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Commentary: Columbus hockey fans still suffering as NHL lockout arrives

Courtesy of MCT

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On Jan. 28, Columbus Blue Jackets fans, who have only witnessed postseason hockey once in the team’s 12 years of existence, received the best news from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman since the team’s inception.
The city of Columbus would be hosting the 2013 NHL All-Star Game, or so they were told.
At midnight Sunday,the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement expired, and with no new deal in place, players were locked out by the owners for the second time in nine years.
Bettman met with owners and members of the NHL Players Association last week in New York City with the bleak hope of agreeing on a new deal that would have allowed for the season to start on it’s scheduled date, Oct. 11.
With both sides still “far apart in talks” according to The New York Times, the season’s original start date is very much in jeopardy.
While the owners and the players might be in disagreement over a number of issues, both sides realize that the biggest concern is how revenue will be split.
Under the old collective bargaining agreement, players received 57 percent of the league’s revenue, and owners received 43 percent. Reportedly, Bettman’s most recent offer to the players would leave them with 47 percent of revenue, roughly a 17.5 percent pay cut.
The NHL has experienced its seventh straight year of economic growth, according to Forbes.
Another major issue that the two sides are clashing over is owners wanting to limit contract lengths to six years.
Currently, there are no term limits on contracts. According to capgeek.com, there are 16 players signed to deals of 10 years or longer.
While negotiations might continue informally throughout the month, the likelihood of the season starting on time is very slim.
While Ohio natives might cringe at this, I suspect that the savior to Columbus’ All-Star Game could come from Ann Arbor.
In April 2011, the NHL signed a massive deal with NBC to be their exclusive broadcasting partner. Part of this agreement was rights to broadcast the annual Winter Classic, an outdoor hockey game on New Years Day that, according to Sports Business Daily, generated $22 million dollars when it was played in Pittsburgh in 2010.
This year’s game will be at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor and, if played, will set the record for largest attendance at a professional hockey game.
NHL Players Association Executive Director Paul Kelly said that the league does have an opt-out clause with the University of Michigan, but they would stand to lose millions from skipping the annual event, and with pressure from NBC, I believe this should give fans a small piece of hope.
According to the News Observer, last year’s NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh, N.C., generated an estimated $11.4 million in spending from out-of-town visitors. The city of Columbus, which according to the most recent U.S. Census, boasts a larger metropolitan area than Raleigh, could stand to make even more than $11 million on the event.
During the 2004-2005 locked-out season, Atlanta was scheduled to host the All-Star Game, but did not do so until 2008. If the entire season is lost and the NHL chooses to reschedule the game in Columbus, the earliest it would be played is 2015, because the Olympics are scheduled for February 2014.  

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