Tuesday, November 30, 2004

 

Stop us before we spend again

I should point out that I am usually in favor of the players in any dispute between athletes and team owners. In the case of the NHL lockout, I can understand the owners wanting and perhaps even needing to lower player salaries, which are much higher than the sport's revenues can sustain. But read this:
Bettman stands firm

Says luxury tax won't work


EDMONTON (CP) - NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has reiterated the league's position that it won't consider the players' proposed luxury tax.

"They claim that will fix our problems, I'm here to tell you today ... that a luxury tax will not work and it will create a potential for future disaster in the NHL," Bettman told a packed Edmonton Chamber of Commerce breakfast Tuesday.

The NHL and NHLPA haven't had a formal collective bargaining session since Sept. 9 in Toronto when the league officially rejected the union's luxury tax-based proposal.

The league has said it doesn't believe in a luxury tax because it's not predictable and doesn't guarantee what it calls cost certainty. Some teams will continue to overspend and pay the tax, the league believes.
So, in other words, the owners are incapable of showing any restraint, therefore it's up to the players to do it for them?

In which case, how would you - how could you - enforce a salary cap? If an owner wants to cheat, he's going to cheat.

I love ice hockey, but it is not really a "major sport," as sportswriters and broadcasters use the term. It's certainly not up there with the NFL, MLB, or even NBA in terms of television ratings. (ESPN has been running a lot of celebrity and other poker during the lockout - apparently to higher viewing figures than its NHL games got last year.) The NHL is a major sport by courtesy, since it is fairly prominent in a few of the bigger cities with lots of media, but it simply does not resonate with the country as a whole. This is not a criticism of the sport itself, which, I mentioned, I love (even though the lockout means the Rangers are having their best season in years).

The NHL has been paying its stars like they have NFL-size revenues, which is a recipe for disaster. As I said, I usually take the players' side; in this case, I can't really be sure. Forbes Magazine recently reported that the NHL owners have not lost anywhere near as much money as they've claimed, which the owners (naturally) dispute; who knows what the truth is? That said, salary caps only work when both sides trust each other, which is not exactly the case here. Especially when Bettman has as much as said that he can't trust his own owners! Why should the players trust them, then?

As an NHL fan, I'd love to see them work out a settlement so we could have game on. I fear that the longer the lockout lasts, the less likely it is the 2004-05 season will take place. Worse, if and when the league does come back, it may have fallen off too many sports fans' radar. For awhile in the early to mid 1990s, the NHL appeared to be poised to challenge the NBA as the third major team sport in the USA. They can only dream of those days now. At this point, they're fighting for their survival. It's time for both sides to figure this out and deal.
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