The National Hockey League, eight years removed from a lockout that devastated its revenues, was finally healthy again. But after another dispute over how to split revenues and the owners’ lockout of players ensued, the league has canceled the first two weeks of its season, including all four of Tuesday’s opening night games and 78 others.
More cancellations could be ahead, as both players and owners indicated in statements that a deal over how to split the league’s $3 billion in revenues probably isn’t close. According to Players Association head Donald Fehr’s statement, the players were willing to take the ice while a new collective bargaining agreement was being negotiated, but ownership decided to lock them out anyway:
“The decision to cancel the first two weeks of the NHL season is the unilateral choice of the NHL owners. If the owners truly cared about the game and the fans, they would lift the lockout and allow the season to begin on time while negotiations continue. A lockout should be the last resort in bargaining, not the strategy of first resort.
For nearly 20 years, the owners have elected to lock-out the players in an effort to secure massive concessions. Nevertheless, the players remain committed to playing hockey while the parties work to reach a deal that is fair for both sides. We hope we will soon have a willing negotiating partner.”
The primary issue in the lockout is almost identical to the one in last year’s NBA lockout. Under the last collective bargaining agreement, NHL players received 57 percent of the league’s $3 billion in revenue; NHL owners want to lower that to less than 50 percent (their preferred number is 47 percent). Under their previous CBA, NBA players also received 57 percent of their league’s $3 billion in revenues. NBA owners wanted to lower that share to 47 percent before the two sides settled on a 50-50 split.
The NHL’s owners don’t need this lockout. The league is as healthy as it has been since the 1990s, its championship series back on national television, its revenues are rising, and its big markets are competitive, strong, and making money. Another labor dispute only risks putting the league back to where it was in 2004, and for little reason.
But here’s the thing: successful lockouts breed more lockouts. NBA owners were in a similar situation (just 12 years removed from a devastating lockout), and they won. The league suffered little backlash from the media or fans for the second lockout go-round. NFL owners locked out their players last year and won. By the time the season started, fans were just happy to have the games back. The NFL tried again this year with its officials, and again they won. Now, it’s the NHL’s turn. And when corporations lock out workers and win, other corporations use the same tactics to make their own situations better. It’s why the number of lockouts is rising so quickly.
These are not isolated incidents, and that’s what makes the disputes so important not just for the players involved, but for all workers who could one day be subject to a corporation or business that has a lockout in its arsenal.