Saturday, October 20, 2012
Smoke and Mirrors-Hockey 2012
I had a few minutes to kill last night. I poked my nose into a computer report on the labour situation in the National Hockey League. Remember? The hockey league that plays all of its games in North America, with the best players in the world? Yes, that’s the one.
At any rate, I listened to a 25 minute dissertation and interview with Donald Fehr, the labour expert who has taken on the role as the main spokesperson for the players. In the other corner is Gary Bettman, the person who represents the owners. Two organizations, two adversaries.
They are trying to divide a big money pie so that each group is happy. Most of the time they meet in hotel rooms, and emerge in front of a bank of microphones to indicate that they have been talking. Occasionally, one or the other sends a blurb to the media, outlining a firm position.
In this negotiation game of give and take, we know that nothing is completely firm. Each group has given us many different sets of numbers, and many different scenarios. The hockey fan cannot begin to digest the significance of the “offers”. The suggestions are all written in “legalese”, and are not for public consumption.
There are several media types vitally interested in these proceedings. They cover every word, every rumour, every possible leak in the discussions. Some of these types even think that they have the solution to the problem. Most of them predict exactly what is going to happen. Some even go so far as to give dates and times that the games will begin.
Last week we were informed that the Zambonis were warming up their engines in anticipation of the dropping of the puck. They may have dropped the puck somewhere. Most of us did not hear it.
The time has come for all of the parties concerned to pay some attention to the offended: the fans. In this case, I am referring to the fans who sit in the upper regions of the arena. The rinkside seats are not the hockey fans who really care. They do not even pay for their seats out of their own pockets.
Those are corporate regions, paid for by giant corporations. In turn, they are used to keep their corporate clients happy, with food and drink to boot in the nether regions of the building. They are also scattered around the upper areas of all new arenas, and are called “corporate boxes”. The spectator in these areas is so far removed from the ice surface that they cannot “feel” the game.
In the old rinks, prior to the days of plexiglass, and netting, and all variety of safety features, fans in the front row were often greeted with a player or two on their laps, after a particularly good body check. A couple of shoves returned the offended party back to the ice. We paid attention during the game, ready to shield our faces from flying pucks. We could hear the pucks on the sticks, the grinding of the ice from the skates.
Some new arenas have microphones installed at ice level so that the fans in the corporate boxes can “experience” the nature of the game. “These nachos are delicious! And the dip? Find me the recipe!”
In the long run, the corporations control much of the activity. They pay the fees to advertise on the television networks that carry the games. They help build the arenas, and maintain them. They have the boxes. But they also have the tax advantages to go with this activity. It is part of normal business activity. Much of it is “written off”, to the disadvantage of the fan in Section 514, Row 18, Seat 12. He has paid a scalper double the price for his once-a-year opportunity to take his kid to the rink.
The powers that be need to take all of their proposals into a big room. We will lock the doors, and send in nourishment when required. Maybe a case of whiskey to keep the fires burning. Camp cots along the walls. No one gets out until all of the details have been ironed out. Let Gary and Donald emerge, arm in arm, shouting, “We did it!”
Get it done, gentlemen.