NHL Lockout: Gary Bettman’s Defining Moment Coming Soon

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.

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22 Responses to NHL Lockout: Gary Bettman’s Defining Moment Coming Soon

  1. Oliver Holloway says:

    The only way to teach the owners a lesson is to check them hard, right where it counts: in the wallet. For every day of Lock Out, all fans add on another day of Tune Out. For example, if the lock out lasts thirty days, then for another thirty days, all fans ignore the NHL. Don’t go to games, don’t buy jerseys, don’t even watch on TV.

    If you fans will all do that, then you’ll show Bettman who the real boss is. Otherwise, he and the owners will continue to take us all for granted. It’s time to show the NHL that the most important factor in hockey’s economic equation is the the fan base.

  2. Ziek says:

    I walked away from the team and game i loved since i was a child because I refused to support Dollar Bill and the organization that had so little respect for it’s fans. i jumped back on board as soon as he & Pullford were gone by purchasing season tickets. I have been “rewarded” since with a huge expansion of the front office and the balloning marketing budget of mcDonough, with a ticket price that is 250% or so of what it was 7 years ago. Sure, it’s a gas to have exciting and great hockey in town, but it is really hard to support this league with the way they are disconnected from theor fans. I work my ass off for the money I earn and spend on theor product. Between the shit officiating, inconsistent handing out of disciplinary actions, the ever increasing cost to attend the games, and the top heavy Hawks organization – if they combine a lockout, I am saying eff them and the horse they rode in on once again. Let them go back to 5,000 fans in tje seats of their arenas because that’s what they deserve. The players could be a little less bunch of primadonas also. hockey players have always been different than those of every other sport in tha they always acted just like you and I. Now their heads are big and they’re all stuffy like NBA players. Eff em all.

  3. Ryan says:

    Pretty hard for the owners to cry poor when their lead guy’s salary keeps going up. Not only that but the Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer have seen their salary’s nearly triple the last 3 years.

    And I don’t want to hear Bettman complain about the money the League lost either when the top 3 guys keep getting raises and million dollar bonuses

  4. Tom L says:

    They got the last CBA wrong on 2 major fonts:

    1. It pegged on league revenues, making the cap skyrocket, but did nothing to address finances of teams in cities that should not have teams.
    2. It was/is laughingly easy to circumvent

    I think the league needs to contract by at least 2 teams and move a team or two as well. This will reduce the number of loser franchises to a more supportable number.
    Then they need to write a CBA that has a luxury tax so the failing teams can compete.

    This will all require the owners to take a league view not a “me” view.

    The one thing I wrinkle my nose at with the players is that they said they “gave back” and are now being asked to “give back more.” Salaries have gone WAY up (because of a badly constructed 2004 CBA), so they are essentially being asked to give back the same money again.

  5. Dickie Dunn says:

    Tab – thank you. Good information.

    I think it’s on the owners to solve the problem of small or bad market teams. It really doesn’t make sense to just focus on players/owners revenue split, but, I guess if they believe a lockout is a good strategy/won’t cut deeply into their fan base, maybe they are really without a clu.

  6. wall says:

    Tom and Dickie, as I suggested in last post on previous article…
    This cluster $%^#^ is really the same thing that is happening in California and the rest of the world… Revenues and market were great… Players ( Cops, Firefighters, Teachers, making a shitload of money…) some teams ((Cities) revenues are lite , poorly managed)… now the Cities (owners) cry for help or they will be forced to shut down…

    Hockey players were the last major sport to GET PAID!!! This once tough, and easy to like breed of athlete has gone the way of the dinosaur… ( the same thing can be said for these teachers, cops, firefighters making $150,000/yr.)- they have a right to make as much as they can… but really!!!! IT CAN’T LAST FOREVER!!! SOMETHING HAS TO GIVE!!!!

    Like others have said-If they lockout— THE FANS HAVE TO MAKE IT HURT!!!
    I am a huge Basketball fan- BUT I STOPPED Caring last year!!!!! Love to watch the last sport where anyone can win a Playoff series!!!! True Parody– The NHL has done a good job– DON’T #$%^ it up!!!!

  7. chico_hawk says:

    I sympathize with the players – they are after all the game & why people pay big bucks to watch…but they’re bargaining position is severely compromised by

    1. caving in the last time after holding out a full year – don’t think Bettman & the owners didn’t take note of that or of the fact that when hockey finally returned, so did ticket buying fans in even bigger numbers…

    2. despite having a hard cap & salary roll-back imposed on them, the players are actually all making more money now than before the last CBA, while some owners/teams are still struggling financially…

    3. More meaningful revenue sharing by the big market teams (what the players want to fix the problem) is a tough sell among those owners – just like the players, they don’t want to continually have to fork over money to keep franchises in Phx, Florida, NJ, Long Island, Nashville, etc. financially viable – especially when substantially all revenues are locally derived with very little coming in the form of a national TV deal…I suspect the large market owners would rather have contraction of weak market teams rather than having to continually prop them up…which the NHLPA would not support since it would mean fewer jobs for the players – (and which will ultimately cause the players to cave again).

