Friday, August 17, 2012

Glass Bangers, CBA Pre-Lockout edition


The mind wanders as we ramble through the nether-regions of the NHL's late-offseason.  At least Blue Jackets fans have CannonFest to talk about, seeing as the National Hockey League is giving us bupkus.

I mean, all that we have to talk about is the projections for the upcoming season (The Hockey News' season preview yearbook arrived this past week), and the question of the day vis a vis the CBJ appears to be whether or not the team can avoid landing in the NHL sub-basement again.  Forget the "Are they improved?" or "Can the CBJ return to the playoffs?" queries.  It's "Can they avoid being as bad as they were last season...which was really bad?"  Not exactly inspiring stuff and, as I'll discuss in my forthcoming Season Preview post, a rather silly discussion to have.

Wait, what's that? Commissioner Bettman finally fessed up that the NHL is planning to lock out the players if they do not get a new collective bargaining agreement by September 15th?  OK, now we have something substantial to talk about.


If anyone is legitimately shocked or surprised at the notion that the NHL owners had a hyper-aggressive bargaining position up their sleeves, go to the back of the room and stand in the corner.  Were you not paying attention?  I mean, seriously:
  1. The National Football League locked out their players for 18 weeks (pretty much all offseason) prior to the 2011-12 season while trying to extract a host of concessions from the players - not the least of which was an 18 percent, across-the-board salary cap cut.
  2. The National Basketball Association locked out their players for 161 days (essentially the second half of 2011) while trying to extract a host of concessions from the players - not the least of which was a 40 percent, across-the-board salary cap cut.
  3. Major League Soccer's 2010 collective bargaining agreement represented a compromise between the owners and players...but still doesn't allow for full-fledged free agency like we're used to seeing in every other major sport.
  4. Major League Baseball..oh yeah, they had Don Fehr running the union up until 2009 and couldn't pull these shenanigans.  But the NHL doesn't want to recognize this league.
Clearly (MLB excepted, as the owners have a more even-handed relationship with a reasonably strong players union than their fellow major sports leagues), the winds have shifted toward owners looking to consolidate their gains and reduce their personal exposure for losses.  I'm no labor history expert and don't see a precipitating incident that suggests why the owners would want to get hyper-aggressive right now.  I don't think that there was any new labor legislation in the last few years.  If anything, I'd guess that it's more the result of a new breed of owner emerging, one who has taken big money risks in a regulation-light environment and is used to getting their way as Lord of the Manor (see: Jones, Jerry).  A personality thing, I suppose, in these crazy times in which we live.

It's possible that NHL owners are the same way.  My guess is that they saw what the NFL and NBA owners got and - with no opposition from former NBA number two Gary Bettman - said, "If they can do it, why not us?"


As we have been reminded, this is not a Gary Bettman thing.  This is an owners thing...which, in Columbus, means John P. McConnell.

I'm not well versed on the McConnell family and Worthington Industries, so I did a little online research and found this:
  1. It looks like Worthington runs an open (non-union) shop.  They had a plant in Northwest Indiana affiliate with the United Steelworkers in 2006, but that same workforce booted the Steelworkers in 2008.  So McConnell appears to have inherited a non-union environment from his father.  
  2. Politically, a search of Federal Election Commission donations show that McConnell, like his father, is a solid Republican (which is a historically anti-union party) - but not crazily so.  He lacks any donation history vis a vis the more strident members of the right wing and only have a token donation here and there to the national party organizations.  If I had to characterize what I perceive McConnell's political donation approach to be, it's as a political investor.  The man is wealthy and makes donations to politicians that protect his wealth.  (Actually, his dad was more politically flamboyant - donation-wise - than he is thus far.)
Taking that as a baseline, I'd guess that John P. McConnell probably wouldn't mind locking the players out for a spell if that means he finally starts making some money on this Blue Jackets thing. It hasn't turned a profit since at least the last lockout, you know.

But then there's the catch.  (Isn't there always a catch?)  In this case, it's the NHL All-Star Game.

For whatever reason, Columbus and the Blue Jackets have been after the NHL All-Star Game like a pack of rabid wolves for years now.  They finally got the 2013 game after building a brand-new Hyatt high-rise, making lighting and scoreboard improvements to the arena and ramming through an arena deal that offloads the risk of owning the jewel of the Arena District onto the taxpayers.  (DIGRESSION: More and more, it seems like the awarding of the All-Star Game was a joke.  "We're gonna lock the players out anyway...and we can shut up those pesky Columbus people at the same time!")  Regardless, the All-Star Game is important to Columbus, and I can presume that it's important to McConnell as well because his Blue Jackets were pushing hard with the league to win the game.

