The NFL owners struck last-second labor peace and lost just one preseason game to their lockout..
NBA owners have locked out their players amid concerns that that 2011-12 season could be lost. And now we’re hearing rumblings of another NHL shutdown, due to some profligate spending by a few of the have-not franchises during the past few days.
Ottawa Sun scribe Bruce Garrioch got this response from an unnamed NHL executive after the weekend’s free-agent spending spree finally wound down: “I cannot believe some of the deals. Well, enjoy the lockout.”
Fans don’t want to hear about labor unrest in professional sports when their own economic life has become quite a challenge.
And they certainly shouldn’t put up with any whining from the wealthy folks who own teams. Time has taught us valuable lessons about professional sports:
- Owners forever yearn for stronger collective bargaining agreements that make their jobs easier.
- Players, through their agents, always push for more money.
- Owners let their egos get the best of them and overspend.
- Lockouts, therefore, ultimately do the owners no good. They work around whatever safeguards they gain in the new CBA and resume fueling the runaway player salary inflation.
- In the end the players always win.
Not every owner is guilty, of course. The Cardinals ownership group, led by Bill DeWitt Jr., spends within its means. Rams owner Stan Kroenke has tons of dough . . . but also a track record of prudent budgeting.
The Blues franchise is for sale and is therefore toeing the fiscal bottom line. Previous owners Bill and Nancy Laurie did their part to inflate NHL salary structures hopelessly out of control, but the Dave Checketts group has avoided the eight-digit annual losses that aggressive overspending creates.
But there are always owners willing to eschew fiscal responsibility and spend like intoxicated sailors on shore leave.
The NHL’s latest example is the Florida Panthers, a team with a negligible fan base and little relevance on the South Florida sports scene.
Panthers general manager Dale Tallon got the green light to spend crazy money. He took on defenseman Brian Campbell from his old team, the Chicago Blackhawks, and absorbed the annual $7.1 million salary cap hit as a result.
But that was just the start. Tallon lavished a remarkable retirement package on 35-year-old defenseman Ed Jovanovski (four years, $16.5 million) and made supporting cast forwards Tomas Fleischmann (four years $18 million) Scottie Upshall (four years, $14 million), Tomas Kopecky (four years, $12 million) and Sean Bergenheim (four years, $11 million) wealthy as well.
Tallon’s team was well below the salary floor as mandated in the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement. He did have to spend some money. But is that any excuse to give huge dollars to second-tier players?
He will end up with a payroll that his market cannot support.
Over-eager Sabres owner Terry Pegula is a billionaire, so he can afford to withstand the annual eight-digit losses he guaranteed by pushing his team payroll over $60 million with several over-the-top contracts. But he didn’t do his co-owners any favors.
In the midst of all this, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong spent carefully. He re-upped his own players one by one and adjusted his supporting cast, adding low-cost veterans Brian Ellliott and Kent Huskins.
Fans clamor for more, but the Blues really can’t afford more. The folks at NHLscap.com estimate the current team payroll at $45.7 million, which is moving into range of the $48 million “salary floor” teams must meet.
This depleted market will struggle to support a $50 million NHL team payroll. The season-long NHL lockout was supposed to help mid-sized markets like St. Louis remain viable, but the resulting revenue-sharing agreement did little to slow player salary inflation.
The NHL has the same economic challenges today as it had when the sport shut down. Franchises are losing money. Franchises remain for sale. The Atlanta Thrashers moved and the Phoenix Coyotes should find a new market as well.
Soon we’ll hear the owners say the system is broke and something must be done. The cycle will repeat but nothing will change.
Owners will spend. Players will cash in. Ticket prices will climb. And every so often another season-threatening labor dispute will arise as a result.