Friday, May 06, 2005

Hockey musings on a Friday

The National Hockey League wakes up this Friday morning having established a dubious distinction. Welcome to Day 233 of the NHL Lockout, welcome to Gary Bettman’s and Bob Goodenow’s living nightmare, welcome to the longest labor dispute in sports history. Major League Baseball and the NHL shared that record Thursday, the NHL finally having reached MLB’s Day of infamy that baseball reached during their 1994-1995 lockout.
And how did Mr. Bettman and Mr. Goodenow mark this special occasion? By meeting for three hours in Toronto. The two sides met for three hours and ‘agreed’ to meet five more times, including Friday morning (likely serving champagne and orange juice in celebrating their record for ineptitude).
The National Hockey League believes they need a 90 day window once they reach a new collective bargaining agreement with the Players Association to get everything they need in place to re-launch their product. Gary Betttman and Company believes as long as they reach an agreement by July 1 they’ll be able to start their season in early October. The 90 day time frame the league believes represents enough time to sell their season tickets, their local (and one would assume national) sponsorship packages, and their local and national radio and television packages. Ninety days may seem like a long time, but 3 months may not begin to undo the damage that has been done to the sport from an economic and marketing perspective.
While Gary and Bob continue to meet, there are those who continue to believe Bob and Gary will never reach a new agreement. The issue has been raised months ago in the pages of SBN, if Gary and Bob managed to destroy an entire professional hockey season, just what makes anyone believe these two gentlemen are capable of putting aside their differences for the good of the game.
The players seem to now sense they hold an advantage over the owners, believing the owners will (are) desperate enough to agree to any terms they put forward. At the same time, the players just don’t seem to understand if the owners cancelled an entire season the owners are ready to take this as far as they have too. The players may believe that since the owners have at least for the time being shelved their plans for using replacement players the owners are growing more desperate for their services. All that’s really taken place on the part of ownership; a realization that using replacement players would do more harm then good. If the players believe there has been a philosophical shift among ownership away from an owner friendly CBA, the players just don’t get it.
On this historic day in sports history there is a growing sentiment from the players’ side that it may be time to replace Bettman and Goodenow. It’s a safe bet the players were never interested in what Gary Bettman was selling, but players speaking out against Bob Goodenow is an entirely different matter. Tie Domi spoke to The New York Times Joe Lapointe this week: "If these guys don't get a deal done, there's going to have to be new faces in there," Domi said, referring to Commissioner Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow, the executive director of the union. "There's a lot of ego, and they don't want to put their pride aside. The fight is over. These two guys have got to get a deal done. They'd better, or they won't be around too long."
Wednesday appearing on TSN’s Off the Record, Flyers forward Jeremy Roenick agreed with Domi views regarding both Goodenow and Bettman, suggesting the pair either get the job done or get out of the way. The movement may be small right now towards replacing hockey’s Alfonse and Gaston (add NHL HOF member and hockey agent Bobby Orr to the group) but it is growing.
Just when you believe you may have seen it all with hockey along comes the World Hockey Championship, the only real hockey event since last September’s World Cup. The event is being held in Austria. The event is being televised in a number of counties including Canada. Is there any live American television coverage, no. ESPN reportedly said they had no time available (the games are all being played during the morning or afternoon North American times). Fox Sports Net expressed interest but told the International Ice Hockey Federation they weren’t interested after being offered a package that included all of the tournaments games at a price the network was not prepared to pay.
You have to wonder just what is the IIHF thinking when they turn their backs on an American sports cable network? Hockey needs as much exposure as it can get. Hockey needed to do whatever they it needed to do to get the World Championships on American television. René Fassell the President of the IIHF one would like to believe would like to see hockey’s best at next year’s Olympic Games. What better leverage to have in trying to convince Gary Bettman and the NHL that it is in their best interests that NHL’s appear at the Olympics then by having valued exposure.
The IIHF won’t be the first and certainly won’t be the last international sports federation to have an over inflated view of their product. Clearly the World Hockey Championships represent value in certain television markets; the United States isn’t one of those markets. It is however the market that controls much of the corporate world and when all is said and done will likely determine whether or not NHL’ers will continue to compete in the Olympic Games. If the IIHF doesn’t understand whose stirring the pot, maybe it better find a new chef.
For this is Howard Bloom