Posts Tagged ‘grassroots hockey’

As it gets closer to Fall, the one sport I truly love to watch, either in person or on television, is hockey.  For years, I have gone to see the local team here, The Fayetteville FireAntz and there predecessors the Fayetteville Force.  While not quite up to the level of play as their NHL counterparts, it is always entertaining and the league they belong to, the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) has continued a regular growth of teams throughout the South.  None of the SPHL teams is a super money making franchise.  They all receive awesome local support, with more than half of the teams located around military bases.  This leads to a regular, if not packed house of fans willing to take advantage of low ticket prices, expensive beer and vending, and chances to meet and greet the players as they supplement their meager pay with local jobs and appearances.

The big brother of the SPHL and all the smaller professional leagues has decided for the fourth time in 2o years to lock out the players.  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman imposed a midnight September 15th date for lockout if negotiations with the players union did not come to agreement with the league.  Now, as we looked forward to pre-season hockey starting in September, we wonder whether or not there will be a season or not.  The NHL is following a string of contentiousness found among professional sports in general when it comes to revenue sharing and other issues.

The NHL over the last few years has experienced a growth in revenue, television exposure, and even had a major move of a team last year to one of the early cities of hockey, Winnipeg, Canada.  The breakout Jets did very well for a team that moved from a market in which they were a constant under-performer, both financially and in the win column.  This last is one of the key points the player association wants addressed in negotiations.

The players want part of the revenue stream siphoned off to help under-performing markets/teams.  Make no mistake, they also want to grab a share of the steadily rising profits for their own paychecks, but considering even the highest paid among them are paid less than their counterparts in other sports, the small percentage boost they are asking for is minimal.  The players, however, are willing to maintain status quo (or were before the lockout) if there is a boost to under-performers.

Hockey is a grassroots sport.  Youth Hockey leagues in the States are growing each and every year, throughout the country.  Canada has a bit of an advantage over the states in that regard as much of the country sees hockey in the same way that Americans see football or baseball.  Many Canadian children are on skates as soon as they can walk.  This is becoming the norm in America as well.  Our northern states like Minnesota and Wisconsin have the Canadian weather and influence to help it along, while other states throughout the country are introducing more ice rinks in cities were support of the sport at all age levels can be supported.  In the states, hockey is not a cheap sport and it is quite the commitment for families.  One of the things may of these leagues look forward to is the participation of NHL pros in the camps and seminars.  The youth hockey leagues need the support, and receive the support, of these pros.  They know what it takes to get to the top and provide their support at the entry level to help groom new crops of players.  Hockey is probably only rivaled by soccer as a sport in which the professionals offer and volunteer more time to development of future generations.  Players do not forget where they came from.

Gary Bettman has done a lot for hockey in his tenure as the NHL President.  Working on the backside, he has given a vision and implemented a plan that has gained hockey more exposure and increased revenue.  This despite the embarrassing season long lockout that caused the Stanley Cup not to be handed out for the first time since 1919.  At least in 1919, there was concern over a world wide Spanish Flu pandemic to lay blame on.  It seems to me what Bettman is lacking, despite his business skills and vision, is the ability to reconcile the business aspects of the league with the grassroots core that it relies upon.  Chances are real good that we will have no pre-season hockey next week, and the October 11th start is probably in jeopardy as well.  Here is to hoping there will be an NHL puck drop in the very near future.  After all, the league has revenue, it is really down to what is an equitable distribution of that revenue.