Shut Up and Cheer

Hockey’s back. I can’t wait to embrace my national stereotype, pound some Molson and cheer myself hoarser than the last day of Management Carnival. Although I’m incredibly excited, I’m more concerned with the state of the game and the NHL in general. One side of me wants to spend my remaining grocery money on Canadiens tickets and warm Molson Export, whereas the rational me wants to analyze the latest lockout.

Rational Wyatt: There have been three NHL lockouts in the last twenty years. In the wake of each, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has had to deal with the potential loss of fans and market share. In Canada, however, this will never be an issue. We return to the game with the same passion that compels Canadiens fans to flip police cars when they win. Even if the Air Canada Centre crowd mostly consists of businessmen eating sushi, the Canadian attendance is there. Since Bettman took the job as commissioner in ’93, the emphasis has been on the growth of the American fan base. While this offends many Canadian fans, from a business standpoint, it’s not practical to focus on Canada where the market is already well in hand.

Fan Wyatt: Who cares about viewership and attendance? It doesn’t change how much I enjoy a game. Not to mention, it’s fun to crush those small American market teams. Bring it Columbus.

Rational Wyatt: The NHL should increase market share in the States but the current pattern of labour disputes continues to hamstring efforts to grow the game in the USA. Hockey has always been the fourth sport in the US, lagging far behind football and baseball in popularity. Even though it attracts nearly as many viewers as basketball, hockey still gets far less attention from ESPN, or any news outlet that isn’t TSN.

As the NHL continues expanding in the States, attendance and viewership rise, Gary Bettman annually announces record revenues, and then every six to ten years, like clockwork, hockey surrenders a large portion of its season to a lockout. How can Bettman expect American expansion when he subsequently turns his back on new fans by taking the game away every time the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expires? Does he really think last year’s fans, such as those drawn by LA’s unlikely Stanley Cup, are going to come rushing back?

Fan Wyatt: Who cares about the American fans? I’m in Canada and hockey is always going to matter here. It’s Montreal versus Toronto tonight and I’m revving to see the Habs knock the Leafs back to 1967. 

Rational Wyatt: These lockouts have become the de facto negotiating tool of the NHL. The NHL Players’ Association and the Board of Governors refuse to discuss the terms of the next CBA until right before the season starts. The season can’t start without a ratified CBA and this is never achieved until many games are cancelled. Furthermore, games lost to these lockouts are over problems the team owners created in the first place.

The NHL Board of Governors’ issues revolve around player salary. They argue about implementing new rules that limit the term, value, and circumstances of player contracts. The problem is that the team owners and GMs who issue these contracts then proceed to complain that the very same contracts kill profitability. Prior to the recent lockout, Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold commented, We’re not making money… …And [the Wild’s] biggest expense by far is player salaries.” The Minnesota Wild then signed Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to contracts totalling $196 million.

Fan Wyatt: I don’t care about these contracts as long as the Canadiens have a solid team.

Rational Wyatt: Evidently, NHL owners are not interested in their own advice. They refuse to curtail spending and conform to the rules that they cry for. The same issues will resurface as a result of this CBA, and they likely won’t be resolved until part of the 2022-2023 season is lost. At this point, I have no hope for any CBA negotiation ending in an equitable deal along with a full NHL season. That being said, this CBA expires in ten years, so until then I’m going to enjoy being Fan Wyatt for just a little longer.

Fan Wyatt: Exactly. Split a 24 of Molson with me and let’s get our hockey on!

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.

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