When the 2013 ball dropped in New York’s Times Square at midnight on January 1st, the National Hockey League had already cancelled 625 of its scheduled 1,230 regular season games due to the current lockout. This equates to 50.8% of the regular season and there is absolutely no end in sight. In fact, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman considers 48 games per team (out of an 82-game regular season schedule) the drop-dead minimum number of games in order to have a fair and competitive shortened season – a number that has already passed. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly is only slightly more optimistic by recently saying that the season must resume play “sometime in mid-January” or the season will be lost completely. (Note: Games through January 14 have already been cancelled, so you can pretty much see where this is all going).
With negotiations at an impasse (as of this writing), it appears that the L.A. Kings will retain the Stanley Cup for a second consecutive season without a single puck having been dropped in the 2012-2013 NHL season. And while the NHL lockout may be of little concern for die-hard baseball fans or even for casual NHL fans, you can bet it is extremely disturbing for those who love their hockey as much as we love our baseball.
The current NHL work stoppage is the fourth since 1992 (three owner lockouts and one players strike) and Bettman estimates that the NHL is losing between $18 and $20 million per day and the players are losing between $8 and $10 million per day. As a result, the league office has been forced to cut employees’ pay by 20 percent, with many teams being forced to lay off employees and cut pay, as well.
The NHL lockout isn’t just a U.S. problem either. In Canada, businesses in areas with NHL teams have been hurt significantly because of the lockout – businesses such as hotels, restaurants, bars and sports apparel stores to name only a few. Molson-Coors, Canada’s largest brewing company, is reporting huge losses, blaming the decline in sales on dark hockey arenas and fans not having hockey parties or visiting local sports bars to watch games.
And it’s not just businesses that are suffering. Of even bigger concern, what about all of the jobs that have been lost because of the lockout? Think of the thousands of ticket sales people, ushers, security officers, concessions and souvenir vendors, maintenance workers, parking lot attendants, and so on. While the NHL and the players union are playing tug-of-war over millions and millions of dollars, thousands of Americans and Canadians are out of work and struggling to put food on their tables and pay their rent.
You would think that the NHL and the NHLPA would have learned from their three previous work stoppages, yet here they are again. And when this mess is finally settled (if it is ever settled), they expect fans to come running back to the box office to buy tickets and support their favorite team and players as if nothing ever happened. I think that these guys are in for a rude awakening if/when this one is over – I know I sure as hell will never attend another NHL game again, that’s for sure.
The thing to remember here is that work stoppages such as this are not exclusive to the NHL – not by any means. In fact, the only professional sport that has had more work stoppages than the NHL is (you guess it) Major League Baseball. Since 1972, there have been eight work stoppages:
- 1972 – player strike – 13 days missed of the regular season
- 1976 – owner lockout – 17 days missed of the regular season
- 1980 – player strike – 7 days missed of the regular season
- 1981 – player strike – 50 days missed of the regular season
- 1985 – player strike – 2 days missed of the regular season
- 1990 – owner lockout – 32 days missed of the regular season
- 1994 – player strike – 232 days missed of the regular season & postseason cancelled
- 1995 – continuation of player strike – 18 days missed of the regular season
When the players strike of 1994-1995 ended, attendance at ballparks suffered significantly across the country. And though most teams eventually recovered (in some instances significantly – primarily because of widespread steroid use), a few of the smaller market teams still have not. Face it, when multi-millionaires whine and complain about being underpaid, they’re not going to get much sympathy from America’s (and Canada’s) blue-collar working class – and this best be a lesson for the MLB and the MLBPA. Fortunately (for now, at least), there is a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) in place in Major League Baseball through the 2016 season.
I certainly understand and accept that professional athletes in every sport are in the entertainment business just as movie and television performers and musicians are, and they are certainly entitled to be rewarded accordingly; but they also need to understand that without fannies in the seats or without a television audience, they would basically be out of a job.
The last thing that I want to do is to cry wolf or claim that the sky is falling, but the MLB and the MLBPA better be paying very close attention to what’s going on in the NHL right now because, quite frankly, a similar lockout or job action in the MLB would have catastrophic results - especially when you consider the amount of media rights money involved in the MLB today; money that teams absolutely depend on for their very existence and a cash flow that would most likely dry up in the event of a work stoppage.
To Bud Selig (and his successors) and to Michael Weiner (and his successors) I say: “Forewarned is forearmed.”