After five consecutive days of talks last week, there is no progress in the latest NHL labour negotiations. What we have all been asking for (get both sides in a room, and let them hammer it out), happened with no ending to yet another work stoppage in the current commissioner’s tenure. The negotiating tactics of each side has left a fan base to ask themselves when will this end, and will they still care when it does.
This battle of millionaires versus billionaires has been about money, and well, money. Certainly there are a few contractual issues that have to be ironed out and decided upon, but the end result will boil down to how to split revenue sharing, and at what cost will the players have to suffer. When the league was willing to “give in” to the players request to settle at a 50/50 revenue split, most thought that we were on our way to a settlement. However when the players union came back late as last week with a request to have player contracts honored in full for this season, you might as well have thrown the baby out with the bath water. The greed unfortunately continues.
Steve Fehr thinks that there are only three things that need to be solved to get a deal completed. Michael Grange describes the negotiations by one word. Weird. And flat out weird to be exact. In either case, the public is growing tired of the ongoing tennis match with two sides who’s egos apparently wouldn’t fit inside that stadium in Ann Arbour, Michigan (Winter Classic site). With each day that passes more players are heading off to Europe to stay in shape, make a few bucks, and move on from what’s happening here in the states.
The fan base continues to grow tired and angry. Upon the conclusion of each and every meeting, Twitter lites up brighter than your christmas tree. With information that comes in from the wealth of media sources, many people begin to voice their frustration, anger, and in many cases utter disbelief. Twitter has become more than just a way to communicate with friends, it’s become a sounding board for people to rant in 140 characters or less. Although some rants seem to last for 140 separate entries. The cancellation of the Winter Classic, and all games through November has given many fans no reason to even think a shortened season is possible at this point.
With each day that ends without a settlement, those same fans continue to occupy their days with things other than the sport that they love so much. Some like this writer, are doing so unconsciously. Certainly hockey is being missed, but for many, the void is being filled without even noticing how. More and more I read and hear how people are starting not to care. How they are not only finding other ways to spend their time, but they’re doing it with things that don’t involve any hockey at all.
I had a discussion on Twitter the other day with a friend in Canada who said that they cannot even get interested in the AHL, or juniors. This is coming from a follower of hockey that is about as passionate as me. The viewpoint that we each seem to be sharing is that the other leagues are a bonus when the NHL is in play. Now, sadly, it appears those leagues are an afterthought for many. No disrespect to those players who are learning their trade in hopes to make it to the big show some day, but I am sure that there are many more feeling like this.
Something in me tells me that this time won’t end up like the last lockout in 2004-2005. If memory serves me right, most were on the players side of things by the time everything was settled and couldn’t wait for the start of the season. Remember “Thank you fans” in all the arenas? Painted on the ice in plain view for everyone to see during each game, it was a reminder that the patience of the people who came to see the players was appreciated. A kind gesture to thank fans for coming back.
When this lockout is over, I do fear, as well as predict, the game of hockey for some will become irrelevant. I don’t know when I stopped caring for the NBA, but as that happened for me some years ago, the same reaction for many will happen with the NHL. At this point it doesn’t matter who’s side your on, what matters is that both sides have seemingly forgotten what they have at stake. A game that was at the height of popularity. Fan interest was peaking, and the game was fast, brilliant, smooth, and graceful. Toss in just enough snarl and edge, and you had the makings of a sport that was addictive for many once you were exposed to it.
If an entire season is lost, there will be fans that will be lost too. This time it won’t be just casual fans. It will be older fans. Fans of original six teams who are sick and tired of the power play between two sides that refuse to see the future slipping away. This kind of negotiating is draining. Many realize that the game requires certain cost cutting measures, as well as cost certainty items be put in place. Yet when players are signed to contracts that won’t be honored with or without a rollback, that seems wrong on more than just one count. On the other hand to demand that all contracts for this year be honored in full in a shortened season seems even more ludicrous.
There’s still time to save part of this season. Still time to give the best gift of the upcoming holidays: The return of hockey. What the league and the players associaton do with this time is the biggest question. Find a way to save the season and save those fans who are thinking of it, from leaving.
Like Nike said years ago: “Just Do It”.
Thanks for reading. We welcome your comments and opinions.
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