Home Morning Mashup NHLFU

NHLFU

174

“In communications, familiarity breeds apathy.” – William Bernbach

This isn’t strictly speaking ‘communications,’ but Bernbach’s quote certainly applies to the 2012-2013 (God, I hope it doesn’t end up being known as that) NHL lockout. Bernbach himself had nothing to do with hockey. He was sort of a real-life Don Draper. But the apathy variable is one we’re all starting to feel and, more importantly, acknowledge (in some cases, rather phenomenally). The familiarity is one with meaningless posturing, empty negotiation rhetoric, and unnecessary work stoppages.

Same old from the same old. Put simply, there comes a point where even the most passionate of us simply stop caring.

Now, some people aren’t comfortable with “lockout fatigue.” They’re organizing protests. Real, public demonstrations of outcry. Like Postmodern Spartacuses. Spartacusi? Whatever. They’re getting lambasted for it, sometimes directly and hilariously.

I guess “postmodern Spartacus” isn’t a fair analogy. He led an uprising of oppressed slaves. Hockey fans sort of control their own oppression under a product and brand that’s repeatedly let them down. If we need to rise up against something, it might be ourselves.

Let me be clear. I’m not advocating we abandon the NHL. Or that we’re fools for sticking with it. There’s a temporary, grey shade of purgatory in there – and I think many of us are starting to realize we’re living in it. (No disrespect to anyone still in denial about it).

See, here’s the thing about lockout commentary. There are two kinds. There’s the kind professional journalists and really, really good bloggers do that’s informed and relies on numbers and economics to illustrate the complex relationship of greed and fiscal interest that’s driving the situation. And then there’s the kind that we all want to do: just an anger-fueled, emotional outpouring of frustration for the sheer ineptitude and injustice of this entire calamity.

I’ve really resisted falling into the trap of writing that second kind of post. But truth be told, I’m interested to see what might happen if I did – aside from the obvious scenario, where I permanently sully my online reputation and thoroughly shatter the “F” on my keyboard.

So let’s give it a shot. The overwhelming apathy seems like a good place to start.

This is actually a thing. The NHL Fans’ Association (NHLFA). They attempt to do what that talked-about PPP post linked above so nail-on-the-headingly asserts can’t be done: bring the fans’ frustrated voice to the bargaining table. The NHLFA is an intriguing, if even slightly inspiring effort to pretend the powers that be…well, that they care.

They don’t. And apathy is just the realization that you are – even just temporarily – kinda fine with it.

It’s the realization that you’re no longer emotionally invested, because you know how you feel is totally irrelevant. It’s acknowledging that millionaires and billionaires fighting over millions and billions of dollars at the expense of countless peoples‘ happiness really is both a true and totally insignificant moral injustice. It’s acceptance of the fact that their infighting and respective resolves are the only factors that will actually affect the outcome.

Personally, I would have called it the NHLFU.

[Long pause]

What? National Hockey League Fans’ Union just sounds better.

We could unify and make demands about fixing the game too, you know. Like…

  • Work stoppages shouldn’t be a guarantee every time a collective bargaining agreement expires. Since that’s, like, the exact opposite of “negotiating in good faith.”
  • Lockouts should be a last resort, and not a first tactic of negotiation.
  • Being “willing to negotiate” should mean you actually spend some of your time negotiating.
  • Ticket prices should at least marginally reflect the quality of the product on the ice…wait, that’s not a league problem.
  • The expiry of any CBA immediately triggers a mandate where the executive negotiating committee must play an unending exhibition water polo match in an Olympic-sized swimming pool – containing one tiger shark – until a deal is reached.

In the beginning, it was easy to sympathize with the NHLPA. The owners and the league were the clear villains in this story. But now – I just sort of detest everyone involved. That’s true apathy. The absence of opinion.

Which is unfair. I should probably detest the players at least a little less than the owners It’s not as if they wouldn’t gladly be playing hockey right now for the contracts they negotiated in good faith, or as if they were scamming the existing system for ridiculously inflated sums of money. You can make the whole “they get paid millions to play a game and shouldn’t complain about giving a small slice back” argument, but hey, you signed up for capitalism, and that’s the free market. (No disrespect to any Communist readers who may be totally infuriated by all this).

