Thursday, June 28, 2012

PR lessons Goodenow never learned

With NHL CBA talks about to begin between the NHL and the NHLPA, new union head Don Fehr has already proven to have more PR moxy than former head Bon Goodenow. Millionaire players rarely have the public on their side in these types of negotiations. Its one of the few times where the much wealthier owners actually have the fans on their side. Players often come across as petulant, greedy and out of touch with the average wage earning fan. That is a PR hurdle the NHLPA in its modern incarnation has never been able to scale.

New boss Don Fehr has already started laying some very subtle PR land mines for the owners to step on. Rejecting the leagues plan to restructure the divisions and revamp the schedule. The NHLPA claims it wasn’t properly consulted. Odd since the former union boss Paul Kelly said publicly that the plan the league came out with was almost exactly the plan the players wanted and asked the league for during his tenure.

Fehr claiming the league could easily start on time without a new CBA but simply operate under the old system until a new deal is reached thus guaranteeing fans their hockey fix. Smart play since if a lockout did occur in October the NHLPA could claim the owners are the villains who shutdown the game and not the benevolent players who offered to endure under the old system which pays them 57% of league revenues.  The projected floor for the cap this coming season is 54.2 million.  As many as 10 teams will lose millions just getting to the floor of the cap.

Fehr is very smart to have over 30 active players on the negotiating team. That will go a long way in alleviating player fears of the past, that a small pack of insiders within their group controlled everyone’s fate while having their own personal and secret agendas. Players are wise of to be skeptical of their own leaders since the NHLPA is 100% perfect in having both corruption and/or controversy at the top. Since the onset of the NHLPA, every single executive director has departed amid controversy. Some went to jail, some dismissed for contravention of internal bylaws and procedures and others simply because there was a rift amongst members because of the actions of the executive director.

In this CBA negotiation the players have some great points. They made major concessions in the last CBA and the owners inability to control themselves has again put many franchises in financial trouble. The lack of true revenue sharing means that despite a business model which has seen revenues grow from roughly 2.1 billion seven years ago, to the estimated 3.3 billion per year now, we still see too many franchises in financial trouble. The players can rightly point out that revenue generation is not the problem but rather the leagues wealthier teams unwilling to truly share the profits with the weaker teams.

What does not work in the players favor is comparables. In arbitration, free agency and almost every facet of NHL life, comparables are used to decide everything. Yet players will try to deny they compare to football or basketball. Players in both those sports receive roughly 50% of the leagues revenues in sports which generate far higher total revenues than the NHL does. It is still difficult to convince any working person that an employee deserves to make more than his employer who has to take all the risks and provide the entire infrastructure for the athletes to perform their magic.

What has been proven true in almost every sports labor dispute in the last 25 years will ultimately occur here too. The only question is how much will the players lose and the fans suffer to get to that reality. In the NHL up to half of the teams owners will lose less if there are no games than they would if there are games. Until the owners are facing true financial hardship across the board, why would they stop until they get the deal they want?

Sadly my guess is there will be another NHL lockout in October and my guess is the player (just like last time) will end up agreeing to something extremely close to what they were offered at the beginning of the process. We will again all be left wondering why the game had to stop and the players will be left wondering how they will ever recoup the money and (for some) the careers they lost.

See you at the rink.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Nobody wants the Russians.

With the NHL entry draft just hours away,  the biggest question is, will Russian Nail Yakupov be taken first overall?  The real question is, how many Russian players will even be chosen.  The rarely spoken about drought of Russian born players is not accidental.  Many NHL teams simply don't want the headaches which often come with having Russian players on their team or in their system.

Each season roughly a thousand players dress for at least one NHL game.  Last season 22 Russian skaters and 5 Russian goalies played regularly in the NHL (more than 10 NHL games).  Even if you add all the former Russian satellite countries which are now independent (Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Latvia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine ) the number isn't much higher.  Just 30 skaters and 5 goalies.

The old line thinking that Russian players just don't care enough is both untrue and unfair.  There are just as many or more floaters from other countries.  The KHL does however play a major part.  If a player from Russia is not going to be a highly paid star here why would he stay?  For example why would a player offered six hundred thousand dollars to play in the NHL stay when he can make two million tax free in the KHL.  It means often their allegiance to their NHL team isn't as strong as their desire to make as much money as they can during the short working life of a pro hockey player.

For most North American born players, playing in the KHL is their last choice.  For most Russian players its their 2nd choice and becomes their 1rst choice if they don't get the kind of money they want and/or a guarantee they will play in the NHL and not the AHL.

With this very real possibility of losing a drafted player to the KHL, many NHL teams are choosing to simply not draft many Russian players and avoid the possible soap opera.

Pro hockey is a business and what we here in North American simply can't get over is the thought that a player would choose money over a chance to have an NHL career.  Many Russian players can't understand why anyone wouldn't go where the pay is the highest. 

Its a difference in perspective which is not going to change and as long as the KHL exists, this situation won't change.  That means we are likely to see fewer Russians in the NHL in the future and not more of them.

See you at the rink.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The good and the bad of the LA Cup win

Congratulations to the LA Kings for their Stanley Cup win.  An 8th seed winning the Cup gives every playoff team in the future the example they need to realize its anyones championship to win if you get in.  There is such a small difference now between the best teams and the teams which just barely make the playoffs.  It also shows you how close this league is and how close it will continue to be.  Montreal was last in the East and missed the playoffs by 14 points.  That amounts to just 1 win in each month of the regular season.  That's the tiny difference between making it and finishing last.

Now the bad.  I fear that the Kings will now suffer through exactly what Tampa did when they won the cup.  If you remember back, the Lightning won the cup and hoped to ride their success to a repeat the following year.  They had hoped to capitalize on the excitement in their market to sell more season tickets and sponsorships.  Tampa never got the bang they were hoping for because the following year the NHL locked out the players and the entire season was lost.

The LA Kings may well end up in the same boat.  Their first Cup win in 44 years and they may not get the bang they deserve.  No ability to carry over the buzz on the LA sports scene.  No ability to convert the excitement into seat and sponsorship sales for next season if the NHL and the NHLPA again go to war over the CBA.  That agreement expires in September and many are predicting a long delay to the start of the season or possibly the cancellation of another season.  Either would kill the Kings chance to take full advantage of their Cup Victory.

Congratulations to the Kings and I hope to you get all the rewards a franchise is supposed to receive from winning the Cup.

See you at the rink.