NHL Lockout: End to Gary Bettman Era Would Be Silver Lining in Labor Dispute

Ben ChodosCorrespondent IIDecember 19, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 05: Following the NHL Board of Governors meeting, Commissioner Gary Bettman of the National Hockey League addresses the media at the Westin Times Square on December 5, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Gary Bettman managed to keep his job despite presiding over two labor disputes in the past, and NHL fans are now wondering if he can survive a third lockout.

Many are hoping that the answer is no, and they are completely justified in that opinion. There are several causes of this lengthy lockout, but one of the main factors is a failure of leadership on Bettman’s part.

As commissioner, Bettman answers to the owners, and while the majority of his duties deal with protecting their interests, he also has the reputation of the NHL to protect; part of doing this job is getting the owners to realize the areas in which they must compromise.

Currently, Bettman is blaming the stalled negotiations on a greedy NHL Player’s Association that is refusing to budge on issues such as player contracts, as Pro Hockey Talk’s Ryan Dadoun notes. 

The league continues to hammer on contract lengths and the players’ cut of hockey-related revenue as key points, and their proposals are greedy, unfair and shortsighted.

Bettman has conclusively failed to get the owners to look rationally and honestly at hockey’s place in the North American sports landscape and base their decisions on the fact that it will never compete nationally with football, basketball and baseball. However, it does have a significant amount of diehard fans in certain areas of the country.

For example, the Phoenix metropolitan area has roughly four million people, and the Coyotes had to file for bankruptcy in 2009. However, the Winnipeg Jets increased in value by 22 percent after moving from Atlanta just a year ago. 

The Winnipeg metropolitan area has a population of just over 730,000, but clearly, there are significantly more hockey fans there than there are in Phoenix.

There are certain teams in areas that will make money, and there others that are doomed to struggle due to their geographic location. While contraction may seem like the logical solution to this problem, revenue sharing is a much better option.

As TIME Magazine’s Gary Belsky notes, the NFL shares 60 percent of its revenue, NBA teams divide up 50 percent of their revenue and Major League Baseball’s mark is just under 33 percent. NHL owners, however, share 4.5 percent of the league’s revenue, and they have not held serious discussions about a drastic raise to this figure.

To demonize the NHLPA for refusing to accept another cut to their share of revenue while flat-out refusing to share amongst each other is hypocritical and immature on the owners’ part. 

Bettman needs to stand up to his bosses and get them to see the big picture; the low level of revenue sharing is a significant structural flaw that the NHL is not addressing, even though every other major American sports league has done so.

The fact that he has failed to make this case during his 20-year tenure proves that he is either unwilling or unable to make the necessary innovations and improvements to the NHL. There is no bigger sign of this than the current lockout.

While it is possible that Bettman will visit the Wizard of Oz and receive brains, heart and courage, then go back to the NHL and make his case, this is a scenario that will remain a fantasy.

The only silver lining that can possibly come from this lockout is that the growing frustration from the fans brings about the end of Bettman’s tenure, and that his replacement will be able to make the necessary changes to ensure that the season is played out in full every year.