The last time the league had a labor situation, I was toiling away in high school. Living in Oil Country, I had just seen the Flames make a run to the Cup before they engaged in a year long effort to get a salary cap put into place.
I followed sports, and hockey of course, but nothing like I do now. My life did not change at all in the year that we missed hockey. The lockout may have actually made me into a bigger fan as once it came to a conclusion and the Oilers went out and got Chris Pronger, Mike Peca and decided to make a daring run all the way to game seven of the Cup Finals, I was officially hooked.
But the year without hockey was almost an afterthought to me at the time. I was in no way involved in the industry and went about my teenage life as if nothing had changed.
This time around, it is not quite as painless. The years that have passed have seen me finish high school, then university and then college. The six years of post secondary were focused squarely on sports, and now I am entrenched in the industry in Toronto. This is one of the many reasons that I have not been posting frequently to Puck Drunk Love. Work takes up all my time as working for a major media company in the biggest market in Canada has a tendency of doing.
But now I see and feel the impact all around me. Entire networks and stations rely on several days a week of live games to fill the airwaves and broadcast schedules. This is more than just the faces that you see on your television set, as countless hours go in behind the scenes to ensure that the produce is ready for consumption.
Then there are the people affected by the lack of games being played at the Air Canada Centre. Real Sports is a sports bar on steroids attached to the ACC that specializes in overpriced food and servers that make your neck hurt. But no matter how big the screens are on the wall, it is hard to drive traffic towards the establishment without the 82 games on the schedule.
Sure the Raptors share a facility with the Leafs, but the real show in town is the blue and white and few people would argue otherwise. Bars around town are about to start feeling the impact of not having twenty somethings pour in to watch Hockey Night in Canada before going out on the town. The people who work at the arena and could miss out on 41 home shifts this year because of the labor squabble have no way to recoup the lost wages.
These arguments have been made countless times. We see billionaires arguing with millionaires while thousandaires are forgotten at the ground level. They just want what is fair they say. An equal piece of the pie is what they deserve. Some owners don't like the offers being made and some players are starting to spout off and get angry.
The situation is not about to get better in a hurry. While the NBA negotiations of just a year ago seemed to be heading down a similar path before miraculously reaching an agreement that would see the season start on Christmas Day, we can only hope that Fehr and Bettman will allow us to have at least a few games this year.
While there are plenty of markets that do not eat, sleep and breath for their local hockey franchises, there are still countless people being affected. Whether it is the game operations staff working at the arena forty plus times a season. The people selling you tickets at the box office. The guy who sells you that overpriced beer that you can't wait to get into your system. The competing hot dog salesmen waiting outside for your munchies to kick in after the game.
What am I trying to say here? I am trying to say that no matter what happens here, no one is going to win. Money is already being lost as the pettiness has reached an all-time high this week. Offers that were tabled have now been rescinded. Both sides are bunkering down waiting for the other side to flinch. Bettman is concerned about the legacy that he is going to leave while Fehr is trying to establish a legacy of labor peace like he did in baseball.
No matter how close it may seem that the two sides are in terms of agreeing to the framework of a deal, do not hold your breath next time seemingly positive news comes down.
I was making lunch before work last week when my phone started buzzing. Just the usual work emails I assumed. But when I went to go take a look, I had a glimmer of hope when I saw that the owners tabled a 50-50 HRR offer that the players would hopefully at least consider. But instead the coming days saw three offers tabled by the players that were dismissed in a matter of minutes by Bettman before we could even realize what had just happened. The players came out to tow their line while Bettman and the owners did the same.
Now they are speaking of the All-Star game and the Winter Classic as the next dates to fall. While you can question the value of each event, you can also not overlook the lost revenue that the events were going to create for Ann Arbor and Columbus respectively. From hotel rooms to restaurants to car rentals. Money is being lost away from that of the actual players and owners.
Many of the players are hardly feeling the impact of the stoppage. Not only are they all getting escrow payments, but more than a hundred have signed to play in Europe in an attempt to recoup at least some of their lost wages. Some of the owners are probably happy to not be hosting home dates that do nothing but lose money for them in the Phoenix, Florida, Columbus and Nashville type markets. So who is really feeling the brunt of it? That is everyone else.
Removing a multi-billion dollar industry from a North American economy that is already struggling is far from a wise idea, especially an industry that affects so many people directly and indirectly. But we are dealing with egos the size of the great lakes in this situation, and neither seem like they are about to blink.
The impact reaches all the way out into the online world as well. There are numerous avenues for freelance writers to make some money on the side covering their favorite team, player or breaking down stats of players around the league. But with no games being played, there are no stats to break down. While this is a fraction of the population, it is tangible and affects the livelihood of young and old trying to pay their bills and make it in a floundering media industry.
So what can we do? You can sign one of those petitions that will do nothing to change anything. You can go yell at Bettman next time the league decides to shoot down an offer. Or you can sit and wait and just hope this doesn't drag on and kill the entire season. I would be fine with a fifty game season. Even forty if that was viable.
Just please think of those that are being affected by your actions. The web reaches much further than you would like to imagine, and you are not making it easy for a lot of people to earn a livelihood.
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