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NHL Players Association Executive Director Donald Fehr reacts to a journalist's question at a news conference following collective bargaining talks in Toronto on Oct. 18, 2012. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
NHL Players Association Executive Director Donald Fehr reacts to a journalist's question at a news conference following collective bargaining talks in Toronto on Oct. 18, 2012. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe editorial

NHL lockout ignores the golden goose Add to ...

The National Hockey League’s owners and players act as if the golden goose had nothing better to do than keep laying its eggs for them in ever-increasing numbers. In both sides’ unwillingness to compromise, they seem to think that a shutdown of a complete or partial season, for a second time since 2004-005, contains no risk to the game’s fast-growing revenues.

Does it? Maybe not. Canada is a captive audience, and the game’s popularity in the United States rose after the last labour stoppage. But the NHL sped up the flow of the game with rule changes after that stoppage, and now the NHL has its long hoped-for national U.S. television contract. It also has the Winter Classic (the outdoor game on New Year’s Day in the U.S., cancelled for this season because of the lockout) and the Heritage Classic in Canada. It has richer brewery deals than it once had. It has more national sponsorships. It has far more merchandising success. Its revenues are $3.3-billion, up from $2.1-billion before the last stoppage. In short, it has a lot more to lose.

The negotiations resemble an infamous NHL game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers last November – a game in which delaying tactics on both sides resulted in the two teams standing still, literally, for 30 seconds or so at a time. It was not hockey. And these are not negotiations. Both sides think that by refusing, largely, to budge, they will cause the other side to lose its resolve and unity. How a U.S. federal mediator can possibly succeed when neither side will move toward the other’s position is anyone’s guess.

Perhaps in business, as in hockey, these stubborn tactics are fair. Defensive styles win games. But it is a tactic that takes the fans for granted. It is usually not a good idea for a business to take its audience for granted.

From a distance, it seems that the unwillingness to compromise and its flip side – the desire to win at all costs – afflicts both sides. Both are willing to forgo oodles of cash to let the other side know they can’t be pushed around. Both are apparently willing to risk cooking the golden goose.

Poor fans. Poor goose.

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