More to the point, contraction might not be necessary if NHL owners would only grow up. The problem in hockey, as ESPN The Magazine‘s Peter Keating recently explained, is that NHL owners don’t share enough of their own money with each other. And share they must, because the nature of the NHL’s “popularity” in the U.S.—intense interest among small pockets of local fans, consistent disinterest otherwise—translates into paltry national TV contracts. As a result, Keating writes, NHL teams “share a far tinier proportion of their revenues than teams in other sports do, because NHL clubs rely much more on local media deals for money than on national TV contracts.” So big-market teams, with lots of local TV money, spend more on player salaries, forcing small-market owners to choose between paying their players more than they can afford or putting a subpar product on the ice. Either choice has unpleasant financial consequences.
This has long been a problem, of course, for all major sport leagues. But we’ve known for a while that the way mature owners and strong commissioners have to deal with this imbalance is to share revenues between teams. Practically, this allows all teams to be competitive, ensuring a consistent and popular product. Philosophically, this recognizes the we’re-all-in-this-together aspect of professional sports leagues, one of the more curious economic constructs in history. It’s not a coincidence that the most successful North American sports league also has the most rational approach to revenue sharing. Some 60% of the NFL’s $11 billion revenue pie is shared, which is why tiny Green Bay, Wisconsin can compete with big bad New York or Chicago. The other two Big Three leagues aren’t quite as egalitarian but have improved their models in recent years: MLB teams share nearly a third of local TV revenue, while NBA teams reportedly approach a 50% total revenue share (give or take a few complex calculations).
The NHL, meanwhile, has been sharing 4.5% of its $3.3 billion revenue (with not much more on the table in current talks.)
So greed is the issue, alright: owners’ greed, specifically owners in larger markets who refuse to recognize that sports leagues are in many ways socialist enterprises, in which the needs of the many fat cats should outweigh the few obese cats. At least if the obese cats want to keep purring.
“You’ve always been proud to say you’re an NHL player, to tell people that you play for the NHL. I play in the NHL,” Doan said. “I think now it’s getting to the point where you’re losing some of that pride because it’s been tarnished so much. You care so much about the sport you want it to be doing well. Obviously we have to find a way to get this going.”
The NHL and its players have no more than 10 days left to save a 48-game season, a league executive said in the wake of the owners' latest offer.
The executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's gag order on management, said the commissioner made it clear in the last two weeks to both the union and the 30 NHL teams the last possible date to start a shortened season is January 19. This would allow for a 48-game season, the shortest schedule Bettman says the owners would allow, plus playoffs that would conclude in late June.
In that case, the executive said, the players and owners need to reach a new agreement by Jan. 5 or 6. That would leave one week to complete enough of the legal paperwork for the lockout to end, another week for training camp and the season would start on Saturday, Jan. 19.