Tuesday is a big day. Donald Fehr will make his first official play as the head of the NHLPA, and the hockey world will wait to see how Bettman responds to the players’ proposal.
But reality is simple: these CBA negotiations are a referendum on the tenure of Bettman as the commissioner of the NHL. And, so far, it isn’t going very well.
Tomorrow, the NHL Players Association will formally counter the league’s initial CBA proposal. This comes a few days after Gary Bettman indicated the league has every intention to lock the players out (again) if an agreement cannot be reached.
On Sunday, Larry Brooks took his shots at Bettman in the NY Post. The players have started to unite through social media, calling into question the league’s approach (and ethics). And the fans are rightfully angry that the money we have spent to bring the game back from life support isn’t enough to make anyone happy.
Chris Botta of the Sports Business Journal reported on Monday that Bettman’s salary has more than doubled since the lockout that canceled the NHL’s 2004-05 season, and now stands at roughly $8M.
Botta also reports that the league spend $8.8M on legal services, the majority of which (over $6M) went to the firm that represented the NHL when the league took control of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2009.
Bettman moved the Coyotes to Arizona, and he continues to be one of the only people on the planet that supports the pipe dream of hockey in the desert. The league has agreed to let Greg Jamison try to buy the Coyotes… but he doesn’t have the money.
The taxpayers of Glendale continue throwing money at a problem that won’t go away until Bettman admits the mistake he made in moving a team there in the first place. Meanwhile, there are markets – Seattle, Quebec City, Kansas City – that are begging for an NHL club that have two things – fans and potential ownership – that have been lacking in Arizona for more than three years.
Players, including Henrik Lundqvist and Gabriel Landeskog, have been active on Twitter making their case. They have also been quick to remind fans that the last lockout was brought about because owners wanted substantial concessions from the players, which they received.
As agent Allan Walsh pointed out on Twitter on Aug. 9, the rollbacks the owners fought for and won during the last lockout were supposed to benefit the fans.
If you’ve bought tickets to a game, especially in Chicago, over the last five years, ticket prices have gone up at the same pace as Bettman’s salary since the last lockout.
After the last lockout ended, the owners proclaimed their victory was going to propel the NHL into the future. And let’s be clear: the owners won on every issue last time. Now, the deal the owners wrote themselves isn’t good enough in spite of record money coming into the game and attendance in many cities being up.
But the money being brought into the league isn’t helping everyone.
Fans continue to pay increasing prices in markets like Chicago, Montreal and Toronto, but the Coyotes can’t fill their arena for a playoff game as a division champion. Without major markets (and league-wide television contract moneys) subsidizing them, small market teams will only continue to have a financial noose around their neck while trying to compete under a current salary cap structure that has actually worked in making more teams around the league competitive (see Panthers, Florida).
One of the bigger issues being discussed is revenue sharing. Bettman has indicated that the league doesn’t feel this is important, and yet small and mid-market teams are failing on an annual basis.
Forbes reported in November that, during the 2010-11 season, 18 of 30 teams lost money. The Atlanta Thrashers were bankrupt and Bettman had to move the team. The Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Coyotes and, soon, the New Jersey Devils will all be bankrupt as well since the last lockout. And, if not for Sidney Crosby, one can wonder what the future of the Pittsburgh Penguins may have been considering their bankruptcy just before the last lockout.
It sounds crazy, but it’s unfortunate in many ways that the game has come back this strong as quickly as it has since the last lockout; the financial strength of the league as a whole likely gives owners the false confidence that they can absorb another lockout.
Some media outlets have pointed out that both the NFL and the NBA have been able to get concessions (read: rollbacks) from their players in the last couple years. But they haven’t done it twice within a decade, as the NHL is now trying to do.
The evidence being presented to the public isn’t helping the owners, or their commissioner. Bettman’s legacy will be tied to these labor negotiations; he has more skin in the game than anyone at this point.
On Monday, Yahoo! reported that the NHL doesn’t have to make an official decision on the Winter Classic until Jan. 1, and would only lose $100k if the game doesn’t happen; the league has clearly had a lockout on their mind for some time.
Fans are hoping to see hockey on time in September. Bettman should be working to make that happen.