MLB Best Pay Attention to the NHL

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 is losing between $18 and $20 million per day during the lockout. (Photo credit - Noah Graham)

The NHL is losing between $18 and $20 million per day during the lockout. (Photo credit – Noah Graham)

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.

The MLB and MLBPA better do everything they can to prevent what is happening in the NHL from ever happening again in Major League Baseball, because they may not recover if there is a next time. (Photo courtesy of OrlandoSentinel.com)

The MLB and MLBPA better do everything they can to prevent what is happening in the NHL from ever happening again in Major League Baseball, because they may not recover if there is a next time.
(Photo courtesy of OrlandoSentinel.com)

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.”

 

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5 Responses to “MLB Best Pay Attention to the NHL”

  1. CRANBROOK MIKE says:

    Bang on brother! With me living in Western Canada I have yet to find ANYBODY who sympathizes with the players or owners. Every person I talk to expresses the very same concerns for the “little guys” (vendors) trying to eek out as a result of the game. The extremely sad and pathetic thing about all of this is that whenever they do resume play, you know damn right well that the die hards will be standing in line to beat the doors down. But not so in some US markets. I truly believe teams like Phoenix, Carolina, Florida, possibly Nashville will be done. They were struggling at the best of times.

    It really seems like the owners and players just don’t care period. The bottom line in this whole thing that they really don’t seem to understand, and have completely thrown under the bus, is that the TV revenue is EVERYTHING, like you said 53. Without the likes NBC, ESPN there won’t even be an NHL in the future period!

    Funny thing though. Being from the hockey starved country that we are, we have a WHL junior hockey team in Cranbrook (Kootenay Ice), and attendance is down considerably this year. Quite frankly people just don’t care in my neck of the woods. This league (WHL)is one of three leagues that makes up the parent league of the CHL (Canadian Hockey League) the other two are the OHL (Ontario Hockey League), and the QMJHL (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League). To die hard hockey fans here in Canada, (junior hockey is played by 16-20 year old boys) this would be the closest thing to US college football, only without the massive crowds nor more importantly massive scholarships.

    I really do feel badly for those vendors, ushers, ticket takers etc. I like to eqaute them as being the kids caught in a very messy divorce custody battle, that have been forgotten about.

    Even though I tell myself I will not support the NHL. I can’t stop asking myself truly would I stop going to ST if this were baseball?? Would I stop buy my Dodgers merchandise?? Would I stop revolving my holidays around this team?? And the honest answer is NO. So does that make me as bad as these people who will be lined up beating the doors down at all Canadian rinks when this is settled? Or maybe a better word would hypocritical! Look what big business does to us little folk, forking out our hard earned cash to them!

    • Ron Cervenka says:

      A great perspective, Mike; and I sincerely appreciate your insight on something that I simply know very little about – hockey.

      In all honesty, I am not even a casual hockey fan. In fact, I usually go to exactly one Kings game a year – on Dodgers Night (go figure); however, I understand perfectly what it’s like to be passionate about a professional sports team. I’m sure that there are a number of lower-level hockey leagues here in the U.S. as well, but the NHL is, of course, the top-tier.

  2. Bluenose Dodger says:

    I see they reached an agreement. I am pleased for the people who have been out of work because of the lockout. I expect lukewarm fans will have been lost but rabid hockey fans will return. By the time they get going ST will be only a few weeks away.

  3. Ron Cervenka says:

    Hahaha! Check out this Twitter post:

    “This is horrible news for Toronto Maple Leafs fans. This effectively puts an end to their best season in decades.”

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