Saturday, September 1, 2012

John P. McConnell should vote NO on locking out the players

Readers of this blog know that I'm not overly optimistic about the National Hockey League owners and the National Hockey League Players Association coming to an amicable resolution of their current labor negotiation before the September 15th lockout deadline threatened by the owners.  Because splitting up the pie after accumulating year after year of record-setting revenues is hard.  Hard like when this guy says, "It's hard."

Things were muddling along up until yesterday.  The owners proposed to whack the current salary structure off at the knees.  The players countered by giving the owners a smaller bat, but with the caveat that the filthy rich teams would have to use some of that player pain to prop up the poorer teams.  The owners came back by switching from their original wooden bat to an aluminum one.  The players supposedly responded with another counter that the owners again dismissed.

And the talks stopped.  Cold.  We're now two weeks away from a lockout with less hope for an agreement than ever.

A lockout, in my opinion, would hurt the Columbus Blue Jackets as badly as any other team in the National Hockey League.  Remember, this is a team that hasn't made a profit since 2003.  Season ticket sales are down five percent beyond last season's 7,000+.  Anecdotally, Columbus' NHL momentum of the pre-2004 lockout was largely lost when the Blue Jackets came back...and that was with a much bigger season ticket holder base (not to mention one probably more patient than now).

Then there's the All-Star Game.  Columbus threw the full-court press on to get the game, as evidenced by the size of the celebration at winning it:

Don't forget the nearly $6 million commitment by the Blue Jackets (again, remember that this team is not making money) to remove their old scoreboard and replace it with a state-of-the-art monstrosity:

Graphic from The Columbus Dispatch
And anyone who drives by or through downtown Columbus can't miss the still under-construction, $140 million, 532-room Hilton that probably would have been built someday...but whose completion in time for the late-January NHL All-Star Game cannot be coincidental.

Then we hear that it could take as little as a month of cancelled regular season games for the National Hockey League to cancel the 2013 All-Star Game.

So let's get this straight: A weakened Columbus fan infrastructure, one probably that hasn't rebounded fully from the last lockout, is expected to put up with another lockout.  Then throw in the possibility of a cancelled All-Star Game, a dismissive slap at Columbus' extraordinary investments and a blow to the city's pride.

Tell me that would go over well in Ohio's capital city.  Just try.

The NHLPA's Don Fehr says that he's not opposed to continuing to play the 2012-13 NHL season while negotiations continue.  The NHL's Gary Bettman is the one proclaiming a lockout will come on September 15.  Bettman only speaks at the behest of his owners.  Thus, it falls to the owners to save this season.

The clubs should open training camp on time.  They should play their exhibition season and regular season as scheduled. The league also should keep negotiating with the union all the way through.  (And, eventually, they should figure out a way where both players and owners get richer while the fans keep paying more.  I'm realistic - the fans just won't win.)  Taking this approach is best for the sport of hockey and, more importantly, critical for Columbus and the Columbus Blue Jackets.  I believe that John P. McConnell should be the man leading that charge.

John P. McConnell should vote NO when the final vote to lock out the players comes.  He also should personally take an aggressive stance with his fellow owners to keep the season going while negotiations continue.  

I appreciate that the NHL has a $1 million-per-utterance fine threat forcing the owners to keep their mouths shut.  Thus, I don't expect McConnell to do the politically smart thing and go public with such a stance.

Still, doing so protects his investments and those of his monied peers in Central Ohio.  It demonstrates to the fans that he's willing to keep the hockey entertainment flowing...keeping the Arena District humming along, keeping his Blue Jackets staff gainfully employed and keeping NHL hockey alive in Columbus.

Hyperbole on my part?  Perhaps, but I'm not thinking so.  More and more, it's feeling like more than a lost season is in the balance in Central Ohio.

A DBJ hat tip to Morgan Ward for planting the seed of this post with his very entertaining piece about the lockout...and a few other things.  But for the purposes of this piece, here's the money quote:
Even if every other owner in the NHL was going to vote for a lockout, I was going to vote against it.  I had to do something SINCERE to the folks who stood by me and helped bail out this money losing team.  I would vote “no” to lock out the players.  I had no real credibility with the owners or governors any way.  I felt good knowing that if I was owner of the Columbus Blue Jackets, I would do the right thing.  Even if it had no impact on the lockout, the fans, investors, and county knew I was grateful.
Well said.


  1. Normally I would expect that the owners' decisions would be unanimous, but I think that the circumstances in Columbus make it possible that McConnell may vote no.

    The big reason I could see potential dissent is revenue sharing. The owners are rejecting NHLPA's proposal of spreading the wealth to all NHL teams, but the CBJ would clearly benefit from getting a split of additional revenue from more successful teams in larger cities. In fact, I bet many other owners, such as those from Winnipeg, Dallas, Carolina, Anaheim, and Florida, would also vote in favor of revenue sharing.

    I keep hearing that the players need hockey more than the owners, but the owners' demands seem less reasonable. I wouldn't be surprised if they crack first. Either way, I just hope it's resolved soon.

  2. Chad, you have excellent points but kindly allow me to reiterate mine.

    For the purposes of this post, things like revenue sharing are extraneous. The question at hand is, "Will the owners lock out the players on September 15, or will they let the season continue while they continue negotiating with the players?"

    McConnell should vote for the latter (for the benefit of the Blue Jackets and the investments made by both the public and private sector in Central Ohio) and encourage his fellow owners to do the same. The final agreement is largely irrelevant.

  3. Thanks for keeping up on the Jackets...somehow they are still my favorite NHL team...I abandoned the NFL after they moved the Browns to Baltimore; if the NHL locks out the players this year, I might just give up on that league, too - switch to the AHL / OHL and spend my money there. Or the KHL just to spite the owners. Go Locomotiv!

    The Jackets haven't made a profit since 2003? (I think you might have a bad link?) I always doubt claims that owners don't turn a profit - don't they get virtually free venues to play in? And don't most owners realize their biggest windfalls from the sale of the team?