RANT: Hey, NHL – Get On With It and Conquer the World

I miss my NHL fix.  I really, really miss it.  I am also pretty pissed off about the current state of affairs, by which I mean the utter failure of two parties to find a mutually-beneficial solution to their disparate issues.  Yet another example of the uncompromisingly dogmatic times in which we live.  We can rise up and demand better of our elected representatives; we can certainly demand that they move well beyond pure self-interest and do what’s best for all; and we can threaten to vote them out of office.  And we can demand more from our Fifth Estate, and hold the media accountable for not holding our elected representatives accountable.  And then there’s the NHL. Yeah, the NHL is just as pathetic as our Congress when it comes to just getting it done.  And the media is similarly and strangely complicit.

I recognize that the NHL is less of an issue south of the border than in Canada where the national psyche is so rooted in its national sport.  After all, hockey doesn’t have its Lebron James and Kobe Bryant to compel our national attention.  But hockey is a very big deal to fans like, well, me and a couple of my friends, acquaintances, co-workers and co-conspirators.  So what’s up, national media?  NBC – with its televising rights – isn’t covering the lockout, nor are the regional Comcast Sportnets that are partnered with NBC.  ESPN – who lost the rights to NBC – probably wants to see the NHL die and take NBC Sports with it, so ESPN isn’t exactly motivated to put hockey news front and center.  The players don’t seem to care; after all they’re doing just fine taking extended vacations in exotic foreign lands while playing a little hockey on the side to pick up some loose change.  NHL owners seem satisfied with just staring at the line they’ve drawn in the sand.  So who’s suffering other than me and my small social circle?  The local economies are suffering, and big-time.  Consider the very local economies that exist as a function of a season’s 82 home games – those businesses that reside in and around NHL stadiums depend on fans being excited about attending the games.  It is not particularly charitable to presume that if one season was dashed by labor strife then certainly another could happen, so caveat emptor.  The owners and players do not care about anything other than their self-interest. They do not care about the world in which they live or for those who depend on them other than their immediate families.  Isn’t this, too, the way of the world?  This is not a Godfather movie; there’s more at play than just business.

The owners picked this fight and are stuck on their sticking points. They have locked the players out until matters are resolved, are not paying players’ salaries during the lockout, and are keeping the TV money that’s not abated by the lockout.  As the TV money peters out, the owners will be more motivated to put my revenue-producing ass in a stadium seat.  Until then, I am so much chopped liver.  And so I wait.  And I wait impatiently.  And I seethe.  Ever-increasingly I don’t want to support my team because it’s not a bilateral relationship.  I don’t want to give my team and its owner the benefit of my allegiance nor my joy at their ultimate return.  They are no one’s prodigal son.  I want them to know that they acted like unaccountable, irresponsible, callous jerks.  I want them to understand that they have a kind of fiduciary duty to me and their fans and the collateral businesses that exist as a function of their full, scheduled season and the hopes and dreams that come with an extended playoff season.  I want them to understand the civic responsibility they assume by connecting their name and likeness to a community.  In my case, it is the Chicago Blackhawks, and not the Wirtz Blackhawks, and while the Wirtz family certainly owns the Blackhawks and have every right to operate their business as they see fit, they are also inextricably attached to the City of Chicago as the Chicago Blackhawks, and this is no incidental, indirect or ephemeral connection.  It is direct and substantial.  It is part of the fabric of the city.  The Chicago Blackhawks are an integral part of the pleasure to be derived from choosing to live in Chicago.  Isn’t this notion of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness codified somewhere that confers upon me some kind of rights?  And by this rant I’m letting you off easy, dear readers, because I’m a recent transplant here from Boston where I was born and raised and there’s an Original Six hockey team there to which I’m kinda partial in an I-only-wear-black-and-gold-on-game-day way.  And my game-day wear is being ravaged by moths in my closet.  Did I mention that I’m pissed?

The thing that makes Bettman’s job so difficult is in trying to show the fans that he is in control of his circumstances. But when the NBA and NFL had their labor issues, the leagues were able to bring the feuding sides together. The NHL just can’t seem to manage this condition precedent. As precedents go, there’s the lost season 0f ’04-’05, which is not exactly the kind of precedent Bettman hopes to build on as a tradition.  Where’s the outspoken public voice in this lockout?  NBA fans were basically marching in the streets over the NBA lockout and things got done, probably because of the loudspeaker that is ESPN.  NBC Sports doesn’t carry the single-minded sports gravitas or platform of ESPN, and doesn’t seem motivated to aggressively move the puck down ice. The main issue is revenue sharing.  The most comparable situation is the NBA, which shares 30% of TV revenues to the NHL’s 11%.  I suppose NBC’s voice is neutered by this conflicted-reality.  But the NHL is not the NBA, no matter how much I might wish it were.  The NHL wishes it could get the economic respect that is accorded the NBA, but that’s not the way it is nor will it be in the near term.  So let’s adapt or die, gentlemen.  The rest of the problems will be resolved in the context of this reality.  The NHL should then proceed to be the global sport it is uniquely positioned to achieve.  This wouldn’t require another miracle, after all.  One should be enough.  The countries that take part in the World Hockey Championships and the Olympics are some of the most developed in the world.  Consider where most of the NHL players are playing during the lockout.  These are not the also-ran, junior varsity, World Football Leagues and programs that blight the legacy landscape as obstacles to expansionary hopes and international acceptance.  This might even be enough to save the European Union and expand it to include all ex-Soviet countries.  The NHL could save the world political economy.  The Dollar would replace that upstart Euro and reassert its world d(en)omination. The Chinese would have to develop a competitive hockey program.  More than mere metaphor, hockey would stand for the new world order based on a free market economy.  All issues would then be resolved by the drop of a puck.  The ultimate in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!

And it all started in Boston.