NHL Lockout: League and Players on Brink of Alienating Their Fanbase

Darin PikeContributor ISeptember 14, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13:  Commissioner Gary Bettman of the National Hockey League speaks to the media at Crowne Plaza Times Square on September 13, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The NHL's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is set to expire at midnight ET on Saturday night. The league and players remain far apart in their negotiations, and players will almost certainly find themselves locked out on Sunday.

#CBA NHL owners in unanimous support of league-imposed lockout -- ESPN -- espn.go.com/nhl/story/_/id…

— Katie Strang (@KatieStrangESPN) September 13, 2012

This action will be a huge blow to the fanbase that should still be apprehensive following the lockout that killed the 2004-05 season.

The NHL saw a growth in attendance during 2004-05 resulting from pent-up demand. However, total attendance the last two seasons was the lowest since the last round of expansion in 2000.

Yahoo! Sports carried an Associated Press article that details the plan for a lockout. According to the report, if a new labor deal isn't reached, commissioner Gary Bettman said the league will lock out players on Sunday.

Bettman said further:

We've had seven years of incredible competitive balance. The game on the ice has never been better. That is a function of this system. The system as originally negotiated needs some adjustments. It turned out to be too rich a deal for the first seven years. We lived with it, but I'm not going to apologize for saying we need to adjust it.

The thought was somehow they got slammed in the negotiations last time. They didn't. We made at the time what we thought was a fair deal. It actually turned out to be more fair than it should have been.

''Right now it's not looking great,'' said star player Sidney Crosby as 280 players gathered in New York, ''but things can change pretty quickly.''

The new CBA that kicked off the 2005 season was built on the guise of creating a sound economic footing for the NHL. Bettman even went so far as to tell fans their patience would be rewarded with more affordable ticket prices for the "majority" of the NHL teams.

RT @walsha: The average NHL ticket price has increased 39% since 2004 when Gary Bettman promised fans a salary cap would lower ticket pr ...

— David Perron (@DP_57) August 10, 2012

He even went on to state that teams wouldn't be subject to the the “abstract theory” of supply and demand, per Luke DeCock of the Charlotte Observer.

There is a major issue with the NHL's financing, but it isn't in overall revenue.

The 2005 CBA created an equitable dispersion of funds between the league and the players, and overall revenues have skyrocketed since. The league took in an estimated $3.2 billion in the most recent season, an increase of 195 percent from 2003-04.

The problem is one that is not germane to hockey. It strikes at the core of the NBA and MLB but is avoided by the NFL.

The small-market franchises are struggling to stay financially viable.

The NFL has avoided this pitfall through sharing most revenue equitably across the franchises. They also have the luxury of basically funding team salaries through television revenues, as the 32 teams each receive over $150 million annually.

The NHL's big TV contract with NBC is worth $2 billion over 10 years, making the share of each team about $6.67 million annually.

Local revenue is a major priority for NHL franchises. The larger-market teams can generate more income and have avoided the financial problems seen by teams in Nashville, Carolina, Phoenix and elsewhere.

The league would have fans believe the only solution is to take more money from the players to fund the smaller-market teams. In reality, the league needs to push owners toward additional forms of revenue sharing across the franchises.

Fans will remember the empty promises from the last work stoppage, and it will impact attendance once teams finally take to the ice again. They will also cling to the players who are willing to continue to play as both sides work on a new agreement, as shared by Sam Carchidi, Philadelphia Flyers beat reporter.

The#NHL players' union wants to keep playing (and negotiating) if CBA isn't agreed upon. Won't happen,owners say. Hello, lockout.

— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) September 13, 2012

Fans won't care that the players drug their feet in getting to the negotiation table and will blame the league for the lockout. Attendance will suffer, thereby hurting the league and the players, which will be the only justice if the 2012 season doesn't start on time.