Friday, September 14, 2012

Supporter Submission: A Letter to the NHL Commissioner

Dear NHL,

The day is almost upon us and I am in a state of shock and disbelief. The players are about to be locked out for the second time in seven years. This time, there is no excuse. This is a show of unadulterated greed on the part of the owners greased by Gary Bettman. The owners are showing a complete disregard for the people that truly make this sport one of the most beloved in the world, the players and the fans.

Seven years ago we were told that average ticket prices would fall as a result of the new collective bargaining agreement. We were told that the new rules would speed up the pace of play and create more scoring and excitement. We were told that new franchises would foster fierce rivalries and engage even more fans. We were told that hockey would push for a higher standing in the “big four” American sporting leagues.

Seven years later we have seen some of these changes enrich the sport, but moreover we have been left with empty promises and a looming D-Day that will threaten the sport as we know it. In the past seven years, ticket prices have risen by an average of 39 percent across the board. Real fans, the ones who live and die with their teams, cannot afford to go to a game and live through the energy of their home arena. I am a Boston Bruins fan. Over the past three years the price of balcony seats at the TD Garden have risen from around $30 per seat to around $50. This is only face value. To get a seat one must seek out a secondary ticket supplier. One saturated with entrepreneurs who buy up seats with the sole intention to re-sell them at double, sometimes triple face value. You tell me if the league has lived up to its promise.

We have been spoiled over the past few years with an influx of young talent that borders the category of “phenom.” Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Patrick Kane, Tyler Seguin, Erik Karlsson, Claude Girioux, and Jonathan Quick are all guys that have shaped this league into a fast paced high intensity game that we love and once which we watch on the edge of our seats. Goals were up this year almost reaching pre-lockout numbers for the first time in the new-age NHL. It took a generation of players growing up playing the new style to adapt their skills. Now you are just going to create a new generational gap that will take just as long to recover from.

It seems like every year there is talk of a team being sold and moved in an ever-expanding NHL. Teams stretch from Beantown to Vancouver, SoCal to the Florida Keys and everywhere in between. Every new franchise comes with huge franchise fees that are paid directly to owners, but what is not talked about is the burden that some of these teams are on the league. Teams in markets like Phoenix and Florida (though the Panthers owner did a great job bringing the fans back this year) are afterthoughts to the other sports happening in those regions. Since the early ‘90s the NHL has grown from 21 to 30 teams with no regard for the financial burden they are creating.

The affect this lockout will have is simple to understand. The NHL is not the NBA, NFL or MLB. It will not be granted forgiveness from its brokenhearted fans overnight. At this point, the league doesn’t seem to care. Thousands of jobs will be put on hold in an economy where people cannot afford missed paychecks. It’s not just the players. It’s the ushers, concession employees, locker room attendants, equipment manufacturers, television employees, and sure, even the players that aren’t guaranteed a spot on the roster and players that were going to have their only shot this year that will be hurt. These people all need their jobs. The players were willing to play under the old CBA just so they could get the season started but the owners said no. The players reached out to come to a solution; the owners turned a cold shoulder. The owners are firmly to blame.

So blame the owners and Gary Bettman. Blame them when TV contracts are given to a sport that is lurking in the shadows waiting for a big break.

The MLS has been rapidly growing in attendance over the past five years and is now one of the most attended sports in the country. I’m sure they would love a nice NBC Sports contract and more TV time because it won’t be hard for them to jump into fourth with some exposure. The NHL will be back in the basement scratching at the door for a piece of the pie.

Last time as a 15 year old I was heartbroken when the players were locked out and the season cancelled, and I was over-joyed upon it’s return. This time I know better. This time I can see how many lives and how many families are truly affected by a small group’s greed. This time I won’t be so quick to return. This time forgiveness is not on the bargaining table. If this lockout doesn’t work out, don’t say nobody warned you.


Stick tap to Bill for writing this one -- first blog post ever for him.  Awesome job.

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