The National Football League is currently more than halfway through its season and the National Basketball Association has an official start date. Even several college sports have been able to either start or plan to start their seasons.
The National Hockey League is lagging behind, and this could prove to be detrimental to the growth of the league and sport.
In a typical season, the NHL runs during a very similar time period to the NBA, and this causes the leagues to be direct competitors of each other. Despite the NBA’s significant advantage within the majority of America throughout the past century, the NHL has been closing the gap as a result of expanding to non-traditional hockey markets, having solid teams from top to bottom, and most importantly having the most competitive playoffs across North American professional sports.
With momentum seeming to rise and the top players like Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid starting to get international recognition, settling a start date for the 2020-21 season should have been the first major accomplishment for the league this offseason.
Currently, it is the end of November and there is simply only speculation about the start of the season. The league is planning on beginning January 1, but a recent request from the NHLPA this week puts that date in doubt.
Lockouts are common in the league, which is very unfortunate. This millennium has already seen a season and a half gone as a result of lockouts, and a lockout on top of a global pandemic is a huge problem.
The good news is that technically a lockout shouldn’t happen, as the most recent collective bargaining agreement was signed in July and extends for six years. Under normal circumstances, this would be fine, but due to changes necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, financial situations have changed.
Due to the league being very much gate revenue-focused, an absence of fans will be very detrimental to the revenue generated by each team. This really hurts teams who struggle to get fans anyway and asking the players to take some pay cuts is completely reasonable.
The financial issues focus on deferred pay and the rates of how much will be taken out. The short version of this is that the owners want more pay cuts and less deferred pay, and the players want less of a payout and more deferred pay.
The frustrating part of this problem isn’t that it is happening. This is an important topic to discuss and was completely vital to figure out before this next weird season.
The issue lives solely in when it was being figured out. If the league truly wanted to start soon, this issue should have been handled before November. The Stanley Cup may have been handed out in September, but that shouldn’t have stopped discussion. This should be signed, sealed, and delivered, and the league should instead be preparing a schedule.
While “what if’s” mean absolutely nothing in the real world, it’s still unfortunate. Hopefully the league figures it out soon, but if one side concedes in full, another lockout may be even closer. The league as a whole needs to make this all right, and if they don’t they may be smelling disaster.