Alarmism: What's the Worst Case Lockout Scenario? (Hint: It Involves More Lockouts)

Arik
September 24 2012 02:30PM

 

 

I don't necessarily believe this will happen. I certainly hope it doesn't. But having a second lockout in consecutive CBA negotiations and the possibility of another cancelled season give rise to worry for a specific worst-case scenario: that this process - this absurd ridiculous asinine CBA process - is doomed to repeat itself.

Sure, it's a bit premature to worry about a CBA in 7-10 years when the NHL and NHLPA haven't even figured out the CBA for the 7-10 years leading up to it, but it's a valid worry, and one that says a lot about the level of confidence that should be placed in the two organizations.

Note: for the purpose of this article, I'm assuming this is a lost season already. Because let's be honest: it probably is.

Why The Potential of a Third Consecutive Lockout  Exists

1. Precedent

This is the second consecutive lockout in CBA negotiations. I'm no sports historian, but that's not exactly a common thing. Sure, every sport has rough passages between the owners and players- even the massively rich NFL had a brief lockout recently, but it was one that had minimal effect on the actual play of the sport.

If the NHL can go back to lockout mode with the massive fallout from the last lockout still fresh on everyone's mind, what's to stop them from doing it a third time?

2. Everybody Is So Busy Posturing They Forgot What They Were Posturing For

It's rare you see groups that engage in so much PR forget how PR actually works. The NHL and the NHLPA have spent so much time pointing fingers publicly, making nice little videos and writing letters to the fans, and acting (for lack of a better word) miffed about the whole thing, that they forgot the very best PR is simply trying harder (and in public) than the other team. 

In a sport where so much of the narrative is about "heart" and "effort", a simple statement from either the NHL or the NHLPA saying something to the effect of "We will be at location X every ready to talk and work on this every day until a CBA is signed" would make for wonderful PR as well as put the onus on the other guy to show up and try to look just as good.

Unfortunately what happened was a whole lot of nonsensical finger pointing about how X canceled a meeting with Y, or how Y wasn't negotiating in "good faith". In the parlance of my day job, both sides swallowed their own shit sandwiches.

3. It's No Longer "Just Business"

The players probably don't have much anger towards the owners themselves. There- it's just business. But ask, say, Teemu Selanne what he (or most of the NHL) thinks about Gary Bettman, and we find ourselves in a very different realm. 

Jarome Iginla's comments highlight a related issue— lack of trust for the owners, and more specifically Gary Bettman.

“Gary said last time, it was a deal that would work for everyone, be a win-win,” Iginla said Thursday [the 19th]... “If you had asked him, ‘Forecast the revenues and will it work?’ He’d have said, ‘Absolutely. This is perfect.’
“Now, we’re not talking 1% (back from the players). [The owners are] talking 10% back, and that’s $300 million, and that doesn’t seem honest from where that was.
“So how can we trust them next time?”
(Toronto Sun, Sept. 20, 2012)

 The players clearly neither trust nor like the leadership in the NHL, whether rightly or wrongly. That will create more and larger problems down the road, barring a resolution that actually makes everyone happy.

Clearly there is a good chance of future lockouts, barring massive changes in how Collective Bargaining is done; why does this matter now, though?

Why the Potential for a Third Consecutive Lost Season Is Bad

1. The Obvious "A third lost season is a third lost season. Duh"

Yes, Mr. Robotvious, it is another season of missing out on the highest level of hockey. That's simply bad because hockey is fun, and the NHL provides the best product around. I like watching hockey, so if there's another canceled season, I can't watch that season.

There's always other hockey to watch, or hobbies to pick up (no joke, I just bought $40 of origami supplies from Amazon.com so I have something to do. I'm sure I'll put photos of my paper train wrecks on Twitter.), but it's not the same as the NHL, and it's not as easily viewable as the NHL.

2. Degradation of the Quality of the Game

The NHL is already competing with the KHL for some Russian players. Financial instability, as well as the league crying "POOR!" as loudly as possible would do little to attract those players, and may have a long-term effect on drawing some European players as well.

I doubt we'd see a mass exodus, but less high quality players is still less high quality players.

3. The End of the NHL (as we know it)

Ah, here's the alarmist doomsday scenario.

The fact is, canceled seasons wreck profit- both short and long term. The NHL took some time to recover from 2004-05, and we're staring down another barrel already (although not as long as was feared). If the fans who returned or starting to take an interest give up, they probably won't return for a third round. In addition, a lock-out hampers the momentum markets like Nashville, Chicago and Los Angeles had created with recent successes. 

If there's a full, third lockout, the NHL's popularity would end up circling the toilet - and popularity pays the bills in the entertainment world. If the bills don't get paid, teams get contracted, players lose jobs, and the NHLs crediblity as a top tier league further decreases. Rinse and repeat. Eventually most players would leave for Russia or Europe and the NHL would continue to suffer because of it.

Conclusion

Of course,  this is all Worst-Case Scenario type stuff. It's hard to imagine a situation where everyone comes out of the lockout and likely cancelled season "happy", but things may not end up as acrimonious as they seem now. Furthermore, the NHL and NHLPA could come up with machinations to prevent more lockouts, though that seems unlikely given how effective Bettman seems to find them.  What's most likely is the economic situation changes, and one side or the other finds themselves more than happy to sign whatever is put in front of them. Only time will tell though.

