CBA Talks Heat-up: NHL vs NHLPA and Fan vs Fan

By
Updated: September 15, 2012
Fehr Bettman

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

 

 

 

9 Comments

  1. Mark Burgess

    September 15, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    I think the point should be that all people in sports are overpaid to play a game that they played as children. Granted they may be the best at the game, but it’s not like they save lives, or get criminals off the street. Their only purpose is to entertain the masses, period. Otherwise they wouldn’t get any money for it. They are nothing without the fans. Forget taking a side, the fans should be on their own side. Since we aren’t even a thought during all this.

  2. Brett

    September 15, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Op fails to realize that 57% is an arbitrary number. If the league cannot function with the players getting that, then something has to change. End of story. When 4 teams fold and 120 players lose their jobs, the union may get it.

    • Maksim Vasilyev

      September 17, 2012 at 12:22 am

      Well the Salary Cap goes up due to revenue going up. This means that revenue sharing should be HELPING the teams that are not making the same amount. What the NFL does( so much that it was called a type of socialism). The issue is with the way the NHL handles the revenue sharing. The issue also exists with these Long term deals. So yeah, there needs to be compromise and I think the share should be around 52 % and 48 %. I just hate the idea that players should just shut up and take it. KHL is growing and the NHL might not be able to attract young Euro talent when there is another option that pays more.

  3. BB Hockey

    September 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Maksim, while I agree with you in the fact that players should not just shut up and take what is offered to them, and I do not agree with the above McD’s comparison (previous poster), there is middle ground there (like you suggest), however, even though it is absolutely true that without top line players the league as a whole will suffer, the owners have the leverage here. The question really is, at what point do fans actually leave? Until there is a clear sign that will happen this lockout will continue.
    If owners were to cut player contracts across the board by 25% today, and in turn lower ticket, parking and consession prices by a total of say 20% (keeping 5% for themselves which they tend to do in these types of things), sure you will lose some players who will jump ship and go to the KHL, others will just stay closer to home and play in other European pro-leagues, but at the end of the day Fans will still come out. There will be young North American players who would rather play close to friends and family here, than sign a bigger contract to play in Russia away from all they know. So does the NHL have to fear losing players to other leagues, absolutely (Ovechkin supposidely tweeted that he was willing to play all year if not more in Russia), but fans here will still come out for games which in the end still brings in the $.

    The other issue here is, why continue to try and rescue markets like Phoenex and New Jersey etc, when numerous analysts have stated as many as 3 more NHL teams could be added and supported in Canadian markets (as well as other areas in the United States)? Teams scream for handouts and a way to even the playing field while fans in other markets still dont have a team?

    End of the day, players and owners should come to a “fair” agreement, 57% was ridiculous (but hats off to the players and the union for getting that at one point), now for us fans all we can hope for is that both sides meet somewhere in the middle like you suggested.

    Anyone know if there is a KHL centre ice cable package?

    • Ben Kerr

      September 17, 2012 at 3:17 pm

      A few things BB

      1) The owners promised to lower ticket prices in 2004 if they got a cap and linkage. What did we see? That lasted one year (with many teams not even lowering prices, but in fact freezing them from their pre-lockout amount). The following year the increases started again. So much so that tickets last year were on average 40% higher than they were pre lockout. Ticket prices are not set by the players salaries, but rather are set by supply and demand in the market place. Proof? Consider that the Maple Leafs ticket prices are higher than anyone in the league, yet they have not spent as much money on salaries in 2011-12 (when they were below the cap) as other teams who had lower ticket prices. Consider also that Nashville spent to the cap last year yet had lower ticket prices than most others who did the same. As a result we see that salaries and ticket prices are not really related…. its all about finding a price where fans will pay and you maximize your revenues.

      2) As for the 57%, lets remember its 57% of HRR… not 57% of all NHL revenue because there are quite a few exclusions and deductions made before we calculate HRR. Without those deductions and exclusions it was closer to a 51/49 split in the last year of the expired CBA.

  4. BB Hockey

    September 17, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Ben, I agree, owners would rather tell fans they are lucky that they are freezing prices (rather than increasing them) and leave it at that. I was suggesting if people actually stuck to their word, things might work out. As if the owners only do a 25% rollback (my example above) and give nothing back to the fans, then you have a situation where you will lose some players to Europe (like Maksim suggests) and you give nothing to the fans, then you would see a lower quality of hockey and without a price decrease you might actually lose fans (even the crazy Leaf fans that are not scared away by poor teams year after year) might actually turn away. Like most speculation and opinions at this point, mine is wishful thinking, and in a perfect world it might work.

    For now, in North America at least it will be interesting to to see if hockey as a sport can continue to grow despite a lockout at the NHL level? Given the number of players assigned to AHL clubs these last few days, some decent players will end up playing in the ECHL and other feeder systems this year, displaced by NHL calibre youth who are too old to play in the CHL but to young in their NHL career to have one way deals. Example, Toronto will have Scrivens, Rynnas and Owuya all in the minors, only two can stick at the AHL. Tampa’s farm team, who won the Calder Cup last year will also see a number of young NHLers sent down. So those hockey fans in smaller markets may get a taste of better hockey this season as a result of the strike.

    And a proper analogy for the status of the players is not like McD’s, it is more like the movies, Alex Balwin once held out for more money and better scheduling (so that he could play along side Cindy Crawford in Fair Game)with the producers of the Jack Ryan series, the studio waved goodbye to Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Ford made the series (while Fair Game did not do so well). In acting the actors make the movie, in the sense that they fill the seats. This is the same thing Maksim was discussing above, however players, like actors can be replaced, and even though it may seem impossible now to think that the NHL could replace everyone, the truth is that no one has ever replaced an Orr, Bourque, Gretzky, Richard, Lemieux or Roy, but the same one day might be said about Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin and Brodeur. Players may change, but the league will go one.

    • Ben Kerr

      September 18, 2012 at 4:41 pm

      Before you see ticket prices drop, you’d actually have to have demand drop; and I’m not sure that has happened.

      The owners will never voluntarily agree to a price drop even if they got the players salaries to go down.

      I think that is the main point here.

  5. StandardName

    September 19, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    McDonalds SHOULD be paying their employees more… however, it is up to the patron to decide where and when to spend their money. So, it is up to the market to not patronize McDonalds if they disagree with how McDonalds runs their business. If you don’t like a system, don’t participate in the system, and lead by example to what a better system should be. There is no “Game” in the NHL. It is a business, and the patrons should treat it like one because the owners and players sure do.

  6. Pingback: NHL Happy Hour: Lockout has me feeling Blue. |

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