CBA talks seem to be getting us nowhere as of right now. We have many issues at hand that some of us understand and some of us do not (Ben Kerr takes a look at some of the issues in his piece). By “we” of course I am referring to the fans. We are the ones that pay for all of it – all of the NHL and NHLPA – it all depends on us showing up and paying for tickets, food and beverages, and of course memorabilia. All of their disputes are about us spending our money – our hard-earned money – and there seems to be another battle that is currently being waged. We have NHL vs NHLPA and fans who are for the NHLPA and those who are against it.
The battle of billionaires vs millionaires has turned into a battle of regular folks who refuse to sympathize with the millionaires (aka the players) and taking the side of the billionaires (aka the owners). What are the arguments between the fans? Well, they can be summed up in two opinions.
The mantra of one side here is that “They get to play hockey for millions of dollars, stop bitching and get on with it, you are lucky/blessed to do something we would all do for way cheaper”. The tune of this song is that most fans of the game also play the game. The fans have to pay to play sometimes up to 500 dollars per 20 games and the NHL players get paid to play an average of 2.4 million a year. The fact is that most of these fans feel that they would indeed play for mere pennies on the dollar just for a chance to compete at that pro-level.
If I can quote a passionate fan wrote on Reddit:
“I pay $300 to play hockey each year out of my own pocket, to play at most two times a week. I do it after work, late at night, where an injury could put me out of a job for months at a time.
These guys are paid more than any of us will ever make in 10 years for each year, to play a game that we all love. I’d be happy to get my salary to play full time in a junior league. It doesn’t matter how much the company makes – just because McDonalds is a multi-billion dollar company doesn’t mean that the employees ‘deserve’ to make $25 an hour. The people who run the company have the full right to pay whomever they choose whatever salary they deem acceptable.
Why? Because it’s their company. Don’t like it? There are other hockey leagues to play for. Fill your boots.”
So the anti-player sentiment is drawn from the fact that this is just a game and players get paid way too much to have out there. Is this something that you agree with?
I do not.
My opinion is that McDonalds is not the same field as Pro Sports and, therefore, is a poor example. The fact is that in pro sports the real entity is the talent on the ice. People who can play sports at the highest level and dominate at times are the ones who bring value to everything the NHL stands for. NHL is nothing without its players and replacement players will not do. We go to watch the best play, not to watch college kids or AHL level players (not that there isn’t a place for them, too).
This is evident in every sport. The best players get paid the most money because they make revenue, and as well know, money makes the world go ’round. Soccer, NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL are all part of the same culture of players being worth their penny on the field.
The prime example of this is Alexander Ovechkin. The Washington Capitals were in the dumps after declairing that they are in a rebuilding phase.
Average attendance for Washington Capitals after Ovechkin:
05-06 – 13,905
06-07 – 13,929
07-08 – 15,831
08-09 – 18,097
09-10 – 18,277
10-11 – 18,397
Now, Ovie was not the only piece to that puzzle, but winning had a lot to do with how many people came to watch the Capitals play each game and most had a number 8 jersey on. His talent brought value to this franchise and that is why he is the highest paid player on the team. The revenue stream that Ovie generated was not only coming from ticket sales but from multiple streams.
“Number 8” merchandise was not limited to jerseys but to everything from bumper stickers to coffee cups, and league-wide exposure generated new fans not only in Washington, or the whole of North America, but world wide. The impact? Ovechkin became the face of a video game and the NHL as a whole. He was a new, young, bright talent that wowed fans and sold the sport, while getting rewarded for it with a hefty contract.
So what value does he really have? Who was it that created this value and why did he get paid that much money for Ovechkin’s latest contract? Actually, it’s quite simple – the owners did. But the talent and exposure he brings to the sport makes the investment worth it. Don’t believe me? Here it is from the horses’ mouth:
So, while I can see why the fans argue that players should just “shut up and play”, I think that it is important to understand that it is not the players who demand higher paychecks – it is a matter of market value.
Players want a fair deal with the league because they are the ones who bleed on the ice for this game and for the fans. The players want a fair share of what they do out there on the ice. We, the fans, pay to watch the players play because they are the best, not because they play hockey. We pay to watch the best athletes play from every sport, be it hockey, football, soccer or basketball.
There is no McDonald’s without the hamburgers and there is no NHL without the players. Players are not employees, they are the product, and this product is worth every penny.
Find me on Twitter – @LastWordOnNHL
For a more light-hearted read, check out my column, “NHL Happy Hour”