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 Irreconcilable Differences?
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Posted - 09/22/2003 :  15:28:06  Show Profile
Contributed by: Frederic Lajeunesse.

Over the past several years, hockey fans have heard the same rhetoric on a yearly basis coming from the owners and players alike. On the owners’ side, they claim that without a salary cap, the NHL cannot be competitive and eventually would not survive. The players, on the other hand, claim that the owners are to blame since they are the ones offering the astronomical contracts. With the prospect of a lock out looming at the end of the 2003-2004 season, things are looking pretty gloomy for hockey fans. Now, who is telling the truth? I personally think that both sides have a point. But the question is: Can hockey fans keep on spending an increasingly large amount of money every year to attend hockey games?

First, let’s look at the owners’ point of view on this complicated matter. The NHL office recently released a sombre fact for the media: NHL teams posted record losses of nearly $300 million US for the 2002-2003 campaign. For the 2001-2002 season, teams posted $218 million US in losses. The annual revenue for last season amounted to US$1.93 billion. Of that figure, 76 per cent amounts for players’ salaries and benefits. According to the NHL, that percentage is greater than all other major sporting organizations in North America (NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball). Furthermore, in 2003, two NHL teams filed for bankruptcy: Ottawa and Buffalo. Teams in small markets are increasingly struggling to put up a good team while trying to stay in the black. With the players’ salaries increasing on a yearly basis and the revenues not increasing according to the salaries, the task of icing a competitive hockey club is becoming an almost impossible task for owners. Another factor is the ever-increasing average salary of NHL players. In fact, In 1990-91, the average professional hockey player made $271,000 (U.S.). In 1997-98, the average NHL salary was $1.1 million (U.S.). In the 2001-2002 season, the average salary increased by $200,000. for US$1.64 million, a 12% increase over the previous year. For a list of team payrolls and hockey players salaries, try this link:$masse_e.htm

Sure, the cost of hockey tickets has increased dramatically over the years. In fact, in order to generate more revenues, the owners are trying to further hit the fans with expensive food and beverages at the games. How many of you have spent $7 for a beer at an NHL game? $5 for a hotdog? Some owners are having a dilemma: How do I keep bringing the fans back while trying not to lose money and putting a competitive hockey team? At a time when NHL hockey is going through some serious problems such as a decrease in goals scored, clutching and grabbing, an overall disinterested fan base, decreasing TV revenues, and the lack of a superstar/ambassador for the NHL, the owners are struggling to keep afloat. Like it or not, the owners seem determined to make the players agree to a salary cap for the next collective bargaining agreement. Teams are bracing themselves for a lock out next season. We’ve seen this summer that the free agent market was somewhat disturbed. Veteran players such as Adam Oates, Adam Graves, and Cliff Ronning, that could still help a team, remain unsigned at the start of training camps.

For the players, this statement by Bob Goodenow, the NHLPA Executive director in a January 14, 2003 press release sums up their perspective: “The unique events that triggered a bankruptcy filing last week by the Ottawa Senators and today by the Buffalo Sabres have led the owners’ commissioner to attempt to draw a connection between these events and the collective bargaining agreement. The reality is that neither club’s bankruptcy filing is attributable to the operation of the collective agreement. Instead, the circumstances leading to each club’s bankruptcy have been created by the business decisions and personal actions of their owners.”

With this, Bob Goodenow might have a point. Let’s make a parallel: A savvy businessman would not buy a product for $2, and then turn around and sell it for $1. This leads me to the players’ main argument. If NHL owners are ready to pay the players those salaries, it must make sense on a business perspective. To them, the owners are to blame on this matter. They reject the idea of a salary cap simply because owners keep on spending the money they say they don’t have. As one NHL players once said: if the owners want to pay me this kind of money, I’d be a fool to turn it down. True on that. In the event of a lock out, I assume many players will be playing the next year in Europe, more specifically in the Russian Super League.

As for the fans, it is becoming very difficult to attend hockey games. First, the price of tickets is out of control. Second, once there, everything for sale is at an astronomical price. For a family of 4 to attend a NHL game, we are looking at an average cost of over $150, including refreshments and food. At a time when some teams are struggling to attract a fan base, the cost is too high. As a fan myself, I am becoming increasingly fed up with the two sides’ whining (owners vs players). How can a player who is making US$3 million per season complain about his salary? How can an owner who pays those players that sort of money and probably makes many times their salaries' complain? They are both blaming each other for the situation at hand. At the end of the day, the fans are getting the short end of the stick. The owners will go on about their business and the players will end up playing in Europe. As an NHL fan, the prospect of not having NHL hockey next season is alarming. I will most likely have to rely on heavy drinking to compensate for the lack of hockey. Hey, wait a minute, perhaps I can also point the finger at somebody else for the cause of my future alcoholic state!


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Top Prospect

49 Posts

Posted - 10/05/2003 :  06:27:16  Show Profile
My question is what the heck happened to the team as a first priority.

If you are all ready making 7 figures, there is no logical reason to ask for or even accept more.

I think that for the players to remain competitive, they need to have the possibility of winning a cup on the table, not more cash.

If you want your team to win, allow the franchise to afford better players. As we saw with the rush of players to San Jose, Pheonix and Anaheim in the last few years, players will take a little less for a chance at Lord Stanley's Cup.

You get some rookie coming out of the AHL who's dream is to get rich more than to have a winning team (though I'm sure that comes in a close second).

The money ruins all good sports... just look at baseball. Salary caps are an understandable step to take for the league and franchises, but all salaries need to be lowered so that the cap isn't as easily attained as it would be now.

And if I hear one more guy say "A million doesn't go as far as it used to" I'm going to puke.
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