Mid-August is usually time where we begin to hear those hockey withdrawals kick in. And with less than two months until the San Jose Sharks’ 22nd season is scheduled to commence, Finatics and all NHL fans are being forced to hear owners and players slowly discuss another Collective Bargaining Agreement. Meanwhile, fans sit and wait and get upset as billionaires fight with millionaires.
It’s sad to say that we have been here before. In 1992, as the Sharks were finishing their inaugural season, the players went on a 10-day strike on April 1st. At the time, players would get playoff bonuses ranging from $3,000 (losing in the first round) – $25,000 (winning the Stanley Cup) while the teams would take in nearly a half million dollars in profits per team. When the owners gave into their demands, the players received additional playoff bonuses, free agency alterations, and increased control of their likeness for licensing purposes. The agreement also saw expanding the regular season to 84 games, with two games in neutral site areas to expand the NHL’s exposure to new areas. It also spelled the end of John Ziegler as NHL President, who was replaced by Gil Stein early on the 1992-93 season, until Gary Bettman came in from the NBA to become the NHL’s first commissioner.
The 1994-95 season was shrunk down to a intraconference, 48 game schedule due to a lockout that last over three months. The owners were hoping to institute a salary cap among other issues such as limitations on players who have entry level contracts. Teams weren’t as financial strong as they are now and many needed game day revenue to keep afloat, so owners backed off on the agreement of a cap and the league was back in business. Unfortunately, the growth of the league, especially those in larger media markets, eventually led to financial hardship for small markets, and paved away for a number franchise relocations in the mid to late 1990′s. The NHL was now in Colorado, Carolina instead of Quebec City and Hartford. The league was also adding teams and more revenue as Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota and Columbus came in. However, teams like Calgary and Edmonton couldn’t keep up and were on the verge of leaving town for the suddenly growing NHL “Sun Belt” but at the last second saved by local businessmen.
Salaries quickly rose up, at one time, the New York Rangers tried to buy restricted free agents such as Joe Sakic at ridiculous amounts to keep smaller teams from attempting to grab them. Meanwhile, the league got what was an amazing television deal with ESPN / ABC, but were quickly relegated to minimal coverage when those networks acquired the NBA television rights. Things looked bleek again in the NHL, and when owners stated they lost over $300 million in the 2002-03 season. The league knew things had to change, however the owners kept handing out crazy multimillion dollar deals in order to keep or acquire big talent.
I could go on and on about the 2004-05 season but, we all know what happened there. Season cancelled.
The league did come back, but it did black and blue. TV rights were with the then named Outdoor Life Network (now known as NBC Sports Network) and wasn’t available to many homes. It came back with rules to open the game up for scoring, and a zero tolerance on any kind of interference and obstruction. The league eventually grew and so did revenue. The revenue grew so much that the salary cap floor and ceiling (which was in place to prevent no spending and overspending) went from $21-$39 million to this upcoming season where it’s estimated that the ceiling will be at $70 million. Once again, teams were overspending and players gladly accepted inflated contracts. A major market team, went out and gave a big name player a huge offer sheet, forcing a small market team to decide to keep the face of the franchise, or slowly fade into the sunset.
Hmmm… sounds like we went back to square one.
Meanwhile, part of the issue in 2004-05 was ticket prices. With no major TV deal to keep ticket pricing down, tickets for games were high. Nowadays, we wish we those 2004 prices were still around. Look at the San Jose Sharks. Prior to the lockout, a nosebleed seat in the upper bowl at HP Pavilion was $17. It was a good deal. Now, the price for a season ticket in the same section ranges from the $26-28 range. And with the awful invention of dynamic pricing, some fans paid upwards to $65 for the same seat for Fan Appreciation Night last season.
It is a catch 22. Great for growing the game, however, with ticket prices slowly pricing the average fan out for corporate folks who have tickets to schmooze clients to $120 Edge premier replica jerseys with painted patches (compare that to $85 replica jerseys with sewn patches) and the league is making money.
The fight is the same, only this time, billions of dollars are at stake. Sadly, while billionaire owners fight millionaire players (and some don’t make $1 million) the fans get to watch bickering and slow progress to get a deal done. Business around NHL arenas, especially here in San Jose will be hurting if there is a lockout or worse another season cancelled. This has to stop!
The problem has been exposed ever since the Phoenix Coyotes had issues with their new arena. The Florida Panthers who play 35 miles from Miami were forced to trade and sign players just to get to the cap floor. And while revenues are up for the entire league, the New York Islanders play in the oldest, non-refurbished building in the league, with every arena deal turned down in Nassau County. They’re toying with the thought of relocating to Brooklyn or even further. Atlanta lost another team thanks to ownership who didn’t care about the game, it was a money making business to them. While Winnipeg returned to the league this past season, can they keep up with Philadelphia or New York who will try to grab all the talent with the deep pockets they have?
The issue I have is that the league and it’s owners are complaining that player’s salaries are getting too high again. Well, gee, Mr. Owner, did you really think that a player will turn down a 14-year, $110 million contract? And now you’re crying poverty?! Sorry, I don’t think so. It is all your fault. (Wow I sounded like a little kid there, forgive me.) But it’s everyone’s fault, so everyone should figure out how to get a deal done by doing marathon negotiating now. Why wait til the last minute when the Winter Classic or the All Star Game are at risk? To take a Doug Wilson quote out of context, “we’re not just going to sit idly by (in the offseason) and say, ‘See you in September.”
Well, looks like that’s what we’ll do. This time, there are no fancy gimmick rules, or goalie cams, or reduced ticket prices, or unreal junior hockey players that Pierre McGuire will creep on during an interview. It’ll be the same game.
It is time to send a message. It is time for the fans to get their voice heard. It is time to do something to push the NHL and NHLPA to get a deal done or else. It is time to stop Bettman from dangling a lockout when he doesn’t get his way.
The first step in this process is to do what I have been doing on social media the last week. I ask you all to submit a picture of yourself or a group all in NHL jerseys, or even the player t-shirt (shirseys) to me on Twitter or Instagram. (submit to @puckguy14) This poster, in which I would like to have every NHL team represented, and have at least 1000 fans, will be printed and sent to Mr. Bettman and Mr. Fehr to remind them who pays them the $50 nosebleed seats, $120 replica jerseys, the $25 parking spot, and the $9 pint of beer. We need to send that message now before the lockout is imposed.
Together, us fans will send the message to get a deal done in a proper, swift matter.