SUBWAY GUY (noticing the issue of Sports Illustrated in my hand as I'm waiting in line): Too bad about hockey, huh?
ME: All I can say is this: People who are making a million dollars a year don't need a union.
And that's pretty much all I can say on that. Having been in Texas (a Right to Work state) since third grade, I've never been a big fan of unions in the first place, but having them in pro sports is ridiculous. Unions were formed so that average working Joes could collectivize to avoid mistreatment at the hands of their blue-collar employers. Equating the typical professional athlete in any of the four big "money" sports of football, baseball, basketball and hockey with the "average working Joe" is just wrong. The fact that the union representatives shot down every proposal offered by the league as "unfair" just shows how out-of-touch with the rest of society these guys really are.
Sure, the owners are partially to blame on this; it's easy to say that the reason they're proposing a salary cap in the first place is so they can protect themselves from runaway spending. However, the players also need to realize that, in a sport whose TV revenues trail far behind the other majors, their continually-increasing salaries can't be borne by the league all by itself. That usually means that the cost overruns have to be made up for in ticket prices, which keep the average Joe from being able to afford to go to the games (I for one would love to see a Stars game, but it has indeed been the ticket prices that have kept me away thus far).
Paul Grant of the Sporting News posted an interesting set of figures which compare the average salaries, revenues, etc. of the four major sports leagues. He has this to say about the NHL's current model:
The NHL has to get its act together financially to have a shot at fulfilling the promise it had in the early 1990s. Select owners are to blame for letting the percentage of revenue designated to salaries get so far out of control, but the players have to realize their league can't bear salaries in the same ballpark as those of other pro athletes. To think otherwise means pricing the fans out of the rink -- fans already are near the breaking point -- and therefore alienating the core revenue stream. Once the snowball gets rolling down the hill, it's hard to stop.It's interesting to note that the leagues with a salary cap are the ones which are flourishing the most. (As always, read the whole thing.)
Even though the 2004-05 season was declared officially dead by Commissioner Gary Bettman a few days ago, rumor has it that the two sides may return to the table this weekend. I certainly hope that something gets worked out, but I think that, in order to do so, the players will have to lower the threshold of greed a little bit and think about the fans who have brought the game to its highest level of popularity in its history. They might also have to decide whether or not the current union leadership really has their--or hockey's--best interests at heart.
And I should point out that it's not just having grown up in Texas that has colored my perception of unions in this way. It all stems from a specific incident when i was a young teenager: My dad and I went to the grocery store for a few items (no names here, but the store is a highly-unionized chain based in the Midwest), one of which was a tub of potato salad. At the moment we were there, nobody was working in the deli, so we had to wait quite some time for someone from another part of the store to help us. When a guy finally got there (from the meat-wrapping department), he complained the whole time that his union contract said he didn't have to do this (keep in mind that "this" involved scooping potato salad from a big bin into a small plastic tub, putting the lid on the tub and affixing a price tag). The thought hit me at that moment that it just wasn't right if someone's union contract at a retail establishment actually prohibited him from helping customers, and nothing in the intervening years has done anything to change that perception for me.
I guess we'll have to wait and see if this weekend brings any
Hukd an fonix wurked fer mee (purentel edishun): I had a really weird thing happen in lessons the other day--a kid gave me an envelope full of cash for his lesson payment with his own last name misspelled on it! I won't reveal the actual last name, but I'll give a fake example that gets the point across: if their last name was "Feliciano," it was spelled "Feliciona" on the envelope. According to the kid, his mom does that all the time...