The NHL Lockout: A Retrospective




By: Ryan Kiray (@RyanK_THG)

You may want to brace yourselves, because this will be difficult to hear. The owners won the NHL Lockout. No, it’s not just because they managed to shave a serious chunk off of the players’ share of hockey related revenues, although that is certainly a large factor. And sure, the players managed to escape the lockout without consequences more serious than a dip in their share of revenue. The free agency period thus far has shown us that the decreased revenue share did little to slow down spending on players. The players didn’t have to lose for the owners to win; despite dire predictions that the NHL’s revenues would plummet and that the owners overplayed their hands, the reverse has proven true. Quite simply, the owners gambled that NHL fans are suckers, and they won.

To be fair, I’m as guilty as anyone. Despite insisting that I would not buy any tickets or merchandise this year, I went out and bought a few of both. I couldn’t stay away. Obviously, this was the case for most fans.

Stephen Whyno of the Canadian Press has an excellent breakdown on the potential rise of the salary cap for the 2014-2015 season, hosted at The Globe and Mail and linked below. According to industry estimates, the cap could soon rise back up to $70 million, close to the ceiling this season. That the cap could reach those numbers that soon shows that the NHL owners were right about all of us.

With players receiving only 50% of revenue shares, it takes more revenue to raise the salary cap. Thus, more revenue is needed to raise the salary cap by $6 million under this CBA than to do the same under the old. If the cap experienced a $6 million increase for the 2014-2015 season, to $70.3 million, as is highly possible if rumors are to be believed, the cap would reach a record high. This would also mean that the NHL shattered revenue records.

An increase to $70.3 million would also represent the 3rd largest jump in the salary cap ceiling since its imposition, missing the top spot by only $400,000. This would also indicate record revenue growth, or very close to it, under the salary cap.

So, if the currently trending information is accurate, the owners will make more money than they ever have next season. The revenue that they receive will increase by a proportion greater than or comparable to any that they have experienced in the last decade. All of this despite dire predictions that they would never recover from the lockout, and despite threats from the fans to never spend their hard-earned money on the NHL’s product again.

Throughout the lockout, Gary Bettman and his cronies cited the “passion” of NHL fans in justifying his certainty that the NHL would not suffer because of the lockout. Many fans railed against Bettman using their fanaticism for his own ends. However, he was right. Jeremy Jacobs was right. Those that honestly believed that the owners would regret the lockout, despite their justifiable anger, were dead wrong. The owners are laughing all the way to the bank.

At the end of the day, with the benefit of hindsight, it doesn’t matter that the owners were right. It’s a good thing to be as passionate about something as hockey fans are about their sport. It’s unfortunate that some take advantage of that for their own ends, but ultimately, now that the fans have cooled off, it’s nice just to have our sport back. A boycott would have punished the fans as much as the owners. Of course, there are certainly exciting forms of hockey elsewhere. Junior leagues and the NCAA, among others, can be entertaining, but nothing quite captures the magic of watching the best players in the world don the hometown colors and compete for the most storied trophy in professional sports. The owners knew that. Deep down, the fans probably knew it too. While the rank and file fanatic may resent their passion being used against them, they care too much to do anything about it. Armed with this knowledge, the owners earned their victory. That is fine. They can have it.

Stephen Whyno’s column for The Globe and Mail can be found here.

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