NHL Lockout: Should Small-Market Teams Have to Fend for Themselves?

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistOctober 16, 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 biggest reason the NHL has locked out its players is the disparity between the big-market, money-making teams and the small-market teams that struggle to keep their heads above water, according to TSN.ca.

The NHL has acknowledged that the sport has significantly greater revenues now than it did after the last lockout during the 2004-05 season (per NHL.com). Yet it is locking out its players, saying they need to take a smaller share of hockey-related revenues if the sport is going to thrive.

The league wants the players to support the struggling franchises.

Revenue sharing (per ESPN.com) is a concept the league understands and uses, but it is only willing to go so far with it. The big-money teams don't want to carry the smaller teams on their backs.

But the NHLPA did not force the league to expand to non-hockey markets and invite teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes into the league. That was done by the NHL owners.

Is it not their responsibility to ensure the teams that they brought into the league have a reasonable chance for survival?

Even if it is not, there is no logical way to come to the conclusion that the players are the ones responsible for pumping life into franchises that are struggling.

Revenue sharing is a concept used by Major League Baseball, and that sport has avoided labor conflict since the 1994 season. Baseball players struck late in that season, and the closing stages of the pennant race and the postseason were wiped out.

However, MLB has not lost a single game to labor unrest since then.

Revenue sharing that helps the smaller-market teams is a key component in their business model.

Perhaps it's a matter of respect for their adversaries. Major League Baseball owners seem to understand that profitability is not on the backs of the players. They are responsible for making the game a money-making proposition.

The fairness element comes into play with the NHL lockout. The players took a hard body blow during the last lockout when a salary-cap system was implemented. It amounted to the players getting hammered with a 24 percent rollback.

That's what the NHL asked for again in its opening proposal, and while it has come off that figure, it represents another blow to the players.

The NHL is asking its players to bear the brunt of the small-market teams' lack of profitability. That's not the right way to go about its business.

The league brought the small-market teams into its exclusive club, and it must figure out how to survive and thrive.

These teams are clearly trying to make money on their own. Pulling the plug on those teams by removing revenue sharing is not the answer.