Since this lockout began swirling back in the summer, we've been given a number of articles explaining the issues to fans. But has anyone stopped to explain the issues to the players and the owners? Michael F. takes up the task.
Someone needs to sit both sides down and explain the facts of the real world to them so they can have actual productive discussions and get things resolved.
The Owners: The basic fact is that no one pays for admission to see the owner wave to the fans from his luxury box a la Ted Leonsis. We, the fans, pay to see the players on the ice. You've agreed to deals with the players currently in the NHL, now you want to change the terms of those deals, whether through a roll-back of salaries or retaining funds through escrow. Either way, it's money you agreed to but are now apparently unwilling to pay.
Get over it. You want a deal like football and basketball, where the players receive 50% of the revenues from the sport. Fair enough. But you shouldn't expect to take the money back from players in one big step. Use Adam Proteau's model to step the revenue sharing down one percent per year, essentially extending the current salary cap levels on an absolute basis, assuming a reasonable growth rate, for seven years until the player's share reaches 50%, then allowing growth from there.
Keep in mind, a nice chunk of your revenues is tied up in a long-term TV deal that isn't going to be increasing over the course of the next ten years, so don't count on revenues continuing to increase at the same rate they have. The economy, in case you haven't heard, has not been in the best condition over the last few years. You can't continue to raise ticket prices 5-10% per year indefinitely and expect fans to keep purchasing them. If you double or triple ticket prices over the course of the next CBA, as some of you have over the course of the last one, you'll drive fans out and there aren't that many willing to pay inflated prices to sustain your revenue at the elevated levels you've been enjoying over the past CBA.
Also, most players have careers lasting five to seven years, so locking them into a five year rookie contract and not giving them the chance to test the market until after most of them are out of the league is unfair to the players. Three years rookie contracts (with performance bonuses), plus unrestricted free agency after seven years in the league. If you want something to make both the owners who make money and the players happy, look at the 30 highest paid players in the league. Average their annual salaries out and remove that much from the salary cap. Then allow each team to designate one player's contract which doesn't count against the salary cap.
The stipulation - the player has to have been drafted by the team and stay within the organization. If the player is traded, the exemption for that player is gone, although the team may apply it to another "home-grown" player for that season.
The Players: As stated, you're the reason the fans show up. We know you do things on the ice that most people cannot, but as some of you have learned during this lockout, there aren't that many high playing jobs as a hockey player out there. You have something that no other sports league players have - guaranteed contracts. Recognize that.
Also recognize that league revenues are more dependent upon the gate than any other sport. Demanding ever higher contracts and keeping the salary cap at an ever increasing rate is good for your wallets, but potentially bad, ultimately for the game. There are currently 30 teams in the NHL, which means a lot of jobs for a lot of players. Driving half of those teams into bankruptcy ends up being a Pyrric victory as you get the terms you want, but have fewer jobs today and down the road.
Look at Adam Proteau's model. With the current rate of revenue growth in the NHL, stepping down the player's share keeps the amount available for player salaries constant for seven years, as it reduces to 50%. At that point, the salary cap will start increasing noticeably again, assuming revenues continue to grow. You keep the same contracts you've signed and make the money you've negotiated for, without a rollback. You should fight to keep the current rookie contracts and free agency periods, but be willing to bend on maximum contract length. While ten years would be great, settle for seven years maximum contract length.
The Fans: Don't be afraid to throw a BS flag on the owners. We've seen ticket prices steadily increase to the point where they are becoming unsustainable over the long haul. I know owners like Ted Leonsis like to point to the health of the franchise by noting the renewal rate for season ticket holders. If we keep buying the tickets and then selling them off, they think things are great and keep things rolling forward.
We love the game, but hate that there have been two work stoppages in seven years over money issues. Let's bring the point home to the owners that we're tired of things. The first step would be, following the end of the lockout, to organize a boycott of stadium vendors (concession stands, team store, etc) for one game a month. Sure, not everyone will participate or get the message, but if even one in five get something to eat on the way to the game instead of at the game, revenues will drop significantly enough that the owners will understand the fans are getting tired with the constant ticket price increases, overpriced food, drink and jerseys.
This league can't exist without its fans and they have to show respect to the people that make both the owners and the players possible.