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Gary Bettman and his hidden agenda for the owners and how it is a crisis he created.
In the 2004-05 lock-out I supported the NHL. You didn't need to have a MBA to understand that the NHL had serious problems. Player salaries were unlimited, a trapping game that was like watching grass grow and a salary cap was needed for parity in the NHL.
Despite the pain of a lost season the good that ultimately came out of it has proven worth it but this time is different.
This time the issue is about poor decisions the NHL has made and a case that expansion was done in too zealous a manner and too quickly. This time the issue is about weak franchises and a failed southern expansion. The NHL, not the players is the author of its own problems today.
This time it is about business decisions the NHL has made, poor decisions where the players can rightly ask why they should have to roll back their salary for it.
The players via a poorly represented NHLPA at the time gave up a lot in the last lock-out. This time they may have their hill to die on and another lost season or maybe even two may be on the horizon.
This time you should support the players not the NHL. I know many are not going to like a black and white break down of this lock-out but really you have to pick a side at some point. At least a side you lean to.
Dropping cliches like "It is a battle between millionaires and billionaires and screw them both" or "lock them both in a room and don't let them out or feed them until they have a deal" don't address the core issues nor does it offer reasonable perspective for the typical fan.
Inform yourself and pick a side is my philosophy. The NHLPA gave up a lot last time around and this time I think they are getting ready to go to war.
This time the NHLPA is going to hold the line, to use a war reference and they should and you should support them and here is why.
The NHLPA is not looking for a raise, they are looking to maintain what they have and what many thought was a huge concession in 2005 to end the lock-out by accepting the salary cap. A salary cap that it is important to note can go up or down and is directly linked to league revenues.
If you want to go at the players the burden of proof is on you to explain why they should roll back their salaries even more than they did a mere 7 years ago. Despite the economy being in its worst state since the great depression, hockey revenues have grown overall.
Relocation is what happens when a team can not put the bums in the seats it needs to. It doesn't earn enough money to sustain itself so it is moved. It is important to make a distinction between expansion and relocation. No one likes relocation, certainly not if you are a fan of the team but on some level you can understand the simple economics that motivate it.
Expansion is when a team springs up out of league and is put into a market, usually a untested hockey market. The NHL is the one holding control of the decision and the one ultimately responsible for allowing it to happen.
The bottom line - The NHL made a fatal error in over-expanding too quickly, largely into untested hockey markets. They did so with the expectation that a sustained stay would grow a fan base over time, it largely hasn't.
I always feel like I have to be extra careful talking about Southern NHL teams here and I like to remind readers that I live in the American south. That I have had a very up close and personal look at the sports culture here and I am reporting as a matter of fact that the sports culture of the American south goes something like this: Football, Football, College Football, Baseball, more College Football, Basketball, High School Football and well you get my point.
I do not even consider hockey in the top ten for the average sports fan of the American South. What Football is to Southern Americans is what Hockey is to Canadians. I don't know how else to stress this.
That does not mean there is not a small strong niche of hockey fans in the American South but they overrepresent themselves on the inter-webs.
In the buisness analysis that motivated the NHL to expand into the South there was a huge gap between the MBA's running the numbers at the top and the reality of the grass roots fans who watch sports here. The potential for growth of hockey in the South is tenious at best but football...
Football is wide open, that is why we see these odd things like lingerie football or indoor football emerge.
The Stanley Cup South
A common argument you hear to defend the lack of support in the South is the lack of a winning team. The reality is that southern teams have won the Cup. The Canes, the Ducks, the Bolts, the Kings and the Stars. The Predators are a team that is enviable, as are the Coyotes.
Imagine either of those teams in a Canadian market. The Oilers in last place still sell out, the exuberance for a Canadian city with the Coyotes or Predators would be over the moon.
But where is the critical mass support in the south?
It is not to get into the old tired argument of fans vs fans here and how would you like to lose your team. The fact is Calgary almost lost its team in the 90s when the Jets and Nords left.
A lot of Canadian teams were under huge stress BUT it is so often forgot that this was in a much different atmosphere. If the current CBA had been in place and the revenue sharing, as it exists today with no modifications, was in place in the 90s the Flames would have had no concern. The original Jets may not even have moved.
The fact is that the problems some teams are having today are much more pronounced than what some Canadian teams had in the 90s. It is a fact that is often overlooked. The struggling teams of today are already on the dole and in receipt of League financial support.
Revenue sharing already exists today and still it is not enough?
The Coming Hockey Boom and Sneaky Bettman
This is probably the number one reason why the NHLPA should stand fast against Bettman.
Gary Bettman has created his own problems and he is not a stupid man. It is also important to note that he represents only the owners. He does not care about the fans, he does not care about the history of the Stanley Cup, he does not care about Canada or the United States. His overwhelming primary directive is to work only for the owners.
Gary Bettman knows the NHL is going to boom with a few relocations. He has seen what has happened in Winnipeg. He knows the league is currently undervalued and he likely already has his relocation plans made.
Quebec City will almost certainly get a team after the lock-out. Toronto could easily support a 2nd NHL team and both would be money makers for the NHL overall.
On top of that he could also contract the NHL by two teams. We have a whole new structure being laid out with 2 Conferences and just two Divisions in each conference but it is unablanced with some Divisions holding 8 teams and the other 2 holding 7.
I can not be the only one who can see the ease of contracting back two teams for a fully balanced and stable NHL of 28 teams for the next 20 years...
The only question that remains is what are the teams and will it be two or four teams that will relocate or disappear...
The NHLPA (and I am sure they are well aware) know that after they sign this next CBA revenues will surge upward significantly in light of the relocations that will occur and the primary benefit will not be for the them but for the owners as a whole.
The Owners via Bettman have created a league that is far from its full financial potential. He wraps himself in the rhetoric of working to save the teams for the fans in those locations but he is not truthful. He knows the situation for them is much worse than it was for Canadian franchises in the 90s.
Running the numbers on the NHL today is extremely misleading compared to what it will be in the future.
For the average fan it appears a simple 50/50 split seems fair but Owners will gain a lot more in the future from a product they know will surge in value with a few relocations and a contraction. They have also via Bettman undervalued hockey as a product by pushing to keep it in weak markets and not taking it to the top markets.
In short they are sitting on a stock that is undervalued and they know will rocket up once the CBA is finalized and Bettman makes the relocation and/or contraction moves he already has planned.
Next: Contraction and why it should happen