Mr. Gary Bettman –
Before you discredit this letter and assume it’s yet another hateful bash on you and your policies, please know that I am approaching you in the humblest, most composed and thoughtful manner possible. Strange, I know, considering I’m a die-hard Sharks fan.
I understand that you’re a lawyer and a businessman, and part of your job description involves renegotiating collective bargaining agreements to further the success of the league. And what a success it has been. In just a few short years, you’ve managed to play a vital role in increasing the NHL’s annual revenue by nearly 60%, bringing it from $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion. Ironically enough, this seems to be the root of the problem.
Due to the recent success of the league, I understand that the NHL needs significant financial aid in order to stay afloat the way you want it to. After carefully weighing all potential options, you, Mr. Bettman, suggest that the best course of action is to ask the players for a percentage of their salaries; just a small percentage from their pay to be reinvested in the league to keep hockey alive. Simple enough, right? Well, not exactly. I see the need on the league’s end, and I see the logic behind approaching the Player’s Association (after all, they have the money) for the appropriate funds, but I urge you to see this from the perspective of the players. First of all, let’s remove the amount of money from the equation, and instead focus on the principle of your request.
You’re asking to use a cut of the players’ salaries to remedy a financial need; a financial need that was created by the outcome of previous CBAs, and the ever-growing popularity of the NHL. Essentially, you’re asking the players to bail you out. You’re asking the players to take a massive hit from their salaries so that the league can be where you want it to be. Just seven years ago, the players took a 24% salary cut (which they agreed to) so they could play the game, and now you’re asking for them to do this again? You don’t have to look very hard to discover the reason behind their frustration. Furthermore, the financial atmosphere of the NHL is in no way, shape, or form the fault of the players. They were offered a contract by the team owners, and they agreed to that contract. Additionally, they are still in that agreement, and shouldn’t be forced out of it for reasons beyond their control.
The issues surrounding the current player lockout are a pain. I get it. I know it’s controversial, and unfortunately, it seems that most fans are only choosing to see one side of this coin – the side that claims you are an evil CEO bossman who just wants to rob us hockey fans of our happiness. They say you’ve achieved the ultimate hat trick: three successful lockouts in under two decades. And while I admit the hat trick joke is rather cleverly comical, it certainly frustrates me to see my fellow hockey lovers be so narrow-minded.
The reason I’m writing to you today is not because I’m upset at your policies, nor am I upset at your attempts to solve the problems surrounding the lockout. I’m writing to you because I’m upset that there could potentially be no NHL season this year.
I’m upset because there’s no hockey on T.V. right now. I’m upset because I can’t show up to HP Pavilion and feel like I’m home. I’m upset I can’t go to the Honda Center wearing the other team’s jersey just to piss off the Ducks fans. I’m upset because I love hockey, and it’s hard being a hockey fan.
Yeah, I said it; it’s hard being a hockey fan at all. In a country where popular sports are games with only 12 minutes of actual play-time (football), or games that should be called “nine innings of nap time,” I get no love for being a hockey fan. It’s hard to be a hockey fan when the biggest sports channels on television think hockey is an action you perform to spit out a loogie. And, well, it’s hard to be a hockey fan when you like the Shar– *cough cough* sorry, I was choking on something…
Most of all, however, it’s hard to be a hockey fan when there’s no season at all. And to be fair, I understand the circumstances that are currently postponing the season, and furthermore, I think you probably have one of the most (if not the most) difficult jobs in all of professional sports right now. I don’t think anyone would want your responsibilities at the moment, and despite the fact that everyone seems to have the solution to this lockout conundrum, I doubt they could be any more efficient than you’re attempting to be.
I’m not saying that your reasons for negotiating the new CBA are wrong, and I don’t think that this lockout issue is one of taking sides. I do believe, however, that asking the players to bail out the owners isn’t an effective way of achieving success for the league.
In fact, the player lockout is doing just the thing that you’re trying to avoid: it’s reducing league popularity and revenue. The Phoenix Coyotes had a franchise season last year; do you really think Arizona residents are going to remember the Desert Dogs if an entire season is cancelled? The L.A. Kings just took their first Cup in franchise history, or in other words, L.A. residents just found out that their city has a hockey team. The New York Rangers are playing some of the best hockey they’ve played in decades, and while all these franchises are on the cusp of athletic (and financial) greatness, the players get locked out. The ultimate buzz kill.
The league is responsible for managing its funds. The league is responsible for making sure owners aren’t paying more than they can afford. And the league is responsible for dealing with the ramifications of their decisions. If you want to keep a sharp eye on spending and prevent this from ever happening again, take it up with the people that are giving the money, not the people who are getting it.
If you truly want to keep the NHL a successful hockey league, you need to let the players play hockey. At the end of the day, we are all on the same team. The owners, the players, and the fans just want hockey. That’s it. We want to see the puck drop. We want to see our favorite players score goals, make plays, and dish out big hits. We want to watch our favorite sport, and we want to watch our favorite club make history.
From the perspective of the fans and players, it seems as though your concern is not with the sport, but rather with the money that it generates. Frankly, I want to believe that you are a true hockey fan, and I want to believe that you want to see hockey this season as badly as I do. I urge you to let the puck drop for the good of the sport, the owners, the players, and the fans. When your actions in CBA negotiations reflect that having a hockey season is your first and foremost priority, I promise that you will be supported.
I want hockey. We all do. And when you make it perfectly clear that that’s exactly what you want, I will support you and your actions 100%, even if you’re a Ducks fan.
I sincerely thank you for your time-
Blake Kirchick: San Jose Sharks fan.