End the Lockout!

For the past five years, the immediate pain of the AFL season ending, has been off-set, knowing that the NHL season will soon be underway.

Ice-Hockey has become another of my sporting passions in recent years. It is a direct link to my skating days as a teen, a happier time in my life. Whilst I never played the game, being exposed to Hockey was also part of my upbringing. This chapter of my life was one I wanted to forget. The reasons are sealed in a can of worms that I do not wish to open at this time.

My love affair with the game of Ice Hockey, in it’s purest form, began during the month of October. The year was 2007. It was AFL Grand Final day and Geelong had just broken it’s 44 year Premiership drought. There is an emptiness that comes with realising that the AFL season is over. It would be another six months until an another ball would be kicked in anger. Sure, there is a summer of Cricket to come, but that wouldn’t begin for another two months. Something needs to fill the void. Enter Ice Hockey.

I had never followed a season from start to finish before. My thirst for the game became obsessional. And I loved it! Access to games was somewhat limited, but I was able to watch full games. My team at that stage was the Dallas Stars, but getting my hands on games out of Dallas was a challenge. There was no shortage when it came to the games played by the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Detroit Red Wings. The Leafs were struggling, while the Wings were more than competitive. I quickly fell in love with Detroit and they became more than my team of choice. There was an emotional connection and once that sort of connection is made, there is no going back.

All the hype in 2007 was around a young prodigy named Sidney Crosby. “Sid the Kid” was likened as the next Wayne Gretzky. A rivalry between Sid’s Pittsburgh Penguins and the Red Wings would soon develop. The void was filled and the inner child in me was more than satisfied. I learned about the history of the game through a documentary series called “Hockey: A People’s History”, celebrating the game born out of Canada.

The series chronicles Hockey’s evolution from a small spectacle in 1875, through to the modern era, celebrating the games achievements and documenting it’s downfalls over it’s 135 year plus history. The 2004 lockout which saw the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season is also featured. Four days after the regular season should’ve began, we are still without hockey. No pre-season and no training camps. No end to the lockout in sight. Games have been officially cancelled through to the 24th of October.

And the one’s suffering most are the fans.

The heart of the current lockout lies with the absence of a Collective Bargaining Agreement between the team owners and it’s players. Despite an increase in Hockey Related Revenue of almost 1.2 billion dollars since 2006, team owners are intent on reducing the players share from 57 percent, to at least 50 per cent, with some reports estimating this to be as low as 43 per cent. What is defined as Hockey Related Revenue is also at the heart of this dispute. The salary cap is also a part of this stalemate, with owners asking for the players to take an extended pay cut.

This all comes down to a figure of almost 400 million dollars, which the league would like to have at it’s disposal, to support struggling franchises within the league. On paper, the issue doesn’t seem all that complicated. The notion of ‘fairness’ would suggest that a 50/50 split of Hockey Related Revenue would be enough to keep both sides happy. However, the players association and franchise owners seem to be in no hurry to end the dispute anytime soon.

Specifics and details aside, this current squabble is at the expense of the fans. I purchase a TV subscription that allows me to watch games online or through my Playstation. As a small financial contributor to this sport, I am insulted that both parties do not seem to be in any hurry to get this matter resolved. So much so, that I will not just handover precious dollars when they do finally get their act together.

Without the fans, the league and it’s players wouldn’t have revenue to argue over. They have had the entire off-season to sort this out and the number one priority should be to make sure it’s fan-base is not affected. For the second time is less than a decade, the league has failed to look after it’s number one asset – the fans – those who buy season tickets, merchandise and television subscriptions.

To the NHL, the owners and the players association: Get your act together! Get this sorted out and let’s play some hockey. Or you may find in the not too distant future, that there is far less revenue to argue over and fans leave the game for good.

Let’s drop the puck, play some hockey and leave your squabbling in the boardroom, where it belongs. At this time of year, headlines should be about highlights and results in the sports section of the daily news. Not the business section!

End the lockout! And it end it soon!