Parties Eye Potential Impact of Lockout

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(from Sports Business Journal, September 10, 2012) With the recent trend of lockouts swirling around the sports world for the last year and a half, it’s no surprise that the NHL has followed suit. This Saturday the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement is due to expire, and as with any lockout, there will be repercussions.

Team training camps are supposed to start next week, yet only the Calgary Flames have openly said anything about making salary cuts for employees if a lockout does occur. The rest of league’s clubs have their minds set strictly on the potential of the business. One anonymous club Vice President said, “What we’ve told our employees, and I’m hearing it’s the norm around the league, is to not spend a dime without approval. We want to protect our staffs as long as possible, so being prudent about expenses only makes sense. Who knows what the cost of a lockout will be?”

This may affect the recent partnership the NHL made with NBC. According to the contract, the NHL will be paid this year regardless of a lockout, and any lost playing time due to a lockout would be added to end of the 10-year, $2 billion deal signed in 2011. Although NBC may lose some money, it won’t be significant. If the NHL does lockout, NBC will air other sports, such as soccer, boxing, and college football.

The greatest cost from a lockout, as President of Navigate Research, AJ Maestas, points out, will be the fans. According to statistics from the 2004-05 lockout, die-hard fans were quick to forgive the hiatus on their beloved sport and returned to the arenas quickly after the lockout ended. However, it took the casual fans much longer to buy back into the NHL’s allure.

Commissioner Gary Bettman is not so worried about fan loyalty. He cites that in the year after the previous lockout, 24 of the NHL’s 30 teams averaged a minimum of 15,000 fans for its home games. Many clubs even saw increases from the years prior to the lockout. Media expert and former president of CBS Sports, Neal Pilson, seems to be the least concerned, “I’m encouraged by the way the NBA came back [last year]… I know the NHL is not the NBA, but when you consider the amount of social media coverage hockey gets, I predict a strong recovery for the NHL.”

Editorial Update: Two days have passed since the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHLPA came to an end, and there has been no talk of a new agreement in the works. As a result, many professional players have begun scouting alternative leagues, such as the KHL in Russia and the AHL in Canada, to spend their regular season. Members from both parties insist they are doing everything they can to find common ground, but the clock is ticking. The regular season is scheduled to start October 11 and the league has already made preemptive plans to cancel the first week of preseason games.