Two Strikes, You’re Out

Dear NHL,

It’s not you.  It’s me.

We’ve had some fun times, locally.  The 1991 North Stars playoff run?  Classic (I’ll continue our agreement not to discuss Game Six, however).  And that 2003 Minnesota Wild team?  Ah, good times.

We even overcame some painful memories, like when you left with that Alberta shopping mall developer for Dallas.  I was hurt.  But then I realized that a former booster for the North Stars was right when she said: “When [Norm Green] came here, he said, ‘Only an idiot could lose money on hockey in Minnesota.’ Well, I guess he proved that point.”

Since you came back it’s been nice.  Not the same, but nice.

But as I said, it’s not you, it’s me.  I just can’t take what will likely be a second lost season in nine years.  Especially with both sides of your lockout seemingly unwilling to even sit in the same room with a federal mediator and salvage, ala 1994-95, a condensed season and the Stanley Cup:

With the hockey season hanging in the balance, Saturday could prove to be a pivotal day on all fronts. The sides have less than a week to reach a new collective bargaining agreement to save what would likely be a 48-game hockey season….

The players’ association will conclude a two-day vote among its members at 6 p.m. Saturday that will determine whether the union’s executive board will again have the authority to declare a disclaimer of interest.

If the vote passes, as expected, the disclaimer can be issued, and the union would dissolve and become a trade association. That could send this fight to the courts and put the season in jeopardy. The disclaimer would allow players to file individual antitrust suits against the NHL.

Ok, maybe it’s a little you.

Having conceded the necessity of a salary cap after the last strike in 2004-05, the cap has risen from $39 million in 2005 to what will either be $60 or $65 million in 2013.  That’s more than a 12% increase every year.  And it’s not exactly that the NHL has been booming in popularity or revenue.  The Toronto Maple Leafs rank as the NHL’s most valuable franchise at $1 billion with $200 million in revenue generated each year.  Solid numbers, to be sure.  But paltry in comparison to other major American sports.  The NFL’s Dallas Cowboys bring in $500 million each year for a league with a cap of $120 million.  The NBA’s New York Knicks generate $244 million each year with a “soft cap” of $58 million – and that’s in a league where 14 of the teams are currently losing money12 of the 30 NHL teams are ending up in the red.  Even the mightly NFL, supposedly the pater familias of sports business, has three teams losing money.

At least the NFL and NBA have strong TV viewership.  The NHL saw the weakest TV ratings for the Stanley Cup in years, despite having two of the largest television markets represented in the series.  In that context, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman must be a negotiating genius to get NBC to agree to a 10-year, $2 billion TV deal.  Sure, it’s a pittance compared to MLB’s $3 billion, 7-year deal or the NFL’s $3 billion a year contract, but compare numbers.  The 2010 Stanley Cup finals had their best ratings in 36 years with 14 share of the TV audience.  That’s only a few hundred thousand more viewers than the average audience for a Sunday night NFL game which has a 12.9 share.

In short, among the few who will care if yet another NHL season is lost will be NBC’s executives.  Don’t count me among the rest.

Sure, I thought perhaps I’d give you another chance.  You almost had me with the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signings, until I realized that not unlike Kevin Garnett’s contract years ago, the signings represent exactly why your league is in decline and locked out.  I can’t continue worrying about someone who is so self-destructive.

So goodbye, NHL.  I hope you find someone who accepts you despite your many, many flaws.  I hear Canada’s single right now.

ADDENDUM:  Like the jilted lover who can’t accept being rejected, the NHL returns – at only the cost of half the season:

Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger reports some details:

Deal to end NHL lockout tentative with 10-year CBA (opt-out after 8 years), 7-year contract limit (8 for own players) and $64.3 M cap ’13-14.

That’s right: After the NHL asked for a $60 million cap, the players got the League to move all the way to $64.3.

Even the NHL’s proposed $60 million cap is frankly too high.  The $64.3 million cap would currently place 22 teams under the limit (and the cap, of course, is a limit, not a minimum) and force 8 teams to shed payroll – including your Minnesota Wild.  All this in a league were nearly 1/3rd of the teams are financially struggling.

