First it was the NFL lockout in 2011. The owners squared off with the NFLPA in a battle that kept everyone wondering for several months whether there would be a football season. Next came the NBA lockout, the consequences of which were more serious because — unlike the NFL’s disagreements — the basketball season was actually abbreviated as a result.
Now one more collective bargaining agreement is set to expire, and in the process fans could be left wanting yet again. No, I’m not referring to NFL referees; that’s a topic for another post. I’m talking about the National Hockey League.
The NHL’s current CBA is set to expire on September 15, and according to Commissioner Gary Bettman, the two sides are nowhere near a deal.
“There’s still a wide gap between us with not much time to go,” Bettman said Wednesday. “I do think it’s fair to say that the sides are still apart — far apart — and have different views of the world and the issues.”
The NHLPA took several weeks preparing a proposal for Bettman and the owners, but it only took a day for the commissioner to reject it. With less than a month to go, his comments certainly don’t point to the two sides being anywhere near an agreement on a new deal. What’s worse? If we’ve learned anything from the NFL’s and NBA’s collective bargaining negotiations, it’s that a month is not nearly sufficient time to reach an accord.
Should the NHL end up in a work stoppage, it would be the second time in as many CBA negotiations for the league. It would also be a major strike on Bettman’s record, because it would be the third lockout to take place under his watch.
The last lockout saw the entire 2004-05 season wiped out. It lasted from September 16, 2004 to July 13, 2005, and it was the first time that one of the major North American professional sports leagues cancelled an entire season. No team was awarded the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1918.
Prior to that, the NHL endured a work stoppage in the 1994-95 season. The Players Association and owners eventually came to an agreement, but in the process the season was shortened from 82 to 48 games.
Obviously, hockey fans would like to see a swift resolution to this problem so that they don’t miss any hockey. The NHL, a league that saw its postseason TV ratings drop considerably in 2012 from the year before (and it’s not like they were all that high back in 2011), has much more at stake.
History has shown that work stoppages stunt the growth of a professional sport’s popularity. In that respect, the NHL (currently a distant fourth in popularity when it comes to the major North American professional leagues), should learn not only from work stoppages like that of Major League Baseball in 2004, but their own tattered history as well. Another lockout could be bad news– not just for hockey fans, but for the popularity that the National Hockey League has struggled to achieve or even maintain.