When Mark Cuban speaks about the NHL, we listen.
Not just because he's a Dallas Stars season-ticket holder and a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, but because you know his words will be marinated in controversy, insight and the occasional expletive, but because he's a forward-thinking sports businessman that would have been an asset to the League's ownership ranks had he ever bought into hockey.
Why hasn't he? Cuban considers the NHL's business model to be broken.
Hence, he supports the NHL and its owners in the current lockout, as he did in the previous one; if this is their "hill to die on," then better to perish than allow a broken system to continue to damage the League.
In Feb. 2005, the Dallas Mavericks owner wrote a scathing attack on Bob Goodenow in which he congratulated the NHLPA chief on losing "1 billion dollars that NHL players will never, ever, ever collect." From Blog Maverick:
The good news is that the NHL stuck to its guns. A strong financial foundation will make the league more viable in the short and long term. That will benefit NHL players far more than anything the NHLPA has done. Why was it so tough for Goodenow to realize that businesses that are at least breaking even can pay more money to more employees than businesses that are losing money?
In spite of Goodenow, the NHL's strength of conviction means that kids around the worldwho are putting their heartsand souls into hockey with dreams of playing in the NHL can rest easy. The NHL didn't cave. They will survive.
The NHL didn't just survive — it thrived, to the tune of $3.3 billion in revenues annually. But seven years later, another lockout arrives; and Mark Cuban, via CSN New England, still has the League's back vs. the union:
"When you have all your southern franchises basically sucking wind, there's a message there that you have to fix it. I mean, you have two different worlds; the north and the south. It's kind of like the civil war right now going on, and it's got to be fixed. So, yeah I'd cringe more as a hockey fan. I'd cringe more if they don't fix it. Just like the last one, it's only been like seven years right? But I even wrote a blog back then that they should have fixed it, and they didn't."
Here's video of that conversation; NHL stuff about 6:38 in (beware some NSFW words):
One takeaway from that clip was this line, regarding potential contraction of Southern markets:
"When you got players with contracts, those contracts don't go away when you get rid of the teams. Someone's gonna pay'em."
As expected, Cuban excuses the owners' misbehavior.
He bemoans lofty contracts as an albatross, and yet they're both a creation of the previous financial system he praised the NHL for securing and of the owners that he's supporting in the lockout. This isn't to say Cuban doesn't understand this dynamic; it's to say that just like when the NHL claims elephantine contracts make it harder to sell teams or secure financing, it does so by blaming the system rather than the irresponsible billionaires that exploit it.
And about that system: If it does need a fix, then is it the salary cap that needs fixing?
In 2008, when the NFL opted out of its CBA, Cuban wrote a brilliant blog post about the cap's viability in modern sports:
The bottom line problem for current cap systems is that one team's financial success can have a significantly negative impact on the financial performance of another. Rather than enjoying the success of the new stadiums in the big markets, or the big local TV or advertising deals they sign, small markets are shell shocked by the annual increases in the cap they create. Increases that they can't possibly keep pace with.
When this happens, teams have to "give up" on their players and seasons more often in order to try to rebuild, which in turn hurts not only the fans and the league, but also the players as higher priced players lose slots to lower priced and younger players.
That's not a good situation for anyone. It's a huge problem that needs to be solved.
A cap can work if it's based on national rather than local revenues. Even if it's a higher percentage of those revenues than is currently paid. If only national revenues are applied to cap calculations then the change in the cap available to teams every year impacts all teams equally. if a team can manage their local business successfully, they will make money. If the teams succeed, the league succeeds and the national money will grow and the money paid to players will grow at the same pace.
Can a league survive without a cap? Yes, but I think it must be a league where it takes more than 1 or 2 players to lead a team to a championship. Otherwise, the richest teams can just buy those 2 players, with a 3rd as insurance, which means the competitive balance of the league is purely dependent on finances. That is not a good position to be in. Baseball and football are 2 leagues that I can think can survive (as baseball has) quite nicely without a cap. The NBA and NHL would struggle competitively without them.
I'm not anti-salary cap, although I think the current hard-cap system in the NHL is flawed, harmful to small markets through the cap floor and contains significant loopholes.
Hence, I agree with Cuban: Fix it.
Fix the revenue sharing with small-market teams to keep them viable; fix the cap floor; and work together to ensure contractual sanity where the owners have previously been insane.