Business of Hockey

Are the owners, led by Bettman, using fan loyalty as leverage?

The past few days of the CBA negotiations have been worrisome to say the least. Wednesday’s big meeting was canceled after the head honchos met in the morning, which was tough to take as anything but negative. On top of that, the meetings yesterday were met with nothing but another quote about how the owners and the NHLPA were still far apart and that both sides have a fundamental disagreement on the current state of the NHL.

But that’s not the troubling part. The troubling part is a quote from Gary Bettman pulled by Mark Masters of TSN (s/t to Becky for pulling this info for me):

‘We recovered last time bc we have the world’s greatest fans’

And therein lies the biggest problem. That quote alone suggests that the owners are not playing by the rules. The owners are using the loyalty of the fans, our loyalty and hard-earned cash, as a bargaining chip.

We’ve been covering every major point of the CBA negotiations here, including the UnfollowNHLSeptember15 movement. And while this little tidbit might not seem like a major moment in the negotiations, it’s one tiny sentence that packs a powerful punch. The NHLPA cannot negotiate when the owners are willing to use fan loyalty as their biggest bargaining chip.

Two weeks ago I ripped both sides for the games they were playing. Now it appears that the owners are not even concerned about the fans and the future of the game. Clearly, they fully expect the fans to come back in droves, the way we did after the first lockout. And as much as we hate to say it, and as much as it pains me to say this, we will definitely come back if there’s another lockout.

But while the hardcore fans like us will come back, the NHL is playing a very dangerous game with the fair weather fans. The league took a giant leap forward in a non-traditional market when the Kings won the Stanley Cup. LA was never a poor team, but they certainly saw ticket sales jump after their Cup run. The last time LA saw a boon like this, some guy named Wayne was traded there.

Aside from having one of the biggest national markets see a drastic increase in revenues, they have another team in perhaps the largest US market that is now considered a legitimate Cup contender for years to come. That of course is the Rangers. New York is the biggest market in the US when it comes to hockey. Hockey was finally becoming water cooler talk in the office, and now they risk losing those fans. This doesn’t even include the US markets in Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, or Detroit.

Side note: Obviously I’m not including the Canadian markets, as there’s no real concern in losing fans in Canada. Canadian fans aren’t fair weather fans.

The fact that loyalties are being used as a negotiating tactic is appalling. We never thought either side would stoop so low.

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  • Totally agree. The problem is the wealthy owners know their fans are coming back. These are the ones against the players proposal because money comes out of their pockets. The small market teams are the ones that will suffer, their diehard fans will be back, but they obviously dont have enough of them or they wouldnt be in financial trouble.

    The other big problem, is they want the deals NBA/NFL got. A bunch of rich people jealous of the richer people. Whether it be the poor NHL teams jealous of the wealthy NHL teams. The wealthy NHL teams jealous of the other major sports.

  • The rules in any negotiation is to play to your strengths and to exploit your opponents weaknesses. We as fans are the ultimate winners (if we have hockey and the prices stay current) or losers (if the season is delayed or prices go up. We do not have a seat at the table but are used by both sides to accentuate their points. Just the rules of negotiation, it isn’t personal for them because neither side bleed the color of their uniforms like we do.

    • I agree to an extent Sal, but it depends on what the goals of the negotiation are. Bettman and Fehr have both adopted whats known as a “competitive” negotiating tactic, as opposed to a cooperative one.

      Bettman and the owners absolutely dominated a player’s union with weak leadership last time around and got almost everything they wanted. This time around, they need to understand that the continuation of the game is the most important thing. Obviously, Bettman should still be zealously advocating for his clients (the owners) once again, but Fehr led an incredibly strong baseball players union and won’t go quietly into the night the way the last regime did.

      But Dave is absolutely right. It’s the fans that ultimately suffer. The player’s proposal was pretty reasonable on its face, and if Bettman can’t see the need for revenue sharing in the absence of relocation, this should all fall on him if we are dropping the puck on Oct. 11.

      • A reasonable deal is in the eye of the beholder. If I am an owner, sharing more of “my money” is not reasonable. Betteman has alot on his plate trying to keep everyone happy at a cost that is fair. The definition of fair is what is in question. Both owners and players make money, but TV revenue is where the future is. Both sides need to agree to how to increase that revenue. Not sure a work-stoppage helps there or with fan devotion. Also note that “the owners” include people making lots of money and view hockey as a division, where some are in the deep end of the pool without a life jacket. On each side, there are issues that remain covert, but that the art of deal-making.

  • To me the way to solve the struggles of small market teams is to do away with the salary floor. What purpose does it serve other than force struggling teams to spend more money each year as the salary cap goes up.

    • I believe the salary floor is there for two reasons.

      1) To ensure that the players get their 57% of revenue as per the current terms of the CBA.
      2) To prevent teams from not spending any money and just sit there collecting profits.

  • This is a small market owner issue. It’s their teams that will suffer, their fans that won’t come support their team.

