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October 31, 2012

Direct Kick: NHL owners, players offering tricks, not treats

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Halloween. My favorite holiday of the year. I love things all spooky and scary. Things that go bump in the night. Costumes and candy. One of my favorite books is “The Halloween Tree” by Ray Bradbury. If you get a chance you should read it.

The National Hockey League is playing a little trick or treat right now as the lockout continues. Once again it’s a battle over money. Both sides are looking to trick each other and wanting to keep the treats for themselves.

And once again, like in all these cases, it’s the fans who suffer.

I have a hard time feeling anything but contempt for both sides whenever these issues come up. We are talking about millionaires and in some cases billionaires battling over money. The average NHL player makes $2.45 million a year. The average value of an NHL team is $240 million. How much money does a person need? Especially when a good portion of players are broke within five years after retiring, according to some studies.

Of the four major sports, the NHL has the lowest television ratings, so the sport relies on ticket revenue. Last season, the typical NHL team relied on gate receipts for half of their revenue. Compare that to the average NFL team, which has the richest television deal (divided equally among teams), to less than 25 percent of its revenue from ticket sales. The NBA got 33 percent while MLB, 25 percent.

The last time the NHL had a lockout, in the 2004-05 season, fans came back in droves to see their teams the following season. In fact, 25 of the 30 teams had an increase in attendance from the 2003-04 season. So instead of punishing the owners and players, fans rewarded them by making their salaries and value of teams go up.

If fans would just stay away after a lockout like this happens, owners and players might think twice when it comes time to negotiate contracts.

All four major leagues have had strikes and lockouts, sometimes multiple, and still the fans come back for more. Have we become that dependent on sports that we continue to go back after every strike, just to make owners and players richer and richer while the average fan continues to struggle to make ends meet? Ticket prices are outrageous, as are concessions, parking, fan apparel, etc.

Maybe it’s time we stop depending so much on sports to entertain us. Maybe it’s time we put a hurting on their wallets instead of ours.

sports@sentinel-echo.com

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