It seems like just yesterday that we lost an entire National Hockey League season to a lockout. The owners and players could not agree on a collective bargaining agreement and as a result, there was no 2004-05 NHL season.
It seems absurd that we could be faced with yet another lockout less than a decade later, but the 1994-95 season was shortened to just 48 games due to lockout, so this could actually be the third one in under 20 years. All have come under Commissioner Gary Bettman's watch.
I know that there are a lot of aspects that must be considered when trying to find a balance and a collective bargaining agreement that suites both sides. The NHL is after all, a billion dollar industry.
However, to us fans, it's simply millionaires fighting with billionaires. Most of us can only dream of playing hockey professionally and making millions of dollars doing so, let alone having the net worth of an NHL owner!
Bottom line, a CBA needs to be ratified and a deal needs to get done to prevent Commissioner Bettman from getting his lockout hat trick.
Last year, the NFL and NBA were in the same situation the NHL is now facing. The NFL could have survived a lockout. It is far and away the most popular league in the United States and fans would have returned if some regular season games or even the entire season was cancelled.
The NFL managed to get by with just a shortened offseason and did not end up cancelling any regular season action. The NBA did, but still managed to cram 66 games into its shortened season. As the leagues returned, so did the fans.
Hockey fans however, will not be so understanding and rightfully so. We all know the casual hockey fans who reluctantly returned or perhaps still have not returned to the game after the 2004-05 lockout. The NHL is not the NFL and with its fragile and fickle fanbase in many markets, the league will be certain to lose fans if even one game is cancelled this season.
The owners know this, they just don't care. All they care about is making their money and keeping their money. It's not about the love of the game of hockey for them, it's about the money. The players want to play, but for what is fair. Unlike NFL players, NHL players have the option to go play in Europe as many did during the last work stoppage.
No matter what happens, the NHL will endure. One way or another, the game will come back. Although some players may go to Europe, most will return and the NHL is not in immediate danger of being surpassed by the KHL or any other league as the world's premier hockey league.
The question though is, will the fans return? A lockout would be devastating and with a depleted fanbase, what will revenues look like in a few years or when the next CBA is over? The NHL currently has a lucrative long-term TV deal with NBC but will they get another one if the fans are gone?
Avoiding a lockout now would not only be good for the present, it may save the NHL's future as well.
I don't have a CBA solution in my back pocket, all I know is that the NHL and the NHL Players Association better get on the same page very quickly here and give us our hockey come next month and more importantly, in October.
It's not about the money, it's about sending a message. GET A DEAL DONE.
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