly obvious to me. The only outstanding question in my mind was not addressed by Greg’s source. Gary Bettman is coming with his mask and his gun. The question?
What are the players going to do?
The question stands. The players have been put in a very difficult position. So far the public has been on their side for the most part. The league – and Gary Bettman – have taken more than a few lumps in the media. But if there has been a single thread throughout the media coverage it is that a 50-50 split of the revenues is both fair and inevitable. That’s all Bettman has cared about until this point.
Bettman’s position is suddenly reasonable – fair and inevitable even – only because he started negotiations from a ridiculous spot. Never mind the fact that he is demanding that the players (in the aggregate) take a 12% paycut when business is booming. The tide of public opinion will turn if the players don’t take their lumps now.
Do the players want to play?
Does it make sense for most players to take a paycut in lieu of a lockout when careers are so short?
Is it fair?
Of course not, but this isn’t about fair.
Will the owners do this every time a CBA expires?
You bet they will, but most of today’s players won’t be affected next time. Mostly the same owners, though.
Does it piss players off to get painted as the villains even though they keep taking less and less? Does it bother them to know how easily they can be exploited?
My interests are best served if the players fold, but I can’t blame them – I’ll even admire them a little – if they choose to fight.
Postscript I: If the players do fold, I will wonder why they bothered to hire Donald Fehr. I’ve been impressed by him so far, but this is when he is supposed to pull the rabbit out of the hat. If he signs this deal, Bettman is a big winner.
Postscript II: The one thing that the players should absolutely not do is fight for a month to get 51% rather than 50%. Cave now or take them to the wall. No half measures. Tug the forelock or resolve to blow it up.