Shark City’s Hollow Bite

by: Kevin Ventura

A guest contributor weighs in on the NHL lockout and the effect it’s having on an avid West Coast fanbase….

Want to know how the NHL’s second lockout in 8 years is affecting the common yet conscious man?  Well, here’s a little perspective from an unexpectedly hockey-crazed West coast city.  San Jose, CA loves their Sharks, and in an era when sport provides one of the few places for solace, the lockout couldn’t have come at a worse time.

On a personal level, I miss hockey just like I miss any other season that comes to end, or in this case has yet to begin.  For example, just as the recent playoff run by certain bay area baseball teams has drawn to a close, I can long for Spring training, where even teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates have hope renewed at the same time each and every year.  Whether we realize it or not, sport is a companion of sorts, and one that is usually reliable in when and where it is played.  At this time of year, I can reasonably expect 2-3 Sharks games per week, and win or lose, I am confident in the entertainment value they are able to bring to the table.  Everyone can appreciate having something to look forward to, and whether it’s a family at home or a game to watch, the absence of such is disappointing even when explicable.  Unfortunately, in my opinion, the explanation in this instance is inexcusable, and one that reaches far beyond my own selfish need for intangible companionship.

The socio-economic impact of a pro sports lockout is relatively incalculable and widespread, but a few high points should not be missed.  Teams galvanize the community, and you cannot mistake a Sharks game day, as the streets and the people bleed teal and black.  These colors cross all boundaries, whether racial, regulatory or otherwise, and many in this area have been able to get behind a successful and competitive (at least in the regular season) hockey team for over 20 years.  San Jose is a friendlier, more cohesive place on game days, and despite my best efforts, I can’t derive quite the same pleasure from the city and its inhabitants in Fall as games go unplayed, a list of dates that has grown to over 20 games.  As such, it should go without saying that these pro sports franchises provide jobs and move dollars for some of those that need it the most.  For example, San Jose is home to one of sport’s classiest collections of ushers at HP Pavilion, and a downtown restaurant and bar scene that particularly thrives on game days.  One can only assume that the aforementioned, among others, are wondering where their next paycheck will come from, despite working at venues that can normally ‘count on’ their Sharks.  What one cannot assume, however, is whether the parties at odds—who are driving this lockout —consider such impacts when weighing larger, yet less impactful, financial decisions.  A couple of questions should be asked, and ones that do not require lawyered answers but rather deeper thought:

Couldn’t the two parties, NHL owners and players, have accounted for the expiration of the previous agreement, and ensured that another lockout was avoided while negotiating behind the backdrop of a regular slate of games as necessary?  Eight years seems like an awfully short amount of time to repair the intangible damage caused by the previous lockout and game cancellations, only to ask your fans to sit and wait for another one.  It is widely considered that the 2004 lockout set hockey back, only to see it grow stronger in the waning years of that CBA ((Collective Bargaining Agreement)).  A little bit of foresight may have saved the NHL some face and another rebuilding phase just as momentum for the league was gaining.  Besides the true die-hards, the regular fan may require restored confidence in a sport that they count on to be there, yet is making a habit of being flaky within easily recalled time-frames.

Can’t the two adversaries just split their massive revenues 50/50?  The crux of the current holdout is a disparity on the desired hockey-related revenue split, which as part of the previous agreement gave the players a share of 57%, a number the owners would like to see reduced as low as 43%.  It doesn’t make sense that one group must get the short end of the stick in this case, as all can be big winners in the game of true life regardless.  Instead, they squabble over their shared billions, while the lower to middle class workers supported by the sport continue to suffer.  Unfortunately, this is just another example of how big business manages to fleece the common man, lest anyone has forgotten such debacles as Enron, Madoff, Solyndra, etc.

Now before you sound the alarm on my opinion, I realize that the gravity of the current NHL lockout does not rival some of the previously mentioned controversies and other unfortunate current events.   This is just a rant about an unfortunate sports problem that is a microcosm of how we currently do business and labor in America.  As a result, precious dollars are being lost on every tangent of NHL hockey and its sphere, and all at the expense of much needed entertainment for the masses.  Nonetheless, San Jose should be considered lucky for even having a thriving NHL franchise, while cities such as Hartford, CT still wonder what happened to their Whalers, and even worse: Flint, MI fights its inevitable blight.  I’m sure the Sharks will eventually return to normal and all will be right with an important part of the Silicon Valley world, but in the meantime, Shark City has lost a bit of its bite.

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