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|
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.