    4. It is much easier to keep 30 owners united & on the same page than it is 700+ players. Owners will always be able to outlast the players who have a short, limited time in which to make big money during their playing careers…This fact is what drove enough players to eventually cave during the last CBA negotiation, causing the entire NHLPA to fold & give in to the owners & it will again be the case this time around.

    The only question is how long will it take enough players to realize that “holding out” for more is simply a recipe for foregoing more rolled-back salary, as happened during the last CBA.

    Contrary to the writer’s thinking that this is Bettman’s defining moment (that came during the last CBA when he crushed Goodenow on behalf of his owners), this is actually Fehr’s defining moment…can he minimize the damage, and somehow increase the size of the HRR pie, to partially offset the fact that the players will be getting a smaller slice of the pie in any case?

  8. Logan Reilly says:

    I don’t get the owners at all. They sent a proposal in and want to restrict contract lengths to 5 years at the most.

    Today Pacioretty signs a 6 year deal.

  9. Dickie Dunn says:

    Wall – pretty much agree, except “Cops, Firefighters, Teachers, making a shitload of money…)” – The median expected salary for a typical Police Patrol Officer in the United States is $50,193, (the median expected salary for a typical Police Sergeant in the United States is $64,053), the median expected salary for a typical Fire Fighter in the United States is $41,969, the median expected salary for a typical Teacher Elementary School in the United States is $52,293, (the median expected salary for a typical Teacher High School in the United States is $54,526) — not what I would call “a shitload of money”. Investment bankers, stock traders, CEOs (and other upper management), lawyers, doctors, and of course, positions in “entertainment” obviously qualify.

    Chico_Hawk – interesting points. “despite having a hard cap & salary roll-back imposed on them, the players are actually all making more money now” – is this a fact? I did NO research. Or, is it the Top players are making a lot more, but the 15th – 20th guys are making less? It seems if league revenue is up, salaries should also rise accordingly. “I suspect the large market owners would rather have contraction of weak market teams rather than having to continually prop them up…which the NHLPA would not support since it would mean fewer jobs for the players” – this would seem to be absolutely true. Didn’t the owners split an entrance fee when these markets were awarded franchises? Now, “screw those teams and their fans to do what makes the rest of us wealthier” — “it’s just business nothing personal…”.

    “The only question is how long will it take enough players to realize that “holding out” for more is simply a recipe for foregoing more rolled-back salary, as happened during the last CBA.” — so, what’s the alternative? Cave early? Take it to the limit and end the NHL? (Take out contracts on the 30 owners? It would be less expensive…)

    Logan – “Today Pacioretty signs a 6 year deal.” — what I said earlier, the owners want it BOTH ways.

  10. wall says:

    Dickie, great Stats… but two things… My “rant” was directed mostly toward California where your Stats really don’t apply and Cities are on the brink of Bankruptcy and places like Greece and Spain…

    Secondly, do YOU really understand the difference between Median and Mean… they are sometimes misunderstood- perhaps you need to look it up or think about it. I have a degree in Stats- Median doesn’t really tell alot about the data!!!! So if you did all that homework and Median is the word you found (You have been DUPED!!!)-
    here is an example- where the median Salary is $50,000- we have 5 teachers and their salaries—1- $49,000, 2- $49,000, 3- $50,000, 4- $750,000, 5- $1,000,000-
    As You can see Dickie the MEDIAN salary is $50,000— but does not tell us crap about the Data!!! The City of MAKE BELEIVE, (TEAM) paying these teachers is (Luongo) screwed!!! They need a Reality check!!! As do people who read these Stats but don’t understand what they describe!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!- Nothing!!!!!!!!

    The City of Make Believe better have a Ginormous Tax (FANBASE) Base or they will not be able to pay for those Inflated teachers forever!!!!!!! = Subsidies or Bankruptcy????

  11. Ryan says:

    The players are only making more money because there is more money to be made. The Players portion “Salary Cap” only grew because the revenues grew. The popularity has continued to grow and so have tv contracts. This is completely different from Teachers, Cops and Fire Fighters who only make more thru increased taxes. It is comparing Apples and Oranges Comparing Entertainers pay to that of Gov or Gov funded pay.

    For me this is all on the owners and if you think for one min that the players will cave then you are not familiar with Donald Fehr. Bettman simply has no place to cry poor when he and Deputy Commish and COO are getting raises tied to league or revenue growth.

  12. wall says:

    Ryan, Teachers, etc. made more becuz Tax Revenues ( so there was more money to be made) increased (Exponentially in Cal.)- due to Home Prices— JUST like the NHL revenues increased due to popularity and good marketing.

