With negotiations stalled on a new labor accord, the National Hockey League canceled the first 82 games of the season -- the second time in eight years that regular-season contests have been lost to lockouts.
League owners shut down on Sept. 16 after failing to agree with the National Hockey League Players’ Association on how to split revenue, which reached a record $3.2 billion last season. The league, which announced on Oct. 2 that the cancellation of the 107 preseason games cost it $100 million in revenue, yesterday canceled every regular-season game through Oct. 24.
The NHL became the first North American sports league to lose an entire season due to labor strife when a lockout canceled the 2004-05 campaign. The 2012-13 season was scheduled to begin on Oct. 11.
“We’re looking for a long-term deal that’s fair for the players, fair for the teams and good for the fans,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said this week after a negotiating session.
It’s the second time in less than a year that regular- season games were eliminated by labor strife in one of North America’s four major professional sports leagues. The National Basketball Association shortened last season to 66 games from 82 after reaching a collective bargaining agreement with its locked-out players.
Yesterday’s decision was the “unilateral choice” of NHL owners, union Executive Director Donald Fehr said in a statement.
“If the owners truly cared about the game and the fans, they would lift the lockout and allow the season to begin on time while negotiations continue,” Fehr said. “A lockout should be the last resort in bargaining, not the strategy of first resort.”
The two sides in the NHL dispute met for two hours on Oct. 2, breaking off with no progress to report and no further negotiations scheduled, according to Daly. Fehr, who disputes the NHL’s estimate on lost revenue, said that he wants talks to continue.
“You should be constantly talking, even if you’re disagreeing and not making progress,” Fehr said earlier this week. “You never know when someone will say something to spark an idea that will allow you to progress.”
The 189 games that have been canceled so far this year, including preseason and regular season, account for about 14 percent of the 1,337 total games on the NHL schedule.
On Sept. 12, owners offered players 47 percent of hockey- related revenue, with a loss of about $256 million in player salaries next year. Under the labor deal that expired last month, players received 57 percent.
The union’s final plan prior to the lockout proposed tying the players’ share to overall revenue growth. Under the offer, should league revenue grow at the same rate as the past 10 years, the players’ share would decrease to 54.3 percent in the first year, then 52.5 percent and 52 percent before rising to 52.3 percent in the fourth year.
Recent negotiations have focused on secondary issues, not the economic differences at the heart of the disagreement, according to the New York Times. Other disputed topics include salary arbitration and the length of unrestricted free agency.
The league’s previous lockout lasted 10 months and six days. It was the first time since 1919 that the Stanley Cup, the NHL’s championship trophy, wasn’t awarded.
Negotiations eight years ago centered on many of the same issues as this year’s lockout, including player compensation and revenue sharing among clubs. The league announced the cancellation of the full season in mid-February 2005 and a new deal wasn’t reached until July, when the two sides agreed on a salary cap and a 24 percent reduction in player pay.
“Players are not at all happy with the notion that at this stage, after all the concession made the last time, in the billions of dollars, plus seven years of record revenue, that the response seems to be, ‘You gave us a lot of money last time so give us another big sack full of money this time,’” Fehr said this week.
More than 300 NHL players competed in Europe during the missed 2004-05 season. Over 80 players have already agreed to play overseas during this work stoppage, including Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the league’s 2012 Most Valuable Player, and New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk, a three- time All-Star.
The league’s revenue, buoyed by a 10-year, $2 billion television contract with Comcast Corp. (CMCSA:US)’s NBC, swelled to a record $3.2 billion last season from $2.2 billion in the first year following the lockout, according to the NHL. Growing player salaries have kept many teams from turning a profit, the NHL has argued.
Before the start of the 2011-12 season, the average NHL player salary was $2.4 million, up from about $1.5 million when the agreement began at the start of the 2005-06 season.
The average NBA player salary was $5.15 million, the highest among the U.S.’s four major sports leagues, for 2011-12. The average salary for a National Football League player was $1.9 million, the lowest of the four leagues, with Major League Baseball’s $3.3 million average ranking second behind the NBA.
The NFL, the most popular U.S. sport with more than $9 billion in annual income, missed one preseason game while negotiating a new labor accord last year. It also locked out field officials for the first four weeks this season in a dispute over pensions and management control.
NHL players staged a 10-day strike in April 1992 in which no games were lost. The league’s 1994-95 campaign was shortened to 48 games following a lockout.
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