I am plodding through today with the lockout on the horizon. I am very frustrated and disappointed. I never thought things would get this far between the NHL and NHLPA. Shame on me perhaps.
About half of my job is negotiating deals, some in the 9-figure range. Frankly, with mutual alignment, there is always a deal to be made. Sometimes you come out ahead, and sometimes you don't. Some people are easy to negotiate with, and some are downright assholes. I've never had a deal not get done that needed to get done, even though I have let deals purposely drag down to the last possible moment in order to extract better terms.
Most difficult deals get done over a drink, walking down the hall, in moments of candor, camaraderie and realization that a deal can and should get done. They don't get done at a table with 10 people from either side. Compromise can often be flagged as weakness at the negotiating table. It is candor and business over a coffee or martini that leads to compromise and drives the bargain.
Thus, when I read of Bill Daly and Steve Fehr having lunch today, that to me is a good sign. That's where the two of them can talk through open issues.
As I think about why this deal isn't getting done it boils down to one thing: neither side has the required impetus to get the deal done.
Owners have money and, without games, their costs go down, so they don't stand to lose as much. Players can get paid by going overseas, even after they pay for their own insurance, and some of the younger players can get paid in the AHL. For the owners, having those youngsters play in the AHL is a positive, and they'll be better when the lockout/strike is over. Galiev, Orlov, Holtby, Sjogren will continue to get valuable experience for the Caps.
So, given both sides statements and gaps in positions, what could drive a bargain? I struggle to answer. Only something that hits both sides in their pocketbooks will work. As I consider this, there are only a few things, none of which are short term:
- Fans don't pay remaining balances on season tickets. If the risk is that you lose the already paid amount, then I don't see many people doing this.
- Fans don't renew their season tickets after the league is back. We NHL-addicts are a hearty lot. I don't see us punishing the league.
- NBC Sports, TSN, CBC, and all the local Fox and Comcast network terminate their deals unless the strike is settle. Not gonna happen and probably not legal.
- Advertisers cancel buys and boycott the NHL broadcasts permanently. Let's see how Anheuser-Busch, Honda, and Enterprise Rent-a-Car feel about that.
- The players permanently ditch the NHL for Europe. Nope. They won't make as much there and plus, there are those nasty things called contracts. Which player wants to be one that signs a six-year deal with CSKA that helps their friends strike a deal in the NHL? I see no hands in the air.
Now this is a battle of Bettman versus Fehr and owners versus players. In the age of Twitter and the Internet, it's a public battle, and, at this now public bargaining table, compromise will be viewed as weakness. It's a shame.
In the long run, the league will be fine. I believe that. Fans will come back. Advertisers won't leave. The best players in the world will look to the NHL as the best league in the world and will come. (No Kuznetsov jokes please. Too painful.)
We the fans are the ones that suffer in the short run. In the long run, of course, it doesn't matter, for, as John Maynard Keynes the famous economist once wrote, "In the long run, we are all dead."