It took 113 days of bitterness, mistrust, recrimination and name calling, but as in many a bad marriage, the NHL and its players kissed and made up yesterday, reaching a tentative agreement that appears to have ended the lockout and rescued the 2012/13 NHL season.
Had this weekend’s marathon negotiation failed to resolve the sides’ differences, hockey fans faced the likelihood of losing an entire season to CBA brinksmanship for the second time in eight years. Amazingly, rabidly loyal fans had continued to stream through the gates even after the catastrophe of 04/05. League revenues last year reached a record $3.3 billion. Still, the league clearly had a long way to go even before this year’s lockout. The recently inked 10 year TV deal with NBC pays a paltry $200 million per year. Compare this with the NBA’s current deal, set to expire in 2016, which is worth $930 million annually. But NHL owners don’t seem to mind because they rely on gate receipts (i.e., fan loyalty) for nearly half their yearly take.
How is it, you ask, that a league so dependent on its fans caring enough to show up, and with so much market share yet to gain, could come so near the brink of fan-alienating disaster? The short answer, friends, is that Garry Bettman and his band of merry pranksters run an entire league that comes up small; that’s small as in petty, myopic, and head-scratchingly obtuse; small with a lower-case s. Yes, they’ve put it all behind them for the next decade, but this is still the league that allowed Fox to superimpose comet trails on live action.
So let’s not waste anyone’s time dissecting the new agreement or rehashing the agonizing negotiations that produced it. And we certainly won’t pat anyone in the league office on the back. Instead, what better way to celebrate the imminent start of the NHL season than by taking a quick look at some even less successful pro leagues. Congratulations, Gary Bettman, you’ve come up bigger, than these guys: