The NHL and NFL are both engaged in lockouts that could damage their leagues. Damage is being done to the integrity of this NFL season. Games could be won or lost due to the use of replacement referees. Consequently, so could playoff berths.
The damage to the NHL could be far worse. The lockout of the players, particularly if it lasts a long time, threatens to damage a league that has been on the upswing in recent years.
In neither case, however, does there seem to be a sense of urgency.
It’s not as if the deadline surprised anyone. The NFL knew the officials’ contract was expiring. The NHL has had September 15 circled on its calendar as the end of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) its team owners have wanted relief from for a long time.
Despite having ample time, the two sides aren’t anywhere close to an agreement in either dispute. To say that negotiations have moved at a snail’s pace is a slight to snails.
An NFL Network report says the two sides met this week, but are “too far apart” for any serious discussion to take place. Keep in mind that NFL officials have been locked out since June. Does anyone realize that it’s the third week of the season?
I’ll tell you who realizes it’s the third week of the season: the players and fans. We don’t need to delve into detail, as I did in my most recent Fish ‘n Chips column, but suffice it to say that anyone who witnessed the recent Eagles-Ravens or Broncos-Falcons debacles understands why the NFL needs its officials back as soon as possible.
NFL fans have witnessed a team given an extra down in a close game (Seahawks-Cardinals), two two-minute warnings during the same half (Eagles-Ravens) and a team being given 6 extra yards on a penalty during a scoring drive (Broncos-Falcons). This list doesn’t include the countless delays caused by incorrect spotting of the ball after plays, particularly those that involve penalties.
The list also doesn’t include inconsistent officiating. It was understandable when Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco complained about an offensive pass interference call that wiped out what would have been the Ravens’ only second-half touchdown against the Eagles. Defensive backs had been given the leeway to do everything short of mugging receivers running their patterns without drawing a flag. All of a sudden, a receiver was being called for pass interference, wiping out a touchdown.
No wonder Ravens fans were angry. Eagles fans would have been equally livid if the roles were reversed.
The replacement officials have also lost control of several games, including the Eagles-Ravens game. But don’t worry. The NFL has sprung into action. No, the NFL didn’t make a substantially better offer to its officials. Instead, it warned teams against “unacceptable behavior.” Fines and suspensions were threatened for those who don’t “respect the game.”
The NHL lockout hasn’t made a major impact. Not yet. Wiping out a handful of preseason games isn’t going to upset many fans. When the regular-season games in October start to be canceled, the lockout’s impact will be felt.
Players will feel the impact because they will start to miss paychecks, which are supposed to start arriving on October 15. Fans will feel the impact because they will start to miss games, both on television and in person.
The NHL owners are convinced they need to reduce the players’ share of hockey-related revenue in order to protect the medium- and small-market teams. The CBA that recently expired set the players’ share of that revenue at 57 percent. Both sides agree the players’ share will be reduced in a new CBA. The question is by how much.
The final number is likely to be between 48 and 52 percent. As recently as a few weeks ago, the owners made a proposal for players to get 43 percent of the revenue, a 14 percent decrease from the last CBA. The owners have raised that percentage, but they envision that percentage declining over the life of the CBA. By contrast, the players’ proposal initially drops their share of revenue – but not as far as the owners’ proposal – then envisions that percentage growing if the NHL’s revenue continues to increase.
In other words, the owners and players can’t agree on a starting point for the players’ percentage of revenue-sharing, and then they move in opposite directions during the life of the CBA. No wonder players are signing contracts to play overseas in droves. They’re not confident this lockout is going to end any time soon.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has expressed confidence that NHL fans will return after the lockout. Bettman would be wise not to count his revenue chickens before they hatch.
Yes, it’s unlikely teams such as the Flyers and Rangers will take a significant attendance hit. But in newer, smaller hockey markets, a long lockout may do damage that will take years to repair. The irony is that the teams the owners are purportedly trying to protect with their hardline position and subsequent lockout are exactly the teams that will be hurt the most by a prolonged lockout.
Each day of the NFL and NHL lockouts damages their respective sports. Each day of the lockout will become increasingly upset fans.
Judging by the actions of all sides involved, particularly the owners, there doesn’t seem to be any sense of urgency. The deadlines have come and gone, and the sides are still further apart than Mitt Romney and President Obama would be if they were invited to the same dinner party.
But don’t worry. There’s no rush.
There’s not a lot at stake in these lockouts – unless you consider the integrity and health of your league to be important.