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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bettman's Folly

I have trouble picking out what annoys me most about the NHL Lockout. I am basically a player guy, not an owner guy. That's as true in work and life and politics for me as it is in sport. My parents were both union members, as is my wife. I never was, just by virtue of the jobs I've held, not due to intent or avoidance. My sympathies are with workers by nature.

But when you look at the fact that some NHL stars are earning more in yearly salary than the franchise they play for earns in profits, that gives you pause as to whether you are rooting for the right side in this dispute.

Part of that, I believe, is that the NHL teams take their revenue and put it into a lot of different buckets, not all of which are purely expenses. I think it likely that the owners and their partners and family get their share, as well as access to games and events.

Also, many of the teams are able to financially separate the revenue from tickets, parking, luxury boxes, merchandise and clothing from the direct revenues of the team. They also get breaks on taxes and other sorts of favorable treatment and access.

So their financial disclosures and tears about losses remind me of a verse from Creedance's "Fortunate Son"

"But when the taxman comes to the door, 
Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale"

For the players, their contracts are out there for all to see, and are looked at as if they were pure profit (just the  way my own wages are looked at as profit by the IRS, in that unlike a business, I can't deduct all my expenses (for example, a business can deduct rent payments, but I can't).

Still, I think all players in most pro sports are paid extravagantly. It is hard to feel sorry for anyone making that much money, regardless of the travel and wear and tear on their bodies and minds. And it is hard to fault someone who signs a contract in good faith, does the job he is contracted to do, and then has his employer try to chop money off of the contract. That's not fair regardless. 

It also rankles me to hear that it is likely that right after the lockout is resolved, the owners will vote to expand the league (THAT IS DOING SO BADLY!), and that the expansion fees they divide will give ZERO to the players, and that the two new franchise's fees will be higher than ever, ensuring that the new teams start out carrying a bigger debt than ever before.  

So rather than contracting some of the teams that are struggling, they will prop them up (and featherbed the rich teams like Toronto, New York, and Montreal). Stuff like this makes me more cynical about ownership, and makes me want to see Donald Fehr tuck it to them with a twist. Of course, that won't help hockey fans or people whose jobs depend on pro hockey. They are the true losers, not the millionaires and billioniares.

I am at the point where I really won't be happy if they settle and start a bastard season in January. I mean, it will be tainted, and I am not sure the stench will wash off by next season. I would hate just as much if there was no NHL hockey in 2012-2013.