THE VENT is a forum for rants, raves, pleas and laments from hockey fans across the world about the NHL lockout. It runs every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. If you've got a take on the lockout and need to let it out, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, Subject: The Vent.)
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.
We'll assume reader "NT" believes you catch more flies with honey, which is why his vent reads like a love letter right up until the end, when he threatens to find someone else:
I'm not going to pretend that I know exactly what is going on. I'm not a lawyer, I'm not an owner of a professional franchise, and most importantly I'm not a professional athlete. I learned the game by playing it in the mid 90's and watching Eric Lindros. I'll never forget locking my friend in the bathroom all night during the '97 Stanley Cup final because the Flyers scored a goal when he went to pee. It didn't work.
Let this be known: I love hockey. I've lived in a few cities since then and I don't consider myself a fan of a particular team. I live in Boston now and I was elated when the Bruins won the cup. Do I like Milan Lucic? No. Do I really love the aura of Brad Marchand? No. I just love the game. I'm not sure why but I do.
So what is this all about? The players don't want to see their salaries cut after they made the league a ton of money. The owners don't want to lose money. That makes sense. Everyone wants something and some people are actually losing money. What doesn't make sense is that these people are arguing over semantics and not the real issues. Everyone knows where this is going. Can't anyone figure out how to make this work? Its not complicated. Is the NHL really going to leave us for another winter?
After the last lockout I sat down with a friend of mine and LISTENED to the first NHL game that was broadcast in over a year. Listened to it. We didn't care who was playing. We sat in a cold room in upstate New York and listened on a snowy night. We cared that much. Hockey was our outlet. It was what we loved more than anything in the world and to see it come back was that important to us.
I've been reading these vents and a lot of them talk about how hockey is their "spot" or whatever... that this is the thing that keeps them centered in life. Woman at home? No problem! Hockey! Not me. I love the sport and God knows how many hours I spend thinking about it. I don't think about my favorite players or who scored the most goals or anything like that... I just think about the game. I can't stop. I have a serious hockey problem. But (and I know I shouldn't start a sentence with that for the record) I have my life and it will continue with or without hockey. I'm not a fan that spends a lot of money on the game. I go to maybe a game a year because with my salary and all of my expenses I just can't afford it. I'm not in the demographic that the NHL is trying to hit. I am, however, a lifelong fan. I think that that fact should be enough. From complete O-Pee-Chee card sets to Loge seating I think I've done my part.
That same friend from before told me something recently that makes some sense (in my mind anyway). Paraphrasing "The NHL is like that really beautiful woman who you date who keeps cheating on you. You always come back because you think no other girl you date will be like her. But you know what... there is another fish in that pond."
I'm saying this with the utmost sincerity: I'm available.
Thomas R. thinks the NHL should be very, very afraid of him because his apathy isn't due to internalized frustration -- it's just regular apathy.
I live in the center of the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and I'm the fan the back to back to back lockouts risk long term. The passionate hockey fans like a friend of mine who's one of the success stories of the NHL going south, they'll be back. Me? I go to a couple of games a year with the afformentioned friend and watch some Stars games on TV, but as a casual fan, I'll just fill up the time with something else, and never need to worry about it. If the NHL wants to cancel games down here, they should remember that most of us are within an hour's drive of the NFL, MLB, the NBA, the NBA Developmental league, Double A baseball, Single A baseball, Major League Soccer, a major Nascar/Indycar race track, and 4 universities playing Division 1 sports, including 3 who play Division 1 football. We'll find something else to do and never miss you.
And finally, Molly gives us another limerick:
There once was time when I was happy
But I can't watch Marchand play scrappy
The League is in Ruins
I can't watch the Bruins
Without hockey I just feel crappy
Pretty much sums it up.