What do we make of all this?  A profit-hungry owner who really, really wants the All-Star Game to go off without a hitch, that's what I say.  To that end, I'll guess that John P. McConnell will support a lockout until such point as it endangers the All-Star Game. 

(Of course, I'm not considering the possibility of McConnell siding with the NHLPA's "big market v. small market" CBA proposal.  I just don't see the NHL owners giving the union the time of day, not when their opening proposal was so hard on the players.)


Read it over at Dark Blue Jacket Plus.  I was genuinely hopeful at the time.  Then I saw Bettman's comments.


This time, it's the National Hockey League Fans Association.  Maybe others, I dunno.  

But I can almost guarantee you this: They will be as effective as every other such fan organization across the gamut of professional sports.  Which means not at all.

I'm not trying to be overly crass, but let's look at history.  The world of sports economics is organized on an owners-players axis.  Fans are to be assumed, not meaningfully involved.  Because we offer unconditional love.

If there's a strike or a lockout, that's OK...because the fans come back.  They always have.  In pretty much every sport.

If, for some odd reason, they don't come back in a given market, that's OK, too...because there are other cities that would love to host a major league sports franchise.  (And when the latest suitor gets its team - a la Winnipeg getting the Atlanta Thrashers - another suddenly viable market [in this case, Seattle] pops up.  There will always be "another" city.)

Fans exist to make owners and players wealthy while extracting some entertainment as part of the value proposition.  That's it.


While it's not in the recent American experience to interfere in labor disputes, that's not necessarily the case in other countries.  I don't know if it is or not in Canada, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives us no hope that he plans to intervene in an owners' lockout of the players:
"The one positive thing that a strike does is draw attention to other high-calibre hockey that is played in this country and around the world," Harper said Monday. "That all said, I don't think I have to tell you as a hockey fan, I certainly hope along with everybody else there will not be a strike or a lockout."
Harper mentioned university, junior and women's hockey as alternatives to the NHL.
Can we return to that question when your countrymen have been without the top level of their national sport for a couple months, Mr. Prime Minister?


Presuming yet another lockout is on the horizon - the second one in ten years - I don't understand why the NHLPA doesn't give up on the owners and create a player-owned league.  (For what I mean by this, check out this link.  Ohio has been rather progressive in promoting employee ownership programs over the years.)

Forget this NHLPA-KHL barnstorming stuff...just say, "Thanks for everything" to the NHL.  The owners may own the historic (well, not that historic in Columbus' case) logos and marks, but the players largely are what the fans come to see.  So why not cut the owners out of the picture?


Familial circumstances dictated that I picked all but 2 of my 11-game quarter season ticket package for games after the All-Star Game.  That means I have two NHL-lucrative firewalls - the Winter Classic and the All-Star Game - before the meat of my live entertainment kicks in.

I'm not saying that I'm optimistic that we're going to get any NHL hockey this season...but I don't think that there's a safer selection of games than what I got.  (And not because I really wanted to at the time...)


What exactly is the Blue Jackets' policy regarding refunding tickets for locked-out games? Does anyone have any experience from the last lockout?


  1. They put your money towards next season's tix.

  2. I never went back to baseball, after the third strike (in my lifetime). Oldest rule in the game: three strikes and you're out.
    My patience has worn thin over the years, especially when it comes to highly paid athletes and spoiled, pampered, privileged owners.

    It's nothing business, it's just personal.

  3. They gave you the option of a refund or letting the money ride. When the season was finally toast, then they gave the option for a refund or putting the money to next year.

    To their credit there was an incentive if you left your money with the org. I believe it was a straight up interest earning deal, but I can't honestly remember. Brought Child #1 home from the hospital the day after the last game before the lockout, so it was good timing for a lost season for me.

    -The CBJ also stopped billing those who were paying their season tickets on monthly plans when the season was officially delayed.

  4. I've talked to the Jackets about what would happen to ticket holders in the event of a 2012-2013 lockout. There is no (public) policy in place, but they've stressed that they don't think there will be a lockout (really?) and that they will try to do what's best for the fans, even on a case by case basis if necessary. Heck, they have to sell tickets with the lockout looming, so they can't very well not address our concerns. Still waiting on tickets though, but I will have to bite the bullet before single game tickets get released, doubt there will be any resolution by then.

  5. Have given up as a serious fan of this league and franchise. Have held full season tickets since the start. I did not renew this year. Might go to a game or two if they play at all this year. Looks doubtful to me.


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