    This is a huge issue for the owners to settle. They need a new set of guidelines to protect them from themselves. It’s going to take all year. There won’t be any NHL hockey this year. If the Players are willing to sit out, they should. It’s the owners offering up these $100M 14 year contracts, in small markets, now they are broke, or not rich enough.

    Hockey is a regional fan base, it always will be. Bettman is banking on the fans, the same fans the BOO him when he steps on the ice. Perhaps he should take a step back, and let the game go on!

  • Another market to add to that list is Minnesota. Great hockey market with some excitement for the first time in a few years.

    And on the diehard fans coming back… What are we supposed to do? There’s no sport on earth like hockey and the fact that the owners are using us the fans as a bargaining chip is disgusting

  • I watched the interview and yes the NHL is using the loyalty of the fans as a bargaining chip. What the players need to understand is that the club has to get the hockey operations part into account. The vendors need pay increases, the ushers and so on. The club has to maintain the arena, The players and the NHLPA need a just raise but not a raise of what is being proposed by them. Players need only worry about 3 things, Saftey, Retirement and an equitable raise. They only play the game. The club has to worry about all those issues, plus Hockey operations, administration, the arena and the employees of the arena, media and advertising and TV stuff. TV revenues are no concern of the players in my opinion. I as a Union Carpenter when I was working before my injury didn’t get any rights to the Venitien for example. I did not get a players card, an account for credit and such to go gamble at the Venetien. I have to fork out my own money, get my own players card and use my own gas money to go play Poker there.
    These players are not entitled to TV revenues, whatever they get from it is a bonus. What the players are entitled to is a % from the growth of the game and a yearly raise to offset inflation. This is my opinion.

    • INFLATION??? Im not making fun of what you said Just the fact that INFLATION should not effect those who are making millions. If it does shame on them…

    • THe NHLPA has not asked for a raise. They have asked for a smaller cut than the owners proposed, and for the owners to share more revenue amongst themselves.

    • Leather

      Sorry guy but boy did you just bet on the wrong pony here.

      “The club has to maintain the arena, The players and the NHLPA need a just raise but not a raise of what is being proposed by them.”

      Have you looked at the deals several teams have with their arenas? Are you taking into accounts say that the Dolans do not pay property tax on a piece of property in Mid-town Manhattan?

      “They only play the game.”

      You have no idea what the players go through just to play the game. If you think all they do is “play the game” then you are sadly kidding yourself.

      Tell me when you were a carpenter did you just show up one day and knew what you needed to be one? Of course not you put in plenty of hours learning how to do your trade.

      You had to buy tools, attend classes to learn new skills and on and on.

      A hockey player leaves home at 15-16 to learn his “craft”, he has to balance school work and a full time job as a player while as a teen.

      If he is lucky enough to be drafted then he puts in hours upon hours practicing, weight lifting and other work outs designed to get the best out of him.

      Today most players in the off-season pay for specialized training like camps run by Gary Roberts or Perry Pearn.

      If anything your own life mirrors one of many a former NHL player that I have known. You said you were injured and do you know how many players pay for the career with their bodies.

      BTW I have yet to meet a player who has not had to pay for his own gambling at any casino.

  • Its time we the fans send a message to this POS bettman. And let him know ENOUGH is ENOUGH. If they miss even one day. They will not see one dime from Me.

  • The whole idea of the lockout is a slap in the face. The hardcore fans are really perpetuating the issue by staying loyal to the game when the owners dont seem to care at all about them. I feel like the only way to make things right is not come back when the owners say we can. I love the game and really enjoy the blog, but I cannot be treated this way by the leauge and just come back like nothing happened. I guess I’m taking it too personally.

  • A lot of great points made on this issue, and one can argue these points from both sides.

    I personally don’t like the idea of sharing my money with anyone. If you can’t cut it, get out, end of discussion. I never worked for a union, and in my profession either I performed, or was let go by management. No one is entitled to anything, they have to earn it.

    That stated, if the NHL is to grow, and prosper,, it has to get rid of the teams that are not cutting it, let them relocate to where they can be successful. If the fan base doesn’t support their teams, then they don’t deserve to have a team.

    As for the agreement, the players, and owners should get serious, settle this where it’s a win win situation, and let the games begin. Then they should show that little sawed off piece of fecal matter Buttman the door. I don’t care how much the game has grown during his administration, he is a cancer. He is unlikeable, cocky SOB, who you would just like to smack in the face and watch him run home to his mommy.

  • I think owning a sports team should be more about winning then making money. People should not own a team if all they care about is money. Thats what ruins the sport.

    The media and the TV Ch that do show the games need to put pressure on the owners to get this worked out. I am wondering since the networks have deals in place. Why cant they SUE the NHL if the games arent played???? After all isnt there a contract between the two in place?

    We really should start contacting everyone that has anything to do with advertising during NHL games and ask them not too. And if they still do then we should boycott them.

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