But it’s so easy to get mad at the owners that it’s subsequently become even easier to not care. I’d argue that I might be evolving, if it weren’t for the ketchup I just spilled on my shirt. That’s no joke. And this is nothing. A mustard bottle full-on exploded in my face last St. Patrick’s Day. My sad, hockey-less life is a perpetual war with condiments. (No disrespect to relish. We’re still good, relish).

Back to apathy. See? Even focusing on not caring is tough.

The owners’ position should be impossible to defend with a straight face. That Bettman and Daly do it daily (ha!) is a testament to their willpower as remarkably effective human mouthpieces. You see, they aren’t really the villains. That they so eerily resemble Count von Count and Lex Luthor is just, I think, the NHL owners laughing at us. If Shanahan turns pale and dies his hair green, we’ll know conspiracy’s afoot. (No disrespect to The Joker. I do not want to [censored] with The Joker).

The personalities we’ve come to hate are just figureheads paid large sums to deliver the cold, calculating message and direction the owners want to – but won’t, themselves.  Realizing just how “in-betweeny” (Bachelor of Arts, Honours English, 2009) Bettman/Daly are to the true stakeholders helps the apathy along. Used to be, Bettman’s press conference speeches would infuriate. Now, I know they’re irrelevant. Daly’s too. When these men describe the lack of negotiations, it’s meaningless. Their purpose isn’t to resolve this quickly, it’s to resolve it fiscally – no matter whether that happens in a short timeframe, or requires a longer one.

And it’s not like the players haven’t developed a bit of culpability on the negotiation and rhetoric front, either. How tired are we of this?

 

It never ceases to amaze me how one party can appear in a press scrum saying “We’re ready to negotiate whenever they’re willing to start,” only to have the other side repeat the statement verbatim minutes later. It’s so frustrating that it’s almost hilarious. It’s like watching two skydivers at the top of an airplane ramp at 10,000 feet going -

SKYDIVER A: “I’ll jump when he jumps.”

SKYDIVER B: “I’ll jump when he jumps.”

…and they stand there doing that for ten hours, and eventually both die, when the plane runs out of fuel and crashes.

“We’ll talk about each other. Near each other. Just not to.” Photo: CBC.ca

So why is this happening? Posturing. There’s no logical reason for these two sides not to spend 16 hours a day in a meeting room right now, trying desperately to fix this problem. Instead, they’re using deference of negotiation to appear resolute. They seem to think every passing second they don’t negotiate builds their respective side’s leverage. That’s infuriating to me. There’s no such thing as real leverage, here. Every passing day is just one more wasted opportunity during which everyone involved has lost more.

This isn’t a negotiation. It’s nothing approximating a negotiation. It’s a shameless privates-waving contest that no one is winning. And it’s over a tiny slice of a very large and very delicious looking, opportunity-laden pie. (No disrespect to regular, satisfactory pies).

Now, this is the part where I’m supposed to be objective and not play favourites. How I’m supposed to say the league is raising real issues of economic concern, and the players – who are mostly in the right – should consider just appeasing the obvious bullies with a concession to save the season. (Which would be awesome, and heroic, but dumb). But I won’t say any of that, because this is that second type of rant, where I’m totally allowed to play favourites.

The NHL’s position, the owners’ position, whatever you want to call it…is the ultimate hypocrisy. And that’s why it shouldn’t win, even though it will. Bettman stated it clearly, earlier in the process: “We think we’re paying too much in player costs.”

Not “We’re losing so much money that the league can’t be sustained,” or “the system requires immediate attention to balance parity for the sake and health of the game.” No. “We think we’re paying too much in player costs.”

We think.

Or, basically: “We looked at the other professional sports, studied their labour dispute precedents, and realized that rather than satisfy some fan-invented moral obligation to keep this game functioning, we’re going to do some pretty nefarious maneuvering to secure as much profit for ourselves as we possibly can in the long term.”

The owners aren’t complaining because their bottom line is in serious jeopardy. They’re complaining because their bottom line isn’t optimized.

