The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/14/12 at 07:39 PM ET
Given the comments made by CSN Northeast’s Joe Haggerty that NHL fans must mandatorily begin shaking in their sneakers because Donald Fehr’s clearly going to stare down the NHL’s perfectly reasonable suggestion to hack 7% of a $3-plus-billion business’s proceeds off players’ paychecks, I’m very happy to read the Hockey News’s Adam Proteau not only suggesting that fans might be better-advised to check out the validity of the claims made by the NHL, Gary Bettman and the owners both prior to the 2004-2005 lockout and thereafter when determining whether one should swallow everything Gary Bettman and Bill Daly say about the supposed un-sustainability of the NHL under a business model its owners locked players and fans out for an entire season to essentially craft themselves, with NHLPA sycophant Ted Saskin simply smiling and nodding all along the way:
Personally, I’m not buying anything coming out of the league offices and their faithful water-carriers in the press. That’s not to say I’m locked arm-in-arm with the NHLPA; if you’ve read my work before, you understand I’ve criticized them for putting profit over player safety and on many other issues – including their aversion to the salary cap and preference for untenable disparities in roster quality.
However, I also recall all the snake oil the NHL massaged into our collective dermis during the ‘04-05 lockout. Remember the Levitt Report? Neither Shakespeare nor Mel Brooks has penned such a grand work of comedy. For what I think is the definitive debunking of the Levitt Report, look here– but make sure you’ve got a good hour to spare.
That said, the truth of the Levitt Report can be summarized this way: The NHL paid a former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission chairman to put out a disingenuous, sleight-of-hand version of the league’s finances and alleged it was losing nearly $300 million per season. It couldn’t go on, the owners cried, and most of the media and Average Joes agreed with them. The notion of player greed was sold extensively as the reason the NHL might have to relocate every Canadian team except bulletproof Toronto and why small-market teams couldn’t compete for talent with the Leafs, Rangers, Red Wings and Flyers. And most of the media and Average Joes agreed with them.
It couldn’t go on, either, because, according to the man who let Enron do what Goldman Sachs and Bank of America have done over the past four years, cranking back players’ salaries and ensuring an ironclad linkage between a fixed percentage of revenues and fixed business costs would not all but guarantee that franchise equity would increase in any sort of “nominal” economic situation, regardless of how much red ink they bled in day-to-day losses, but would instead put an end to the “inflationary spiral” directly liking ticket prices (which are determined by supply and demand) and player salaries.
It was, in other words, a very thoroughly-crafted load of shit.
The players, burdened by a myopic NHLPA leadership under Bob Goodenow, never stood a chance. They were millionaires trying to stare down billionaires – billionaires who regarded their teams as their toys – and in defeat, they gave the NHL the two actual victories they were seeking: the PA fired Goodenow (loathed by the owners with the intensity of 100,000 John Tortorellas) and allowed the league to more or less write a new CBA itself.
Yet somehow, the utter thrashing the players took in that labor pact is about to be held up by the owners as another instance of the players manipulating the system to their advantage. Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz has come out recently and tried to get people to believe his franchise still wasn’t making a profit despite more than 200 consecutive sellouts of Chicago’s home dates. If this is some type of Sacha Baron Cohen satire of sports owners, then bravo, Mr. Wirtz.
Proteau goes on, but here’s the thrust of his article:
Could it be that it’s actually the owners and their GMs who take each CBA and exploit whatever loopholes (such as the front-end loading of contracts) they can find? Why do the players have to keep financing bad business decisions like the money pit in the Arizona desert when it’s Bettman and the owners who are responsible for that strategy? If the owners can’t control themselves, handing out contracts such as the first one Ilya Kovalchuk tried to sign with New Jersey, why should the players have to pay? If we want to talk about how many cars and mansions Sidney Crosby has, why aren’t we including Ted Leonsis’ personal lifestyle in the discussion?
These are the questions that should have been asked more often in 2004 and I take full responsibility for my role in the NHL’s disinformation campaign at that time. But you can learn your lesson and I believe I’ve learned mine, which is why I believe this next labor clash won’t be about making ticket prices affordable for working class families or giving a team like the New York Islanders a better chance at winning. It will be about the ultimate goal of the last lockout: increasing franchise values. A recent Forbes NHL franchise value report pegged the average NHL team’s worth at an all-time high of $240 million, or 47 percent more than it was before the lockout. Another mission? Tightening the noose on athletes with a very limited earning window.
Most of all, I believe the idea you’re going to hear quite a bit in the months to come – namely, that if there’s another work stoppage, the NHL’s owners and players are equally greedy and as much at fault – is nothing short of false equivalence bunk. Sometimes, one side is setting a new standard for avarice. And I think we’re approaching those times.
Ding ding ding.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.