Don’t call the National Hockey League Players Association a union.
That would suggest the organization had at least passing concern for the working person.
That would suggest a sense of worker solidarity, beyond the NHLPA brethren.
That would suggest a movement dedicated to fairness, and an organization dedicated to improving the lot of all players.
Ask the players in European leagues how they feel about the NHLPA’s members. More than 50 NHL players have signed European contracts, bumping others off rosters.
Or ask the American Hockey League and East Coast Hockey League players who are out of jobs because NHL players have dropped down to their leagues to play.
Ask the junior players who were on the cusp of professional careers and are now stuck in junior because the minor pro ranks are clogged with young players who should be in the NHL.
Players argue that they need to keep their skills sharp, so they must play somewhere. Presumably they’re not robbing others of their income because they need the money themselves. Four NHL players are scheduled to make $12 million this season (if they play). Under the just-expired collective bargaining agreement, the minimum salary is $525,000 a year. None of these men should be suffering financially, unless they have made extraordinarily bad financial decisions. (The average Albertan, in 2011, made $23.84 an hour, or $46,488 a year.)
Not nearly enough concern has been shown for the support personnel in the game, from game-day staff (working at or near minimum wage) to office workers to scouts. Many of these people have already been asked to sacrifice income as the dispute drags on and stand to lose much more, including their jobs, if the regular season doesn’t start on Oct. 11, as scheduled.
And too little is thought of all the ancillary businesses that count on NHL games to draw patrons and employ countless people, from restaurants and bars to hotels and parking lots, and beyond.
So whatever the NHL-NHLPA dispute is about, it is certainly not about improving the lot of the working person.
It is about rich, entitled people on both sides wanting to squeeze every penny out of the paying public.
And that paying public is already up to its ears, or beyond.
At $3.3 billion (income from tickets, broadcasts and merchandise), the hockey-related revenue waiting to be carved up by owners and players is pretty close to obscene. It has increased more than 50 per cent from $2 billion in 2004 (when the last lockout wiped out the complete 2004-2005 season). Last year, each of the 30 NHL teams was constrained by a salary cap of $63.4 million, and that represented 57 per cent of hockey-related revenue.
The players propose a $69-million cap for the 2012-2013 season; the owners want something less, based on their proposal of 46 per cent of hockey-related revenue going to players in the next year, and moving to 50 per cent in the latter half of a proposed new six-year deal.
It’s not uncommon for businesses to devote 50 per cent of their revenue to employees, but players seem to have forgotten that they are not the only employees.
And everyone involved in this mess seems to have forgotten the fans.
The assumption in all the economic models in play seems to be that the fans will continue to pay ridiculous amounts to see live hockey. (At the top end, the Edmonton Oilers, for example, charge about $300 for a single game ticket, and $62, with fees, at the bottom end. By contrast, to watch junior hockey in Red Deer, you pay $17.75 for an adult or $9.75 for a child.)
In the wake of the lost 2004-2005 NHL season, fans came back in droves. The NHL is quite happy to trot out studies that show that the game’s fans are the most loyal, and the most well-off financially, of all North American pro sports devotees.
Inevitably, Canadian fans in particular will be played for huge suckers again when a deal is reached.
And the two sides in this dispute will be no closer to understanding how predatory they all are.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.