The Malik Report
by George Malik on 09/01/12 at 01:19 AM ET
With two full days' worth of Red Wings catching-up to do for this blog and two days' worth of CBA rhetoric to catch up on for the job that's probably going to become my main occupation when the Red Wings go on "hiatus," and none of that work getting done tonight...
I'm going to try to put this in a way that won't cost me my job.
I am, first and foremost, a fan of the Detroit Red Wings and their players. Even though I'm strongly supporting the NHLPA in this labor dispute, as I did in 2004 and as I did in 1994, I think it's pretty bloody important for most every NHL and NHLPA member to understand the point of view that the backbone of their $3.3 billion industry generally comes from:
We tend to want both players, owners and everyone in between to make money. As supporters of a professional sports league, we want everyone from the concessions worker serving us overpriced hot dogs at the Joe to Henrik Zetterberg, Ken Holland and Mike and Marian Ilitch--and everyone in between--to earn their living, regardless of how proportionate or disproportionate it is to the rest of society, based upon the cutting up of the bucks of discretionary income we willingly hand over to you.
This is generally true for most fans. We want our players to make money, we want our teams to make money, shit, we want Gary Bettman to get paid his $8 million to be an asshat and ensure that every four months, the NHL sends out press releases stating that business online, business in terms of retail sales, business in terms of sponsorships and business in terms of ticket sales have never been better, and that records are being set left and right with the money we're willing to pay to follow a sport that serves as community, coping mechanism, vicarious living experience, passion, joy, pastime, identity and sometimes borderline religion for so many people all around the world.
And yet we find ourselves being told by the ownership that the collective bargaining agreement the league literally wrote for itself--with NHLPA sycophant and Benedict Arnold Ted Saskin nodding along as he and Bill Daly wrote it, while Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow were absent from the room in 2004 and 2005--the collective bargaining agreement which ensures that players make no more than 57-and-change cents on our dollars, the CBA worth burning down the village to save it from itself only eight short years ago, which made amends for the CBA the owners burnt the village down for half a season to save it from itself eighteen years ago (there has been no strike under Bettman's reign: the players struck under John Ziegler's tenure as commissioner, in 1992, to get a bigger share of the then-blossoming trading card industry's appearance fee cut)...
Being told by Gary Bettman, the elected representative for the NHL's 30 owners via the Board of Governors, that this CBA is somehow untenable, and that it may in fact be necessary to turn players, fans and game-night employees away for a fourth time to burn the village down in order to save it yet again.
Well, if you believe Bettman's bluster over the last month or so, because the players don't get it.
Which sounds far too similar to the kind of logic being employed by far too many powerful men in political positions to suggest that all sorts of things can be excused because the people who hold the cards possess some sort of innate sense of context that no one else can hope to attain.
It is the players, the owners' representative says, who are holding the game and its fans hostage, the players who are "stonewalling," who are grandstanding, the players who the owners' representative told us have salaries directly tied to an "inflationary spiral" surrounding ticket prices--which turned out to be a big, fat, cunningly-crafted lie about the dynamics of supply and demand, a.k.a. "We charge as much for tickets as we can get away with, irrespective of how much we pay the 'talent' we charge you to see play on our stages"--the players who are going to be responsible for a third lockout under Gary Bettman's reign as the Board of Governors' unquestioned, unchallenged representative of their best interests...
Because, if we are to believe the owners, the current system, the system they authored, is untenable.
Why? In reality? Why, as Ed Snider sneers at Donald Fehr and the players after tossing $110 million at Shea Weber, why, as Craig Leipold cries poor after spending $196 million on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, why, as Jim Rutherford sits at the negotiating table one minute and pays Alex Semin $7 million the next, and why, as the man who serves as the Detroit Red Wings' governor approves the Wings' star-studded envoy dispatched to Suter's farm with one comment, and offers Howard Berger, "Very easy to cancel, very easy, believe me!" regarding shutting his paying fans out of a season that should include an asterisk on the Winter Classic* logo to indicate "*if necessary" with his next public comment?
Because the owners don't want to share, and because the owners believe that a rollback of between 19 to 24% in salaries and further restrictions on entry-level deals and restricted and unrestricted free agency, i.e. player mobility, will make amends for a business whose 30-team plan ain't workin' quite right.
Because that kind of give-back from the players will buy the owners temporary stability until Bettman, who idolizes the NFL and NBA's business plans--and who was probably all but inevitably likely to lock the players out one NFL and NBA fans accepted lockouts as a collective bargaining casualty of course--can somehow sell the league to a number of TV and online broadcast partners who can subsidize enough of the league's payrolls that revenue-sharing will be irrelevant.
And what do the players get in exchange for their "bailout" and the restrictions on their mobility?
Other than the opportunity to play a full 2012-2013 season?
A guarantee that the owners will be back five-to-eight years from now, insisting that a $4.5 billion industry which pays its players 40-some cents on the dollar can no longer continue under its present business model, which just happens to include an ineffectual revenue-sharing plan carried over from the 2004-2005 CBA.
A rollback in salaries isn't going to keep Phoenix from hemorrhaging money. A rollback in salaries isn't going to make the Florida Panthers any more profitable.