    I am not trying to directly compare the two– It is just a natural cycle in Business/Economics– this is only a GENERAL comparison– and the Real way to fix is to Raise revenues or cut pay– OR A COMBINATION!!!! Just like in the “REAL WORLD”

  13. SouthSideHawkMan says:

    Bettman has been a dud from day 1, he’s failed to do anything constructive for the league, I don’t expect him to do anything worthwhile this time around again!

  14. Ryan says:

    Sounds like Bettman and the owners were suprised with the NHLPA’s proposal.

    The players agreed to take less Hockey Related Revenue, but not change contract lengths. Also Players agreed to keep a Cap with a few exceptions like a Luxury Tax.

    What I find interesting is that this proposal is only for 3 years with an option for 4th. Seems a little short, but maybe that is to test out the Luxury Tax? Only speculation tho.

  15. aaron says:

    Bettman doesn’t work for the fans, he works for the owners, as distasteful as that reality may seem.

    Quite frankly I don’t really envy Bettman his job, since he has to represent a group of employers that are not entirely unified in their interests. Particularly when it comes to the issue of revenue sharing, which other than the redefinition of Hockey Related Revenues is going to be the stickiest of sticking points for the new CBA since more extensive (which big market owners read: more expensive) revenue sharing is certainly not in the interest of the NHL’s most successful members who have seen their revenues rise exponentially, and are certainly less than thrilled with the idea of seeing an increased share of that many wisked away as “welfare” for their shallower pocketed comrades.

  16. aaron says:

    @SouthSideHawkMan

    yeah, I mean Bettman’s only doubled the monetary value of the league of in the ensuing years since the last lockout. Geez, what constructive thing has he done?

  17. Ryan says:

    Tab I would really like to hear your take on the NHLPA’s proposal and your take on the subsequent reaction by Bettman/ Owners.

  18. Ryan says:

    Of course the NHLPA position of taking less money and keeping the salary cap hinges on the Owners allowing a Luxury Tax. At least that is how I read this…..

  19. Dickie Dunn says:

    Wall – thank you.

    We both know that “places like Greece and Spain…” (- any EU country) cannot be compared to the U.S. — different rules, and THE FED.

    (I had a statistcs course, but my degree is in Computer Science.)

    The *average* salary for full-time police officers in 2010–11 was $47,800 in current dollars, the *average* salary for full-time firefighters in 2010–11 was $47,270 in current dollars, and the *average* salary for full-time public school teachers in 2010–11 was $56,069 in current dollars. Honestly, I’m not trying to make it a “who’s is bigger contest”, but to me, it still doesn’t seem like “a shitload of money”. And, I didn’t look specifically at CA — I’ll take your word for it. Obviously, the City of Make Believe (and many others) has a problem, but it’s that “1%” – what they are and their agenda — back the the NHL (for a second), that would be the owbers and their agenda. In my opinion, (and I harbor few illusions about its worth) the owners need to solve the problem (weak market/money-losing teams — it’s not the salaries…they got a CAP last CBA, and if they’re overpaying, whick player should say, “No thank you.”?) rather than using “take-backs” from the players to maintain their level of profitabilty. (…and, in the “Real World”, if we’re taking a vote, I’m against the move to Neofeudalism.)

    The City of Make Believe BETTER hope (and pray, if they’re so inclined) that their tax base doesn’t walk away in retaliation for a lockout. “Let the market decide”/let GREED decide is getting has about run its course.

  20. Dickie Dunn says:

    Aaron – “Bettman…represent a group of employers that are not entirely unified in their interests. Particularly when it comes to the issue of revenue sharing” – very good point. And, it’s back to the owners (in my opinion), and GREED.

    “Bettman’s only doubled the monetary value of the league of in the ensuing years since the last lockout.” — well, the value has “doubled”, but how much of that should be credited to Bettman? Maybe the paying customers, or the players (who draw the paying customers) have played a larger role?

  21. aaron says:

    @Dickie Dunn

    As the representative of the owners, in negotiations with not only the Players’ Union, but also television, media, advertising, sponsorship, etc. A great deal of credit deserves to go to Bettman. In the media the guy comes off like a weasel, and as a general rule of thumb for all major North American sports leagues, people just don’t like the Commish, cause he’s the stooge of the owners. But the irrational Bettman hate is way over the top. Certainly mistakes have been made, and the there is a good argument to be put forward that under Bettman’s watch the NHL has overextended itself into some markets where it probably doesn’t belong. All that said, the growth that this league has undertaken since I was a kid watching this sport, and the exponential growth that has occurred in the last 4-5 years has undoubtedly been a very positive and constructive thing, and it would be asinine to deny Bettman any of the credit for that.

  22. Dickie Dunn says:

    Aaron – I do not (irrationally) hate Bettman. I was just questioning how much of the success he actually had a hand in. Points taken — television, media, advertising, sponsorship, etc.

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