Playbook: Let Them Eat Cake

By Fraser Lockerbie

The NHL is running the risk of alienating their fans for good if they don't resolve this lockout soon. Plus Week Ten NFL Lines.

I believe it was Jean-Jacques Rousseau who coined the now infamous adage “Let them eat cake,” though it is most commonly attributed to the out-of-touch Queen of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette. She was a dunce of pure royal descent and known, at times, to bathe stark naked in milk while her subjects were forced to roll about in their own excrement and filth. She was in fact so far removed from the plight of the plebes that when word came around that they could no longer afford to make or buy bread, she suggested that perhaps they should eat cake instead.

Ah well; she was strung up by her thumbs and guillotined by a man named Robespierre and the mob for her obvious lack of empathy and overly oblivious decadence. Her husband, too. Après moi, le déluge.

Half the royal court was eventually dragged through the blood-soaked streets of France at that time to have their heads lopped off in public if for no other reason than that they had lost control of the lowly types who were prone to and entertained by acts of serious violence when boredom and hunger became their operative ethic. And let me tell you: when public decapitation becomes the modus operandi and number one entertainment source for angry crowds, the people in charge better either scatter or make good; bloodlust is an ugly thing when it gets out of hand…

But shit, we were trying to talk about hockey before all this ugliness about the French Revolution came about. The NHL and the Players’ Association are still talking, still at odds about how best to split up the embarrassment of riches they’ve amassed from spectators and fans while unruly crowds of those same spectators and fans go without hockey, going on 54 days now.

At first, we were dealing with an existential question (which, along with democracy and blood, is another proud export of France): What is Hockey-Related Revenue? Is it made up of the estimated record growth the league has seen in the last five seasons, each year better than the last, with 2011 bringing in somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.9 billion dollars? Is it the 64 percent increase in sponsorship dollars the All-Star game brought in? Or is it the across-the-board national television viewership rating increases and all the advertising dollars attached to that? In some areas that growth maxed out at 70 percent, good for, you would assume, a sizeable bump in the market price for ad spots.

Whatever hockey-related revenue is, it’s safe to say it’s substantial. It’s also safe to say that everyone might as well be arguing over Monopoly money so long as they’re arguing and not playing hockey. We thought maybe getting back to making money might be enough for these two sides to get a deal done.

But then they had to argue over “Make Whole” provisions, loopholes that had to be put in place to ensure players already signed to enormous contracts would inherit what’s rightfully theirs under the new CBA. Okay, that’s fine; the last thing we need to hear are horror stories of starving athletes and their families forced to eat second-rate caviar and champagne from just outside the South of France.

And now we’re not hearing anything at all; talks are tabled or else taking place in undisclosed locations, away from prying eyes, separating piles of solid gold bullion into two equally enormous portions, then scrapping it, starting over and separating the piles again. Shuffling the deck chairs on the Titantic.

But oddly enough, what we also aren’t hearing is a lot of crowd noise. No uproarious behavior from the bleacher creatures, the fans.

Indeed, all is quiet on the peasant front, and one wonders why. Why, when the NFL threatened lockout, were we sending death threats and talking about self-immolation? When the NBA shut down we staked out Commissioner Stern’s house. When there wasn’t any bread, we held a bloody rebellion in the streets.

Well, you don’t have to look too far for the answer: we’ve got the KHL, the OHL, the AHL, and half the players who play professionally are playing there, so who really cares what the first letter of the initialism is? The quality of hockey is coming up to par with the influx of talent, and television networks across the country are working out deals to get these games on the air to pacify the bloodthirsty fans. Unlike the NFL and NBA, whose monopolies on where players can play is almost absolute, the NHL has some stiff competition in their own markets, making fans wonder: who needs the NHL when we’ve got hockey? When the two sides said, “Let them eat cake,” we said, “Will do; we’ll have our cake and eat it too.”

At this point, with any further prorogation of the NHL season, fans are going to start to wonder why we need the NHL at all, why we need to be put through the ringer every time players, owners and the league can’t agree on how to split up all our hard-earned dollars. With non-NHL hockey becoming more readily available in almost every market, the only losers at this point are the parties still at the table, with all the growth in revenue and ratings they’ve seen in the past five years threatened by each passing day they think they are keeping hockey away from us. At some point our interest in their bumbling sideshow will wane; our goodwill and expendable income will just go somewhere else, somewhere where there is hockey being played.

This Week’s Lines:

Houston (+1.5) over Chicago, St. Louis (+11.5) over San Francisco, Atlanta (-2.5) over New Orleans, Baltimore (-7.5) over Oakland, Tennessee (+ 6) over Miami, Denver (-4) over Carolina, Tampa Bay (-3) over San Diego, New York (-4) over Cincinnati, Philadelphia (+2) over Dallas, Seattle (-6) over New York, Buffalo (+11) over New England, Minnesota (+1.5) over Detroit, Pittsburgh (-10) over Kansas City.

Last Week: 9-4

Overall: 72-47-4

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