The 2012 NHL Lockout: Two Sides Desperate to Win Your Support

The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup on June 11, 2012. How many of us knew that night we’d just watched probably the last NHL game of the year?

If you’re a fan of the sport, you probably know by now that the lockout was official as of midnight, September 16—deja vu for those who lived through the same thing exactly eight years ago in 2004. This is the league’s third lockout; the first came during the 1994-1995 season, which resulted in the season being shortened to just 48 games, while the second resulted in the entire 2004-2005 season being locked out.

What does this mean? So much has been said by both sides (the NHL and the NHLPA) that most of us don’t know what to think. A majority of those I’ve talked to have sided with the players if not only because they didn’t need a reason to be angry at NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. However, I’ve also seen a considerable amount of animosity toward the Players Association as well. Some hate them (or at least very strongly dislike) both sides equally, and in all honesty that’s probably the most reasonable position to take.

Before we debate who’s right and who’s wrong, here’s the current state of things, excellently put into layman’s terms by James Mirtle in his article "Measuring the NHL-NHLPA divide: Oh, about $1-billion":

What the NHL offered

The NHL’s six-year proposal is fairly straightforward. In Year 1, players would get 49 per cent of hockey-related revenues. In Year 2, it would be 48 per cent. And in the final four years, it would be 47 per cent.

From the current 57 per cent arrangement, that would mean a 8 per cent pay cut in Year 1 and roughly $400-million less a season over the life of the deal (assuming 7.1 per cent revenue growth). Which is obviously substantial.

From the same article, the other side to the story:

What the NHLPA offered

This one is far more complex and I’m going to get into some of the nitty-gritty details here because I don’t believe they are available anywhere else at the moment.

First of all, the PA’s offer is based heavily off of the $1.87-billion the players received last season (57 per cent of the $3.28-billion in revenues). Over a five-year deal, they are offering to take a 2 per cent increase on that in Year 1, a 4 per cent increase over Year 1 in Year 2 and a 6 per cent increase over Year 2 in Year 3.

Those increases would be independent of whatever growth the league has, so anything beyond 2% in Year 1, for example, goes straight to the league. (That could be $220-million or so.)

Now, in Year 4, the PA’s proposal calls for players to receive their Year 3 share plus 54 per cent of any “new” revenues beyond those the league generated in Year 3.

Year 5 follows a similar pattern: Players would receive their Year 4 share plus 54 per cent of any “new” revenues beyond those generated in Year 4.

Mirtle included helpful graphs if, like me, you’re still having trouble trying to understand exactly what’s going on. Not that they’d necessarily help; it seems like the more you read and try to comprehend, the more confused you become. If you’ve got both the time and incentive, Bob McKenzie wrote arguably the best article on the entire situation, appropriately titled “Fear, Loathing, and ‘I Can’t Believe We’re Doing This Again’”.

Now, back to the topic at hand: which side has the better PR team? As I said earlier, there are people who will automatically be against Gary Bettman no matter what he’s arguing. They’ve been on the players’ side since day one. But what about those who’ve tried to remain neutral? They’re the targeted group of both sides; the proverbial gold mine in this whole debacle.

The NHL wants us to believe they’ve done everything in their power to prevent this lockout and that the NHLPA just hasn’t been willing to compromise. However, they understand the plight of us fans and are working diligently to give us hockey as soon as possible. Here is the official statement they released last night (and, as salt in the wound, posted on every team’s official website):

Despite the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the National Hockey League has been, and remains, committed to negotiating around the clock to reach a new CBA that is fair to the Players and to the 30 NHL teams.

Thanks to the conditions fostered by seven seasons under the previous CBA, competitive balance has created arguably the most meaningful regular season in pro sports; a different team has won the Stanley Cup every year; fans and sponsors have agreed the game is at its best, and the League has generated remarkable growth and momentum. While our last CBA negotiation resulted in a seismic change in the League’s economic system, and produced corresponding on-ice benefits, our current negotiation is focused on a fairer and more sustainable division of revenues with the Players -- as well as other necessary adjustments consistent with the objectives of the economic system we developed jointly with the NHL Players’ Association seven years ago. Those adjustments are attainable through sensible, focused negotiation -- not through rhetoric.

This is a time of year for all attention to be focused on the ice, not on a meeting room. The League, the Clubs and the Players all have a stake in resolving our bargaining issues appropriately and getting the puck dropped as soon as possible. We owe it to each other, to the game and, most of all, to the fans.

The NHLPA chose a different route and released a video on YouTube instead. Welcome to the 21st century, I guess. If you haven’t watched it or don’t intend to, it’s 3:31 of our favorite hockey superstars saying the same things the NHLPA has been saying for months: they just want to play hockey, the fans are who suffer most, and while it’s unfortunate that it has come to this, they just want what’s fair.

I don’t know that I necessarily agree. Yes, hockey is a huge part of my life and that part will be missing now that there’s no season for the foreseeable future, but I wouldn’t say my suffering is the most important. There’s a third party that these PSAs are forgetting, and that’s the incredible group of people behind the scenes that make hockey possible for us in different ways. I’m talking about the athletic trainers, stadium workers and equipment managers just to name a few. These individuals are not being represented at these NHL-NHLPA negotiations; they have no say over their future unlike the players, who can play overseas in the event of a lockout, or just not play at all because they’re still getting paid.

For me, no hockey means I save a few hundred bucks annually on hockey tickets; for a team’s athletic trainer, no hockey means possibly having to find another job.

So, as fans, what do we do? Do we argue relentlessly over who’s more to blame and who’s being more selfish? We could, or we could turn this into something positive. Find a local hockey program to support, whether it be your team’s AHL or ECHL affiliate or a nearby university’s team. There are countless options that have got to be better than waiting on millionaires to figure out the most balanced way to ensure they’re still millionaires at the end of every season.

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