The end result?  The length of the CBA (10 years) probably means an increased exodus of teams from the US to Canada, as we just saw last year with the Atlanta Thrashers becoming the reincarnated Winnipeg Jets.  The NHL’s 90’s mistake of expansion in southern US markets is slowing coming back to bite them.  Moving some of the teams north would probably be the best economic decision but only further the NHL’s regional appeal.  Not the NHL has learned this lesson yet – the American cities proposed for expansion include decidedly non-hockey markets like Houston and Las Vegas.  We may see an NHL franchise contract before this CBA expires, which while being a PR letdown, might actually be what’s best for the league.


10 thoughts on “Two Strikes, You’re Out

  1. Hard to disagree with any of this, FR. Hockey has failed twice in Atlanta now and it’s hard to understand why they’d want a team in either Houston or Las Vegas. Wondering when we’ll have the Saskatoon Lightning and the Hamilton Hurricanes….

  2. Just heard on the news that hockey is back on. Great, I guess. Hopefully the local businesses which profit by this can recover some of what was lost.

    Now, I know I’m in the minority. I do not like sports at all. They could all win their respective titles and I still wouldn’t refer to them as “we” and “us” in conversation like many of my fair weather sports friends do.

    I am particularly disgusted by the public financing of facilities for the Vikings, the Twins, and that other little-league baseball team with the cute little pig.

    Now that we’ve given in to Zygi’s threats, are we still on the hook if the Vikings pull the same stuff and decide to sit out a season or so?

    Again, I know nothing about sports so maybe football players can’t strike. If not, I’m sure our governor would allow it anyways. In any event, I would hope that something would have been put into the purchase agreement to cover such a situation.

  3. Joe,

    The NFL just wrapped up a new CBA (collective bargaining agreement) between the players and the league in 2011 for the next decade – so we shouldn’t see any lockout or strike until 2021 at the earliest (long after the Vikes new pleasure palace is completed).

    That said, I agree with your view of the public financing of teams. Every sports league has made themselves dependent on public subsidies and the NFL has the weakest argument for why such funding is necessary given the league’s generous revenue sharing structure.

  4. Funny! When Chrissy Coleman was interviewed about hockey coming back, looking like he just recovered from a two day drinking binge, he neglected to mention all of the University Ave. businesses that were either severely damaged or completely destroyed that he and his choo choo train supporters caused.

  5. “The end result? The length of the CBA (10 years) probably means an increased exodus of teams from the US to Canada, as we just saw last year with the Atlanta Thrashers becoming the reincarnated Winnipeg Jets.”

    Good. The Stanley Cup should be contested in as many cities as possible where the citizens have actually seen snow. The league has too many teams now as it is.

    The NHL was at its best in the early 1980s, when you could see a 5-3 game and still say you saw good goaltending.

    Who cares if the NHL is a ‘regional league’? If it’s profitable, that’s free enterprise. And don’t even get me started on the TV deal. The NHL should have done whatever it took to get back on ESPN, which is the greatest sports marketing machine ever invented.

    ESPN tells us 24/7/365 how much we all care about the NFL and MLB (even though some of us don’t) and nine solid months a year about now much we all care about the NBA (even though a solid majority of us don’t). What’s the end result? The flagship sports on those channels make money hand over fist.

    Gary Bettman has been, arguably, the worst commissioner in the history of professional sports, for not having the marketing savvy to place the league in a place where casual sports fans can easily access it, for expanding or moving to places the league should never have gone in the first place, and for nearly becoming the first commissioner ever to lose two full seasons of his sports to labor issues.

    And people wonder why the NHL is s Sad Sack cousin to other sports. It starts at the top.

  6. Houston is more hockey friendly than you might think. The local AHL team (your Wild farm club) gets decent support, and there are quite a few relocated Canucks down here in the oil industry. That said, I don’t think Houston can support both NHL and AHL concurrently.

  7. I think you could have stated the case more simply: If the players are that greedy to the point they don’t care to show up and do (aka play at) their jobs, then I don’t have an interest in watching them, and I CERTAINLY don’t care to pay for the privilege. As far as I’m concerned they’ve put themselves out of work and out of business.

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