NHL Labor Negotiations: A Key Group Not at the Table

Harry KamdarContributor IIISeptember 2, 2012

The NHL owners and players’ union continues to negotiate—or unwisely recess as the case seems to be currently—with little to no regard for one key group.  That group is not even invited to be a part of the negotiations in any way, shape or form. 

No, I am not talking about the players’ wives sorority or the Zamboni operators’ coalition or even the respective chambers of commerce from each NHL market. 


Average Joe, Jane and Lord Stanley

You know who I’m talking about?  It’s the average Joes and Janes that work so hard for their money and are massive fans of the game.  Their earnings are peanuts in relation to the players and owners earnings. 

Worse yet, their salaries are not increasing annually anywhere even remotely close to that of the players and owners.  In many cases, there are no increases and even some decreases to keep their employers’ afloat.  And, how many have lost their jobs due to downsizing or closing of factories and companies? 

Yet, it’s these hardworking people of North America that are keeping the NHL afloat.  Without the fans, there is no league.  So, why in Lord Stanley’s name are the fans not represented at the NHL labor negotiations?  Call me naïve and a dreamer, but it’s the truth, is it not?  Oh, Lord Stanley, help us understand why the fans can’t get their two-cents (yes, pun intended!) worth in?


Players and Owners Have Earned Their Way to Being Millionaires?

Now, I don’t need to hear any lectures and serenades about how the players have worked extremely hard to be where they are in terms of earnings potential and that the owners have emotionally-moving rags-to-riches stories. 

I get it! 

We live in a free-market environment, but need I remind anyone that free-market is a two-edged sword and those who live by it must also die by it.

Greed Beget Greed

And so there is a breaking point; if you inflate anymore air into an already burgeoning balloon, it’s going to explode and crumble into a hundred little pieces. 

Similarly, in major-league hockey, if the owners and players get overly greedy and find additional ways to bilk the paying public out of more hard-earned dollars to fatten their wallet, then there will be dire consequences in the future.  And, when that point of implosion comes in the future, the owners and players will have priced themselves out of the entertainment marketplace and will have only themselves to blame. 

Clearly, it would be unfair to stereotype all owners and players as being self-centered, egotistical and uncaring toward the fans.


No Free Lunch, Eh?

Why?  Because, we live in a free-market society!  Yes, the same free-market that got them to this point of implosion.  Perhaps, someone ought to tell the gluttonous owners and players that there is no such thing as a “free lunch” and without the fans, there is no NHL. 

The only thing worse is that these two parties are probably fully aware of this fact but are giving you the fans of the game the hand sign with the middle finger raised.  Are you still feeling the love for the NHL's much heralded stars? 


NHL Headed for a Crash?

The major-league hockey market can only bear so much.  Once you crest the proverbial bell-shaped curve and begin the descent on the other side, you’re beyond the point of optimum returns. 

In fact, you’re headed for disaster. 

It’s like an airplane impressively taking off with high speed but then dangerously glides out of control as it shatters the speedometer’s maximum limit.  There is no doubt that this airplane is now uncontrollably nose-diving straight for the ground.  Similarly, if the NHL team owners and players continue to be all-absorbed on how to split the revenues and keep getting richer at the expense of the fans, then there will be no more NHL someday.


Established Markets Versus Emerging Markets

Teams at the higher end of the profitability index such as the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens ought to know their overall revenues will decline if there is not a healthy NHL. 

This means teams at the lower end of the profitability index such as the Phoenix Coyotes, New York Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets should get a fair chance at survival.  For the sport to grow and prosper, new and emerging markets cannot be ignored at the expense of the established markets.


Kontinental Hockey League (KLH) Could End up King of the Hill

The average Joes' and Janes' pay an exorbitant amount of money for each game not to mention how much they pour into the concession stands, team gift shops and parking each time they visit the arena.  Call me what you want, but the fact remains that the league would not be a going-concern were it not for the fans. 

Without fans, none of North America's major sports leagues would survive and the NHL is no exception.  How much longer will the fans put up?  There has to be a limit and that limit might be upon us.  If there is a lockout in a couple of weeks, then that will seriously set back the NHL and it's market share of the North American entertainment dollar. 

Will the NHL be able to recover?  Even on a global level, will it end up playing second-fiddle to the rival Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) halfway across the world?  Will Moscow be the new Toronto of hockey?  Unthinkable?  Unfathomable?


Fans Council Could Be a Way to Save the NHL?

Can something be done to save the NHL?  Yes, of course. 

A willingness on the part of both the owners and the players' union to fully understand the implications of their actions could be a first step.  Involving the fans via a "Fans Council" by letting a representative of each team’s fanbase sit at the negotiating table with voting powers could be a revolutionary step forward. 

Someone needs to speak up and be the voice of the customers!  Aren’t the fans the customers?  And, doesn’t any successful business organization listen to its customers and mold its products and services to ensure their customers are satisfied?  What's different here?  Why is the NHL not doing what any well-operated and successful company would? 

For the Love of the Game

For the love of the game, I hope the owners and players' union come to their senses and are considerate of the millions that follow the sport so religiously.  A long-term vision and carefully thought out strategic plan ought to be the driving force rather than short-term gains.  

This is not a time to get into provincialism, nationalism or established markets monopolizing the economics of the game.  It's about sustainability and then growth across all of North America. 


Feel free to send me your comments and feedback via postings to this article or by emailing me. Also, you can follow me on Twitter.


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