Money Matters

On July 13th, the NHL owners made their first Collective Bargaining Agreement proposal to the NHLPA. They shot for the moon, seeking to redefine hockey related revenues and slice the percentage the players received so the owners got more of the pie. They sought to cap contracts, alter entry level contracts and unrestricted free agency rules, all to the owners’ benefit, of course.

It took almost a month but the NHLPA presented their counter alternative offer to the League on Tuesday. It did not address some of the Draconian measures the owners proposed. The players offered to concede a percentage of hockey related revenue so to increase the revenue-sharing pool for the needier teams in the League. The money would come from the teams with deeper pockets.

Wednesday Commissioner Gary Bettman declared that both sides were far apart. Donald Fehr was adamant that the players would not make the kinds of financial concessions they did in 2005. In 24 hours, the glimmer of hope was extinguished. If nothing tangible was accomplished, the NHLPA took one giant leap past the owners for now in the PR war.

I am not an economist or a mathematician, nor do I have any background in contract or labor negotiations, so forgive me if I seem naive in what I am about to say. It seems like a good idea to take a slightly smaller share of HRR to help teams. Maybe it saves teams from folding and in the process saves jobs. The NHLPA can throw all the money into the pot they want, but if the “have” owners have no desire to share more of their take with the “have not” owners, or if they don’t come to a meeting of the minds among themselves on how to share in a way that benefits all teams in need and the League as a whole, we’ll all be back here once again in a few years when the CBA expires again.

Look at the New York Rangers, who are in an enviable position. The Dolans own the arena the team plays in. They own the network that the team plays on in the biggest media market in the United States. They are thriving despite sharing the market with two other teams, both of which have their own financial issues right now. Do you think they have any desire to hand over more than they already do? Would you? According to Forbes.com, in 2004 the Rangers had $78 million in player expenses and $42 million in gate receipts. Fast forward seven years. As of 2011 they are close to pre-lockout player expenses ($74 million), and took in $69 million in gate receipts.

They’re also bringing in more revenue (They had $118 million in 2004). In the first post-lockout Forbes valuation, the average Rangers ticket price was $45.00. Keep in mind, 2005-06 was the season that James Dolan rolled back ticket prices 10% since the Rangers did not make the playoffs in 2004. This was also the only year post-lockout that revenue was lower than the pre-lockout year, at $109 million. Forbes showed the average Rangers ticket for the 2011 valuation was $59.00, with revenue reaching $169 million. Even with an average 23% increase for the 2011-12 season, mostly in the lower bowl because of amenities added in phase one of the Madison Square Garden renovation, seats were filled. Four rounds of playoff tickets cost close to a full 41-game schedule in 2011, yet the house was packed. Next season, similar increases are hitting the upper levels being impacted by phase two. Some people are even seeing their tickets double. But yet we still come back, still keep paying.

Overall League revenues have risen from $2.1 billion to $3.2 billion since the canceled season. It’s a nice chunk of change – a good portion of it is our change – in the form of the money we fork over for our season tickets, the jerseys, t-shirts, hats and other assorted memorabilia we all buy. As players and agents are using the power of social media to speak out during these negotiations, so are fans.  We can tweet at the NHL all we want that Bettman should be fired, but since he serves at the pleasure of the owners, as long as they are pleased with his performance, he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Two fans – Kerri, who tweets as @GardenFaithfull and Alexa, who tweets as @QueenCrash, have launched a grassroots movement across social media platforms called UnfollowNHLSept15. Their ultimate goal is neither to take sides nor prevent a lockout; rather it is to rally fans to send a collective message to both sides – by closing their wallets and turning away from the League and its players on places via their official Websites, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages – that they are fed up with what is going on.

Maybe we the fans are part of the problem. Despite facing possible the fourth work stoppage in 20 years, and the 3rd in 15 years under Bettman, we love our hockey so much we keep coming back.  We keep buying the tickets that keep increasing despite the fact that the League claimed the salary cap would help keep prices down. We spend a few hundred on that new 3rd jersey because we just have to have it. Owners want to close their wallets tightly; players want to do likewise. Yet we keep going back and handing money over to them, no matter how many times they run roughshod over us. And they do it because we keep letting them get away with it.

 

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About the Author: Likes: Hockey, the New York Rangers, King Henrik, singing the Rangers goal song, "The Save", the sound skates make against ice, heckling Marty Brodeur. Dislikes: 3-point games, front-office mismanagement, Denis Potvin, overpriced arena beer. Interested? Follow me on Twitter: @CC_927

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