With one sentence, the NHL effectively sealed the fate of the 2012-13 hockey season. The league’s marquée event, The Bridgestone Winter Classic will not propel hockey into the spotlight New Year’s Day. No game in “The Big House,” no Original Six cross-border rivalry, No Season. Last winter NHL commissioner Gary Bettman crowed that the NHL “owned” New Year’s Day TV.
Do hate to be the one to break the news to him, but the lock-out, canceled games, and no Winter Classic will cost the League its “ownership” of New Year’s Day. Sure don’t get it. This is the same Commissioner who bragged at the Stanley Cup championship about the soaring profits, the unprecedented TV coverage in the United States, the incredibly competitive season just completed. Sounded great back in June, didn’t it?
Flash forward to the “negotiations” for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Obvious from the League’s first proposal that the owners, represented by Bettman, have no intention of actually negotiating a new CBA. The attitude, “our way or the highway,” once again appears the mantra, but this time around, the players remain united thus far in their determination not to capitulate to the League’s demands that include another 24% salary roll-back, as they accepted after the 2005 Lost Season.
Certainly can understand asking employees to take a pay cut during a recession when a business is struggling to survive. But after announcing record profits—and record growth year-after-year since the last CBA was signed, even during this economic downturn—why demand that the players give back money back on a signed contract? That makes no sense.
Nor did a not-so-secret meeting Saturday between the NHL Deputy Commissioner and the NHLPA Special Council. The day after the League canceled the Winter Classic? Sure that will accomplish as much as previous meetings.
Following #NHL, #ThePlayers, #NHLLockOut on Twitter suggest fans have very low tolerance for canceled games or the prospect for another lost season. Sentiment appears to back the players’ position—go head and play in Europe. The NHL? Well, let’s just say Mr. Bettman’s popularity—if he ever had any—has tanked to record lows. Many tweets make the point that it’s the fans who make those record profits a reality are the ones who are left out in the cold—once again.
Bettman and the League may assume that fans will flock back to the arenas when/if a new CBA is signed. Would not count on it this time around. Hockey is not the only game in town in the lower 48. Many of those teams who have struggled to attract fans and are on the cusp of solidifying their markets (Nashville, Carolina, Florida, Columbus, Phoenix to name a few) may find themselves back to Square One—or out of business.
Resigned to the probability of no season… the prospect of a long, long winter that begins after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship is claimed in Homestead Florida in just three weeks and continues until Daytona’s Speed Weeks at the end of February. Yes, Virginia, we do have NASCAR and that’s one sport where we don’t need to worry about Lock-Outs, CBAs, or Strikes. Dale Junior is racing, Jimmie Johnson is closing in on yet another—sixth—championship, Kyle Busch is driving in all three events this weekend (Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide, and Sprint Cup), a year after his on-track temper tantrum nearly cost him his sponsor.
Yes, the NASCAR Nation can count on its sport to continue to incorporate fan-pleasing tweaks to the races, and you’ll never have to worry if there’ll be a season opener in Daytona. In February.
Perhaps Mr. Bettman should take notes.
- NHL Lockout Still Profitable, It Seems
- NHL Lockout: Could This Be Gary Bettman’s Swan Song as NHL Commissioner? (bleacherreport.com)
- NHL cancels Winter Classic (3news.co.nz)
- Daly, Steve Fehr will meet Saturday (prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com)
- NHL lockout: An open letter to Gary Bettman, Donald Fehr, Hurricane Sandy victims