By Phil Jackman
Maybe you missed it. After all, it was hidden on Page 9, below the fold in the sports section of The Baltimore Sun, on the day after a Ravens playoff win and about 12 gazillion words (and pictures) about Ray Lewis' last appearance (until the next one) at M&T Bank Stadium. Besides, it was only a tentative agreement.
We speak, of course, of a four-month lockout of NHL hockey players ending, and before moving on to the crossword puzzle or obituaries, be advised the league will play a 48- or 50-game schedule. OK, yawn now.
Tell you what's most important about this story, even if you have less interest in hockey than women's golf or some fishing show. It's part of an ongoing series of lockout and labor-negotiation stories in all major sports that remind people how easy it is becoming (apparently) to shut down sports.
Think about it. Six times during the last few years, the NBA has had lockouts, including two by the referees. Speaking of referees, the NFL officials walked off the job earlier this season and the only reason the league settled the dispute was that the replacement refs were so bad. How could the league continue to propagate its glorious image while allowing this farce to go on?
The big boys, though, have been the hockey people. It wasn't that long ago, after losing about 40 percent of its schedule, that the NHL bagged an entire season (2004-05). Imagine the magnitude of the revolution if baseball had allowed its season-ending strike in 1994 (including the World Series) to carry over into the next year. To this day, some grizzled local fans insist they haven't been back to Camden Yards since.
There's no doubt the biggest turnoff for fans in any sport is the thought of labor (players) and management (owners) being unable to come to an agreement about how to divvy up revenue that runs as high as $9 billion per season (football). Such would seem impossible until you stop and think about what hasn't been going on with Congress in Washington, D.C., the last several years.
Perhaps the only entities that could put a stop to all this foolishness are the fans and broadcast marketing money, which pretty much boils down to the same crowd. And, unfortunately, they have long since proven they will put up with anything, including multi-million-dollar playpens for these ingrates to play in.
The best thing I read during the recent unpleasant month was authored by a speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Michael Taube pointed out the best thing to do would be to blow up the NHL and save professional hockey by starting over.
The same could be said for the big three, or does anyone think the commissioners are worth their eight-figure salaries, that personal-seat licenses are a good idea, or an $8 beer belongs in a ballpark or arena?
Taube reasoned that to this point, all the league has done is work on a bunch of piddling stuff while leaving the underlying problems in place. He said revenue sharing started the whole mess, especially when the owners agreed the players would get 57 percent of the revenue during a subsequent negotiation.
As a result, an estimated 18 of 30 NHL teams lose money, according to Forbes magazine, and only three teams make a real profit, the New York Rangers being the only U.S. franchise. The only saving grace, if it can be called that, is that some Daddy Warbucks will come forward to buy a franchise just for the celebrity of being a big-time owner, sitting in a luxury box and getting five seconds on TV in shirtsleeves. (Does that really do it for Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones?)
No matter what happens in the near or distant future, pro leagues will continue to flourish somewhat, because no matter how selfish and idiotic the behavior of owners and players, men, women and children will show up with ticket and T-shirt money clutched in hand, ready to be taken advantage of. Pity.
NHL training camps, which will last less than a week, were supposed to start around Jan. 13, with a regular-season schedule due to start Jan. 19 and run for 3.5 months. The sides can now begin arguing about what the Stanley Cup playoffs will look like. The Cup final is tentatively scheduled to conclude June 28, just in time to kick off Canada Day (July 1) and the Fourth of July. Maybe even the NBA will be done by then.
Issue 181: January 2013