An Open Letter to Gary Bettman, the NHL Board of Governors, and Minnesota Wild Owner Craig Leipold

Messrs. Bettman and Leipold,

We here at First Round Bust love to play the numbers game: 6'1, 190 lbs. Seventeen-year old first-round pick. 20 goals. First in the NHL in December. 14 wins after the New Year. 13 year deal. $7.5M cap hit. We analyze numbers ad nauseam, at times over-interpreting their significance and at others dismissing them as hogwash.

But we want to make very, very clear to you that there is one set of numbers we don't care about whatsoever: those related to your lockout. In all of your and Mr. Fehr's blatant and patronizing posturing for fan approval in this lockout, you've utterly failed to recognize that we, as fans, don't give a damn about your financial situation. We don't care about percentages of hockey-related revenue, or amount left in escrow, or contract term limits, or percentage of revenue sharing, or capital in Mr. Jamison's bank account in Phoenix. We just want Hockey.
Your Legacy, Mr. Bettman

Here's one number we do care about: 2005. As in, the only major professional sports season to be canceled in full in the entire history of North America. Back then there was a compelling argument that certain teams (very possibly including our own) couldn't compete with others in free agency, and that a sense of parity was necessary. That certain beloved smaller market teams would be unsustainable without "cost certainty." Don't get me wrong; we hated that lockout. But there were some understandable concerns underlying it, and we, as fans, paid attention to that.

This is not 2005. The NHL has seen (and bragged about!) record revenue and record growth. You took away our season, you got your cost certainty, and your cash intake is through the roof––and that's why we fans no longer care about your accounting quibbles in the slightest.

To that end, here are some more numbers we do care about:

  • 9: Assuming this lockout wipes out the season, this will be the number of seasons in the past 20 years in which the State of Hockey has had no NHL team playing because of the preventable greed of a billionaire owner.
  • 32%: How much more expensive it is to take a family of four to a Minnesota Wild game than it was before the 2004-05 lockout "ensured cost certainty." The Fan Cost Index for the Wild has risen from $262 before the lockout to $346 post-lockout. This increase is noteworthy when considered against Mr. Bettman's 2004 remarks about the effect of "cost certainty:"

    "With the right economic system we can take the pressure off of ticket prices, and I believe with the right economic system, many, if not most of our teams, will actually lower ticket prices. I believe we owe it to our fans to have affordable ticket prices."
  • 200-level: The only portion of the Xcel Center for which season tickets carry enough demand to retain a waiting list. Fans want affordable tickets, but the reasonably-priced sections make up a laughably small fraction of the state-of-the-art facility. It's difficult as fans to sympathize with your desperate need for more money when you've already priced so many of us out of your games. If prices were going up in response to rising costs, that would be understandable––but we lost an entire season precisely so that costs would be directly determined by revenue.
  • 18,000: The number of fans (occasionally give-or-take a thousand) who have filled your building, night-in and night-out for the past four years, at great personal expense, to watch an utterly abysmal team that has failed in every possible respect.
  • 11 and 20: The sweater numbers of the new players who were supposed to turn this team around, to give the fans the quality on-ice product that a market like this truly deserves––and whose mammoth, $98 million individual contracts make us skeptical of your "troubled financial system," and expose your hypocrisy of complaining about an economic system which you designed and which you've deliberately abused and circumvented.
  • $450: A conservative estimate of the amount of revenue you have already lost from me personally during this lockout, between an NHL GameCenter subscription, a green Zach Parise jersey I decided not to buy until I was certain I'd actually get to see him take the ice, and a pair of opening night tickets I wisely decided against picking up on the secondhand market.
As fans, we care about the Wild and the NHL because they are our team in the best league in the world for the best sport in the world. But it also represents an emotional outlet––an escape and a relief from all of the many, many troubles of the world. For a few hours, a few times a week, we can come to the rink or hunker down in front of a TV, and let go of the troubles of economic distress and a horrible employment market or of a broken political system more concerned with posturing and leverage than with fixing the problems of its constituency.

Except we can't. Because not only have you taken our beautiful game away from us; you have actually managed to bastardize it into precisely that which we're avoiding. We're tired your petty quibbles; your large-scale spin campaigns and pathetic letters of apology to the fans that don't even include the words "apologize," "sorry," or "regret"; your utter failure to create a productive and positive environment for negotiations; your obstructionism for obstructionism's sake; and your willingness to so callously use and abuse the public, without whom you wouldn't have a team or an arena, as leverage. Not only does it mirror those politics we're trying to escape when we settle in for a night of puck; it makes Washington, D.C. look like a bastion of cooperation, productivity, and mutual respect. And you should be ashamed.

Mr. Leipold, your predecessor showed an astute understanding of this market when he focused his marketing efforts on the "State of Hockey." Minnesota loves the game first, and the Wild second. Once you and Mr. Bettman have decided to grow up, swallow your pride, and show some respect to the fans who give you your jobs and your power, let me know. You'll find me at the dingy municipal rink down the street, taking in some good, old-fashioned DIII college hockey the way it was meant to be played, free of politics and greed.

I eagerly await your reply.

2 comments:

  1. Actually, the NHL is not "the best league in the world", for the simple fact that you have to play hockey to qualify for that label, and they aren't.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I was also going to purchase an "Authentic" Parise Jersey in Green and attend 1-2 games with my family of 4...$300+ for the jersey and $200 each game for the tickets alone, $700+ this is saving me. Thanks Craig.

    If I really want a Jersey, I can always buy the chinese knockoffs from Craigslist. NHL and NHLPA won't get anything from that purchase!

    ReplyDelete