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Arik works in Search and Rescue in the United States Coast Guard and is a former managing editor of the SBN Flames blog, Matchsticks and Gasoline.
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#1 Kent Wilson
September 24 2012, 02:56PM
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The league was emboldened by the last lock-out, no question: they got a big win at the negotiating table and the fans eventually came back in droves (for a variety of reasons that probably don't apply this time around).

I have been thinking of writing a post on the subject myself - that it shouldn't be taken for granted that the fans will return en masse again should the NHL wipe out the entire season. In fact, I think it's possible they do very real damage to their consumer base.

That's perhaps what has to happen as well in order for lock-outs to be taken off the table as a negotiating tactic.

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#4 Kent Wilson
September 24 2012, 03:30PM
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@Arik

Think so? The current narrative is that the people came back in droves relatively quickly. I don't have strong enough memory to refute it though.

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#6 RexLibris
September 24 2012, 04:09PM
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I think the league did come back stronger, but how much of that was due to Anaheim, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Boston, Carolina and L.A. all winning Stanley Cups? Not to mention a USA/Can gold medal game in the pacific time zone?

The economics certainly helped some of the teams, though not the ticket-buying fan.

I'm not convinced a third lockout occurs unless Bettman absolutely "wins" this CBA negotiation. If he loses I think he might be out on his keister. And even if he wins it, if he pushes for another stoppage, backed by a few powerful owners, there may be some other owners who want to pull out the long-knives and just get back to business.

It is a difficult thing to predict. Hard to see, the dark side is.

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#7 Emir
September 24 2012, 05:25PM
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I think the key factor that allowed fans to come back so easily was due to the economic boom environment that existed in 2005. People were making more and had larger disposable incomes, that played a key role in the fans coming back.

This time around it isn't this way, especially in some NHL cities. While Arik's worst case scenario is perhaps further than this will go, I wouldn't be shocked if we did see contraction as a result of this lockout. Ultimately no matter what the consequence, this hurts the league and its credibility.

If bettman keeps it up soon we were hear the khl taking jabs saying that they don't have work stoppages.

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#8 Alt
September 24 2012, 09:01PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

The league was emboldened by the last lock-out, no question: they got a big win at the negotiating table and the fans eventually came back in droves (for a variety of reasons that probably don't apply this time around).

I have been thinking of writing a post on the subject myself - that it shouldn't be taken for granted that the fans will return en masse again should the NHL wipe out the entire season. In fact, I think it's possible they do very real damage to their consumer base.

That's perhaps what has to happen as well in order for lock-outs to be taken off the table as a negotiating tactic.

I agree KW.It,s a completly different situation and the fans won,t wait around like they did the last time.Bettman needs to be fired to maintain any resembalance of the league.The players won,t negotiate a solution with him.The longer the NHL keeps him around the worse it will get.

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#9 Kent Wilson
September 24 2012, 09:05PM
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@Alt

Bettman has consistently garnered votes of confidence from his employers (the owners) and they've raised his annual salary for years accordingly. He's the face of this mess, but not the true architect.

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#10 Subversive
September 25 2012, 08:40AM
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Emir wrote:

I think the key factor that allowed fans to come back so easily was due to the economic boom environment that existed in 2005. People were making more and had larger disposable incomes, that played a key role in the fans coming back.

This time around it isn't this way, especially in some NHL cities. While Arik's worst case scenario is perhaps further than this will go, I wouldn't be shocked if we did see contraction as a result of this lockout. Ultimately no matter what the consequence, this hurts the league and its credibility.

If bettman keeps it up soon we were hear the khl taking jabs saying that they don't have work stoppages.

The economics of household incomes in North America is a really good point.

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#11 Jai Kiran
September 25 2012, 11:15AM
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IF this is a lost season, then I agree with pretty much everything you have to say. But surely we're still at the point where the owners are just posturing aggressively: until real owner money is at stake (a month or two into the season, when the Winter Classic becomes a question mark), I don't think we'll know what they're willing to risk. If they're willing to risk the whole season - without having a do-or-die issue like the salary cap - then the owners are idiots. And maybe they are: but for now, it seems to me they are clearly looking for the same kind of "win" their NBA brethren got from a two-month lockout. I don't think they'll get it, but I don't know what they'll do when they don't.

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#12 Purple Hazze
September 25 2012, 04:38PM
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"I'm assuming this is a lost season already. Because let's be honest: it probably is."

I'd actually say it probably isn't, simply because its not the same battle that happened in 04-05. This battle is not really between the owners and players but between the owners themselves, the ones who make money vs the ones who don't. This battle is very similar to the one fought by the NBA last year, and in all likelihood there will be a deal in place around Dec 1st, just like the NBA last year ... there's just too much money on the line for either side to give up the entire season this time around.

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#13 Back in the Winter of '89
September 26 2012, 12:43AM
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I think the Sidney Crosby draft played a part in the returning fans. You immediately had a story line that involved all 30 teams, where Sid the Kid could have been found on any of the 30 rosters in the league.

While I hear good things about the 2013 class, I don't think it has the Crosby effect.

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