If you own an NHL team, it means you have enough money to own an NHL team. Losing an entire season’s worth of revenue haggling over a relatively tiny percentage of the entire picture – whatever the literal sum may be – just seems totally illogical. I mean, if they lose $3.3 billion in pure revenue this season arguing over what amounts to a $1 billion difference over five years under a potential agreement…well, doesn’t that make everyone at the table kind of an idiot? (No disrespect to idiots).

The hypocrisy in the owners’/league’s rhetoric is the basic and obvious fact that no one forced the lion’s share of player expenses (contracts) on them. And every owner signed every contract in good faith with that player, for one purpose: to gain a competitive advantage over his owner peers. But now, recognizing an opportunity to squeeze more dimes than they deserve back in their direction, all those former competitive adversaries appear suddenly unified in saying, “Hold on. Give us a huge chunk of that money back.”

Ridiculous. But that’s the point. The NHL owners are smart enough to know they’re basically wrong. They just don’t care.

The league wants to set a financial precedent to position itself well in the NHL’s presumably lucrative future. The return of hockey is inevitable – and they want to reap serious rewards when the sport comes back. All other concerns – PR, moral obligations, the sanctity of the game – are secondary and thus irrelevant. (No disrespect to public relations professionals, clergy, or people whose professions in any way involve maintaining the sanctity of things).

Grange did a great job recently of clarifying as much, acknowledging that while the NHL may be within their rights, what they’re doing is clearly not right. It’s opportunist, not a necessity.

Now, these men are – first and foremost – in business. As businessmen, we can’t fault them for this philosophy. The NHL owes fans absolutely nothing, in the strictest sense. They make a product, and sell it to us. If they want to suspend production to re-configure their manufacturing process, that’s their right. We are, technically, entitled to nothing – not even a say.

It’s harsh, but it’s true. Our reaction is prompted by the nostalgic and emotional connection we have to the product itself, and nothing more. If the context were different – if, say, the Mennonite carpenter who provided you with a custom-built Oak writing desk locked out his employees in a labour dispute – we wouldn’t take to the blogosphere en masse to complain. (No disrespect to fans of custom-built Mennonite furniture).

Maybe that’s best. Maybe apathy is good. Maybe it’s the healthiest thing for all of us, if the NHL truly stands by the rhetoric it’s using. You know when someone says something so ridiculous in a debate that you just kind of go, “You’re not even worth my time to argue anymore?” The NHL’s current position, I guess, just isn’t worth my time to care.

The NHLFU. If you’re going to be the founder of something meaningful, call it that. And limit it to one temporary member. Yourself.

[Long, apathetic sigh].

Just kidding. Keep reading our blogs and buy lots of jerseys when the show starts again so we still have a league to blog about. Ha!

(Update: Apparently there is an NHLFU. So, never mind).

 

-Matt Mistele
http://www.twitter.com/TOTruculent

 

Thursday morning links!

-Don’s Tweeting again. This will end well, yes?

-Mr. Dangle is bringing us KHL highlight packs via TLN. I’m not watching these regularly yet, but I give it…oh, about a week.

-Our own Jon Steitzer, aka @YakovMironov, is offering to buy a steak for the first person that sends him a photo of a “Bring Back Firefly” sign at an anti-lockout rally. He’s serious. And I’m way ahead of you all, because I bet I can trick him with a solid Photoshop before this is even posted Thursday morning.

-A candid and as-usual articulate Donald Fehr answers Fan questions for The Star. He admits that if it were possible, he’d be willing to lock the negotiating committee in a room and literally televise their discussions until a deal is reached. SOMEBODY, SOMEWHERE, MAKE THIS HAPPEN.

-Also via the Star, Damien Cox points out that good lockout play from Ben Scrivens will help earn him a shot at a job with the Leafs. Not as if there’s a real insurmountable line of competitors in front of him, though.

-ALERT: Maple Leaf Gardens items being auctioned, including a 1967 cup banner…[Drops keyboard, runs out...]

-PPP asks whether or not a lockout hurts your city’s local economy. The article says no. Take that, MLSE’s sense of self worth!

-A CBC article asks, “Why Do Maple Leafs fans continue to cheer?” I don’t know, Tim Wharnsby. I also like certain foods that taste kind of strange. It’s probably the same reason.

-Not hockey-related, but if you’re into sports in general, Raul Ibanez is the clutchiest clutch that ever clutched.