By Ken Reed
The NHL work stoppage continues — and unlike the NFL labor dispute that seemed to be non-stop news — nobody cares.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his league’s owners are in deep trouble. Hockey is a fringe sport in the United States and the fact the NHL is poorly run makes things worse. NHL TV ratings historically have hovered around those of bowling. Several sports economists believe it’s a dying league. A lost season would be disastrous for the NHL, as the sports world, including the media, would discover that they simply don’t miss big league hockey.
NHL owners claim that more than half their franchises are losing money. Who knows what the truth is. We do know that in 2004-05, the owners won the work stoppage battle with the players. Owners got the salary cap to control player salaries they were after, along with a larger percentage of hockey revenue. Their goal is to reduce the players’ share of revenue even more this time.
Owners incessantly talk about their financial concerns but as Paul Brownfield wrote in a recent New York Times essay, nobody talks about the league’s concussion problem.
“For all the NHL’s discussion of economic viability and cost certainty, it’s worth noting that neither the players nor the owners are saying much of anything about the biggest threat to the league’s stability: concussions,” wrote Brownfield.
Even if this work stoppage ends in time to play games this season, the NHL brass must make protecting their players’ brains priority one from this point forward, or the league will become increasingly marginalized.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint