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There was a point during Gary Bettman's press conference yesterday when I teared up.
When he talked about "these tough economic times" the world is facing today, I couldn't help but think of how hard owners have it. Sure, unemployment nationwide is still above 8 percent (and it's been there since early 2009) and more than one in every five homeowners owe more money on their mortgages than their property is worth. But when Bettman talked about how it's unrealistic for the players' association to expect 57 percent of revenues — which for the NHL this season topped $3.3 billion — the real weight of the current economic climate really hit home for me.
"Man," I thought to myself, "if the league has only seen revenues grow a scant 50 percent since the last time the owners locked out the players and cost fans a full season of hockey, then it really has been a tough seven years."
I mean, I've seen the numbers. The housing market tanked, and tanked hard, between 2006 and 2009, and the U.S. and global economies suffered mightily. The recession in America alone was the worst seen since the Great Depression. Millions lost their jobs. Millions saw their homes foreclosed upon.
But for the 29 owners of the NHL's teams, the squeeze has apparently been particularly tough. Among the things that have exploded non-player costs are jet fuel, the cost of which Bettman says has increased 175 percent since the last lockout — sorry, "work stoppage" — and support staff like trainers, coaches and massage therapists doesn't exactly come cheap.
So who, then, can blame them for locking out the players?
The players are the ones who demand to be flown around on these private jets — and last I checked, Sidney Crosby isn't exactly lobbying Washington to open more drilling sites in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, so the prices being this high are pretty much on him too — and they're the ones who want to be "healthy" and feel as though they're in "peak physical condition" when they go out and play this fast and allegedly dangerous sport.
Trainers and masseuses? Why not just hire large men to carry these selfish players around on the ice, like the guy from "A Clockwork Orange"?
And you know for sure that the players were sitting around saying things like, "We definitely need a second strength and conditioning coach," essentially strong-arming the owners into hiring them.
The fact of the matter is that these guys are hurting, which is why Jeremy Jacobs, whose team only turned a profit of approximately $22-25 million during its Stanley Cup-winning season (according to a report from the New England Center for Investigative Reporting), simply had to put forth the motion to formally vote yea or nay on the issue of a lockout.
Simply put, the reason for the lockout is the economy, which is only just beginning to recover. If the current CBA expired in, say, 2014, when some experts think everything will have reached some level of pre-recession normalcy, then hey, maybe the owners could reasonably keep things as is.
Unfortunately for hockey fans and players, the CBA expires Saturday. That means there are uncomfortable economic realities to face. The NHLPA's projections that revenues will continue to expand an average 7 percent every year are laughable, especially if the owners only continue to raise ticket prices to fans by an average of 5.6 percent per year.
The average seat cost $41.19 immediately following the 2004-05 work stoppage, and climbed to $57.39 last season, so really, the owners are saving you, the great fans of this league, money. After all, they're just trying to keep up with player costs, which have risen an incredible 4.3 percent per year on average (if you round up a bit).
Like Gary and I said, the economy is tough. Of course, it'll get tougher when the Canucks cut their front office staff's pay 20 percent during the lockout (coincidentally, the same day Mike Gillis conceded that they were "one of the wealthiest teams in the league"), and Calgary's staffers have already learned they'll see theirs fall as well.
But think of it from the owners' point of view. All the jet fuel and masseuses those staffers keep demanding is a real drag on the bottom line, so it's easy to see why this kind of thing has to happen.
What you have to remember about this deal the owners made with the players in the last round of CBA negotiations is that they wanted very much to be fair about everything. This whole NHL thing is, after all, a partnership between the players and owners (at least until it isn't).
But the dynamic has changed in these last seven years, and at this point, it's very reasonable to say that the deal ended up being "more fair" for the players. The owners are only asking for what's right. A deal that's more more-fair for both sides, but especially them.
And by the way, the reason I teared up when Bettman brought up how the league is dealing with "these tough economic times" is because that's what always happens when throw up in my mouth.
Pearls of Biz-dom
We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?
BizNasty on THE GREEDY PLAYERS' REAL MOTIVATIONS:
"Fans. The players understand your frustration. But at the end of the day we are fighting for our futures, not yours. That's the reality."
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