Today I figured I’d take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to talk about something that most students likely pay far more attention to than their finances – the NHL and its lockout. I’m not sure why I’m surprised at this point when I read and watch people spout out uninformed opinions that they believe to be law, I guess I just keep hoping that people will see all sides of an equation before rushing to judgement. It strikes me as slightly crazy how many people out there are posting Facebook statuses and writing newspaper columns along the lines of, “A teacher makes X number of dollars, a soldier makes X number of dollars, just get out there and play already you whiny babies.” The situation is so much more complicated than that, it really pains me to see people reduced to that sort of sensationalism.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right off. The salaries and revenues in professional sports are insane by any rational or logical measure. The venues that taxpayers pay to build for professional sports are insane. The way we worship young men (and women to a lesser extent) and treat them as gods because they can put a puck in a net or a ball in a hoop is insane. You will get no argument on those statements from me. The problem is that we then go and blame the actual professional athletes for this compensation structure and that is the most insane thing of all!!! Who are the only people that can truly determine how much money professional athletes make? US – THE CONSUMERS! We’re the ones that don’t demand that policeman or soldiers get paid more than athletes when we vote for politicians to lower their salaries, and then go spend hundreds of dollars on professional sports merchandise, tickets, and even when we sit through hours of commercials while watching the games on TV. The only people with the power to change that dynamic is us.
I Love Sports, Just Not Commercialized Sports
The funny thing is that I’m a huge sports fan – but not a fan of professional sports. As a Canadian kid growing up, I, along with everyone else at the rink, thought they were going to the next Gretzky or Lemieux. I watched the NHL religiously, and could have probably named about 80% of the league at one point. I was a more mainstream fan of the other major sports, but I followed them as well. As I got older my interest in hockey waned, and I got into football, basketball, boxing, MMA, and some other, more niche sports. I watch those sports professionally every now and then, but I would almost never pay to go to an actual event any more. If I ever got to practice direct democracy, I would never vote to use public funds to subsidize a professional sports team. Instead, I recommend people go check out their local athletic teams. Have you felt the honest passion at your local college or high school athletic events lately? No one worrying about agents or percentages of revenue, just love of the game. It’s pretty fun and refreshing. A lot easier on your wallet too. I thought it interesting that when I went to school, our university hockey team was always ranked in the top 10 in Canada, but they would hardly get any fans to a game. The players were mostly former WHL 2nd- and 3rd-liners who were now getting their schooling paid for, whereas the NHL featured a healthy dose of former WHL 1st-liners. The difference in price between watching former teammates was hundreds of dollars. That’s effectively the premium we place on professional sports.
Plenty of Blame to Go Around
Now, all of that being said, as far as this whole NHL lockout thing goes, think about the big picture before you blame it all on the players. First of all, the whole idea of a salary cap created by the owners to protect themselves from each other and artificially put a ceiling on player salaries is incredible. If that happened anywhere else in society we’d go crazy. If someone is willing to pay you to do something for them, and everything is legal, what right does anyone else have to put a cap on that? It is a complete disregard for the free-market system. The hilarious thing is that the owners of professional sports teams almost all got wealthy by exploiting a free market system to the fullest, and then they create one of the most socialistic labour environments in the world. Caps and floors on how much teams can spend to ensure relative equality? Sharing of revenues so no one makes too much or too little? The league coming together to buy teams that are in trouble? Someone want to tell these titans of industry that they are pretty much the definition of “pinko commies” at this point? If someone wants to pay Sidney Crosby $25 million a season, why should he have to take a pay cut in the name of equality? That makes almost no sense to me.
Hey Owners, Pick On Someone Your Own Size – Not Zdeno Chara!
Then we get to the whole issue of fairness in the current bargaining dynamic. On one side we have men who possess centuries of collective experience in the most pressure-packed business environments on the planet. They have dealt with labour issues from an ownership standpoint for most of their adult lives, and most of them have impeccable top-flight educations to go along with a team full of elite financial advisors and lawyers. Plus there are only 30 or so to get organized and on the same page. In the other corner we have 700 or so professional hockey players. Almost none of them have any business experience or relevant education. Many of them have no post-secondary education at all and likely couldn’t begin to dissect the complicated labour contracts that are being thrown around or the terms that end up on their individual contracts. That doesn’t seem like a fair fight to me.
Finally, the average NHL career lasts around 240 games or roughly 3-4 seasons. That gives these guys a very short time frame to make their money relative to the owners who will sit there and bank on us crazy fans who keep giving away our hard-earned cheques year after year for eternity. Plus, for the majority of owners out there, the NHL isn’t their main source of income. They can sit back and play hardball with the players all day because they don’t need their teams, in fact for most of these guys their NHL club (or almost any professional sports team for that matter) is just the equivalent of trying to own the nicest car in your peer group or trying to keep up with the Joneses (Jerry Jones in the case of the NFL) if you will. Given these realities, I say quit blaming the millionaires so much, and blame the billionaires a little more. Sure, we need owners to have a league, but don’t sit there and blame the guys who are taking the concussions every night and who will likely walk around hunchbacked in their middle age. Instead, blame the guys in the private jets who treat this as their own little game. The again, from where I’m sitting, they can have it!