Has NHL Not Learned Anything From MLB Labor Disputes?

The stupidity of the NHL lockout is breathtaking. It’s the fourth time since 1992 the league has shutdown, and the third time it’s happened under Commissioner Gary Bettman’s watch.

The last lockout cost the league (and its fans) the entire 2004-05 season. But to the league’s credit, major changes prevailed during negotiations that set the course for the sport to reach an all-time high in popularity in the United States after years of clinging to any sense of relativity among the country’s other professional sports leagues.

At last, the NHL reached the cusp of entrenching itself as a major contender for sports fans’ attention. For all intents and purposes, NHL hockey in the States has never been better…until now.

The latest lockout that began Saturday at midnight puts all that’s been gained over the past seven-years in jeopardy of being lost. And if that sounds like a familiar tune, it should.

Major league baseball, of course, has seen its fair share of work stoppages. It took two hands to count all the strikes and lockouts from 1970 (eight) to the most damaging stoppage in 1994, which brought on the cancellation of the World Series for the first time in 90-years.

Baseball’s eventual implementation of revenue sharing and luxury taxes did help stabilize the industry, but fans felt so spurned by all the bickering between players and owners that attendance plummeted 20-percent when the league finally resumed play in the spring of 1995.

It took years for baseball to recover, and had it not been for the steroid infused home run chase in 1998, it could have easily taken much longer.

Perhaps, what baseball (and Bud Selig) doesn’t get enough credit for is the deal the two sides struck in August of 2002 on a new tentative collective bargaining agreement. Although the deal came right down to the deadline of a player’s strike, no games were lost, and the season carried on without a work stoppage.

Since then major league baseball has seen continual growth including setting year-over-year attendance records and a steady rise in the game’s popularity, not only within the States, but globally.

What more does the NHL need to know about the damaging effects of a work stoppage that they couldn’t learn from major league baseball, or from their own past for that matter? How could hockey let this happen again?

Does the NHL not realize another lengthy lockout risks damaging its reputation beyond repair, or that the almightily dollars both sides are squabbling for won’t be there like it once was?

Baseball, thankfully, did realize the negative magnitude of another labor dispute, found a way to strike its ‘historic’ deal in 2002, and is now thriving.

That very same opportunity still exists for the NHL—if a deal is reached before losing any regular season games. But if they don’t, and regular season games are lost, and so too is the Winter Classic, good luck rebounding a second time.

It seems the NHL may be misjudging its recent success as having weaved its way into the fabric of the American sports landscape, which is a huge mistake. Hockey has always been, and remains, icing on the cake for the average American sports fan. The masses can live without it, unlike the big-three: NFL, MLB & NBA.

There isn’t a home run chase that can save the NHL from another drawn out work stoppage, and even if one could, hardly anyone will be paying attention. The only answer remains the obvious one–labor peace.

Shame on the NHL for thinking otherwise.


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