And a rollback in salaries, over time, is going to do jack and shit for the Nashville Predators and Buffalo Sabres, because any league-enforced"payroll range" determined by an averaging of league-wide revenues, and especially any payroll range with a particularly thin "range" between "floor" and "ceiling," will be driven upward--in an inflationary spiral--by the league's most profitable franchises, especially in a league whose ticket prices have little to no relationship with player payrolls.
If the Red Wings, Maple Leafs, Rangers, Bruins and Flyers don't want to share any more of their hard-earned bucks with the Phoenixes or Floridas of the world now, and if the fundamental shift in economics which the last CBA ushered in isn't doing the job of keeping the have-nots afloat, what amounts to a gigantic band-aid applied to an innately flawed 30-team model will not salve nor solve the 30-team model's fundamental problems over the long haul.
With that in mind, can you blame the players for not lining up with their wallets open, regardless of whether their give-backs are being directly demanded or are tweaked and twisted through escrow withholdings that won't be returned (my imaginary statement made by Jeremy Jacobs when the NHL offered its second CBA proposal: "I bet none of these kids knows how to use a slide-rule!") and will instead allow owners to play twister with the tax man.
"You're asking us to bail you out. Why?"
"Because the business model is flawed."
"So why don't you address the fundamental problems plaguing your ineffectual revenue-sharing model?"
"How about since we gave back 24% of our salaries last time, we give back a couple hundred million for a couple of years, you address the revenue-sharing issue, and then we see where that gets us?"
"Bu that's not like the NFL or NBA! Stonewalling! Lockout! Lockout! You asked for it! And you have cooties!"
"We still don't see the point in giving back a big chunk of our salaries or surrendering mobility if you're offering us nothing in return, other than the promise that you're gonna do this all over again."
"Okay, we'll get Bettman out to the microphones, he'll sigh wistfully and say, I wish I had good news...That gets those suckers every time! And you can go play in post-Soviet Russia!"
"Let me guess, 'You take all the risk'..."
"Right, and look at how much Marc Savard earns to sit at home!"
"Functionally disabled by a career-ending injury, likely dealing with cognitive impairments that he'll struggle with for the rest of his life, yes, what a sucker he's made of you."
Look, I'm not about to suggest that the players are "good guys" and that the league's made up of "bad guys." When millionaires and billionaires are arguing over how to spend $3.3 billion dollars, there are only varying degrees of culpability when the fans and the people who depend on those 41 home games' worth of work, whether it's at the rink, at the local restaurant or at the shop selling Red Wings jerseys who are the ones getting really screwed.
But there is one side whose collective bargaining strategy can even make sense to the "working man," and then there are the owners and Chairman Mao himself, who make it look like they've spent the last six months practicing negotiating tactics with boardrooms full of MacFarlane Sports figures, Rally Al's and stuffed player dolls.
What the *#$%@& do you expect anyone to say when their employer's only rationale behind, "We can't be paying them so much money" is the ownership group's greed, the ownership group's short-sightedness, and the ownership group's belief that it can break a union whose leadership group no longer consists of a bulldog who refused to keep his players informed and some lieutenants who got out while the gettin' was good, but instead, a union whose members are active, involved with and kept aware of collective bargaining discussions, and a union whose membership agree that being asked to hand over their wallets via a prostate exam for no tangible benfit doesn't sound like a good deal?
Bettman and the NHL's Board of Governors aren't just being arrogant--they're acting like spoiled schoolyard bullies, not business titans, and given the purple nature of Bettman's prosaic whimpering to the media, they're acting like the belles of the ball are turning down their invitations to go to the prom, not players agreeing to a colonoscopy in search of hidden twenty dollar bills.
And those of us who have been here before as fans--some of us twice--and have come back because we still love to follow, and spend money on, the players and teams that we love so much, are asking whether there might be other places to spend those $3.3 billion of discretionary income, especially given that this lockout-as-a-matter-of-course business, never mind the NHL's method of collective bargaining negotiations under Bettman's guidance (and the Board of Governors' seemingly unwaivering support thereof) all but ensure that we will be talking about lockouts #4 and #5 in our lifetime?
Both sides may be acting stupidly and brashly in taking their fans' loyalties, passions and money for granted, but at least one side has admitted that they're wary of tempting common and corporate hands alike that feed them. The other insists that "the world's greatest fans" allow them to justify any course of action.
Somebody's certainly "asking" for ridicule, and it's Bettman and each and every one of the ownership groups whose Board of Governors representatives will doubtlessly agree to lock out the players they're going to welcome into their rinks over the next week come September 15th.
Now I'm going to bed, as I usually do these days, angry and astonished at the levels of stupidity being displayed by the people I've elected, the people I'm going to vote for, the people I'm not going to vote for and the people whose sports league I spend the vast majority of my time following and supporting as it's my job, my passion, my livelihood, my community of fellow fans, and in the case of this mentally ill but very sane person, my coping mechanism (speaking of which, Gary, there are a wide variety of mood stabilizers and antipsychotics that could make you a happier, more functional person...I can recommend some good psychiatrists...).
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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.