Roy Green: It’s not about the Game any Longer

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A few words from the kids unsteadily engaging in mob pursuit of a smallish black rubberized disc and 3 am beer league players to the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players Association.

For the second time in less than a decade you are engaging in a poutish, some would argue loutish refusal to honour your moral contract with fans of pro hockey’s greatest show on ice.  In your insatiable pursuit of league, team and personal revenue growth you have parked your entrepreneurial or genetic good fortune alongside your Ferraris and Lamborghinis.  You issue news releases and submit to individual interviews in and during which you trot out statistical evidence to support your points of view.  ‘The players are unrealistic in their expectations, so we have no option but to lock them out’, or ‘we won’t lace up our skates until we are assured our appropriate share of league revenues in remuneration.’

The numbers themselves have been fed into the analytical grinder ad nauseum.  The NHL, approaching the September 15 Collective Bargaining Agreement deadline had offered a six-year CBA which would have provided players 49 per cent of what was defined as hockey-related revenue at the beginning of the term, dropping to 47 per cent by its conclusion.

The Players Association countered with a five-year deal, removing its previous demand of 57 per cent of revenues in year five and proposing instead 54 per cent of what would be identified as “new” revenues in the fourth and fifth year of a new agreement.

This is ‘eyes glaze over’ territory for fans.  It is also not my intention to weigh one offer against the other, or to take sides in the dispute, at least not sides with either the league (owners) or players.  It is though my intention to represent fans like little Joey from Ontario and recreational league player Chris Cote from Saskatchewan.  Both wrote impassioned letters to the feuding sides, hoping perhaps that I may perform as a conduit for their pleas.  That’s correct.  Pleas, not demands.  Hope, not bitterness.  At least not yet. 

From Joey, “Mr. Green, I am 9 years old.  I love the NHL and my dad has promised to take me to a game for my birthday.  I don’t know anything about Mr. Bettman, but I know the players were like me once. Nine years old and hoping to play in the NHL.  Now they are and now they don’t want to.  I will never do that if I play Mr. Green.”  

I sent Joey an email and tried to explain but couldn’t.  Joey needs his heroes and at the moment they and their employers are exhibiting decidedly non-heroic behaviour.  Throw illogic into the mix while you’re at it.

What has been sacrificed by the antagonists at both the NHL and the NHLPA is common sense and fundamental math.  While games are not being played, be they pre or of the regular season variety, the revenue stream at the centre of the dispute is being reduced each time an arena remains in darkness.   You’re fighting over money boys, but you’re cutting the total pot you’re fighting over.  Get it? 

Rec player Chris adds “the fact is that you aren’t even the ones most affected by your actions and, truthfully, neither are we the fans.  You know who suffers most?  Arena attendants, janitors, writers, hot dog vendors.  Everyone from the person who covers your team for the local media to the one who scrapes the gum from the bottom of the seats is now either reassigned, having to take a drastic pay-cut, or out of a job completely.  Sure, you may be arguing over monstrously large dollar figures, but in doing so you’re making life more difficult for hundreds, if not thousands of people.  Instead, how about trying to benefit from all of that growth and momentum you keep telling me about?”  Hey Chris, let’s not even remind of the charities which depend on financial support from major league sport.

Chris Cote sums up his open letter to Commissioner Bettman and the NHLPA as they knew he would.  “When it’s all said and done I’ll come back.  You know I’ll come back.  But understand that it won’t be for you.  I’ll still resent you.  We all will.  When I and the millions like me come back and buy the jerseys and the tickets and the holographic, bobble-head, commemorative glasses it won’t be for you. It will be for the love of the game.”

Maybe, but maybe not.  You see Chris, I was a huge Major League Baseball fan.  Never missed a Blue Jays game on the tube and attended quite a few in person.  The back to back World Series wins in ’92-’93 were euphoric.  Who will ever forget October 23, 1993 and Joe Carter taking a ball deep in the ninth to win the Series against the Phillies?   And then?  The very next season there would be no World Series hero.  A money and labour dispute managed to accomplish what two World Wars couldn’t.  Cancellation of the 1994 World Series. 

That is now 18 years ago and this former Major League Baseball fan has not watched a single game on television since.  I did try attending a Jays’ game, but walked out after the fourth inning.  Never been back.  Never will. 

I suspect Joey’s dad will keep his promise and take his son to an NHL game for his birthday and I expect the financial challenge of purchasing tickets, paying for parking and satisfying a little boy’s special wish at the concession stand will be a financial challenge of true proportion, with no Ferrari waiting in the lot.  

Roy Green is host of The Roy Green Show, a national program heard weekends on Corus Radio. Follow Roy on Twitter @theRoyGreenShow.

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