FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE: In the fifth installment of a series focusing on the broadcasters of the Los Angeles Kings, they shared their thoughts on the current labor strife between the National Hockey League owners and the National Hockey League Players Association during interviews recorded prior to the September 15 lockout imposed by the owners.
LOS ANGELES AND EL SEGUNDO, CA — National Hockey League players should already be hard at work at their respective training camps, but they are noticeably absent from team practice rinks. Instead, more and more of them are heading overseas to play in Europe or the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia, while they wait for NHL owners and the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) to reach a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Indeed, the players are biding their time, waiting for an end to the league-imposed lockout, the NHL’s fourth work stoppage since 1992.
Like the players, so many are waiting, including team management, coaches, trainers and equipment staff, team staff, and, of course, fans.
Among those waiting are television and radio broadcasters throughout the league, including the long-time broadcasters of the Los Angeles Kings.
What is mildly encouraging is that they do not expect a long lockout.
“[Assuming that a prolonged lockout would be two months or more], I don’t think [it will last that long],” said radio play-by-play announcer Nick Nickson, who just completed his 31st season calling the action for the Kings. “I think we’ll have a season, but probably not a full season. I don’t think anybody wants to go through what they went through in 2004-05. You’d like to think that lessons were learned.”
“I don’t anticipate [a long stoppage] this time, because I think that the negatives of a long-term stoppage would go a long way [towards] hurting the sport to a point where it’s going to take a long time to repair,” said television color commentator Jim Fox, who played ten seasons for the Kings from 1980-81 through part of the 1989-90 season, and is eighth on the Kings’ all-time scoring list.
“I could see 72 games, I could see 66, somewhere around there, [maybe] 60,” added Fox, who has behind the microphone with the Kings for 22 seasons. “But it’s funny. When it seems like it’s at the worst, that’s when it gets settled.”
As of this writing, the two sides are not even at the negotiating table. No negotiating sessions are scheduled, and all anyone is hearing or reading is useless, laughable posturing.
While the owners are reportedly demanding an immediate and considerable pay cut for all players, the NHLPA has proposed some sort of revenue sharing, which would help those franchises that are struggling, financially.
“I think the NHLPA point of view is if there was a different system of sharing the revenue, then the successful teams could help [those that are not making money],” said Fox. “The players could keep the same salary, or about the same, if there was [revenue sharing].”
But you can bet that a significant number of the owners of the more profitable teams—maybe all of them—are not at all interested in giving up any of the revenue their own franchises generate to other teams.
“I’m sure some of the owners are saying, ‘I’ve worked hard for fifty years, and my family has owned this team for [that long],” Fox continued. “Why should I [give up money to revenue sharing]?’”
Radio color commentator Daryl Evans, a former Kings left wing who has been behind the microphone for 13 years with the team, called for some flexibility on both sides.
“They’ve both taken the first step,” said Evans. “They both understand that there are issues with the current agreement. It’s got to be a flexible agreement, where both sides are prepared to bend.”
“If you look at the way the economy changes, that’s driving what’s happening,” added Evans. “As long as there’s some flexibility where both sides understand that when certain things happen, either in the economy, or in the game, that you’re able to table it, and work out something that makes sense.”
“There’s plenty of revenue out there to be shared. As long as they can come to an agreement where they can share those revenues, where both sides are happy, it should be an easy thing [to reach an agreement]. In order for them both to thrive, it’s got to be good for everybody.”
Good for everybody…many contend that the owners are intent on forcing the players to capitulate, just like they did in 2004, rather than reach an agreement that both sides are happy with.
“I heard [Kings minority owner Ed] Roski speak one time,” said Fox. “He was at a seminar, and was asked, ‘what do you look for when you’re doing a deal?’ He said, ‘at the end of the deal, I want to look across and see that both sides say, OK, we got something out of this, we’re happy with it, not where one side kills the other, or tramples on the other.’”
Fox also indicated that as frustrating as this latest lockout is for everyone in the hockey world, the current system is the best we have.
“The owners have agreed, in the past, to work together with the [players] to [formulate] a Collective Bargaining Agreement,” Fox explained. “Each side, has its strengths, each side has its weaknesses, but that is the process they’ve agreed [upon] to figure this out.”
“I have no problem with it, whatsoever, because that’s the way negotiations work, that’s the way our system works here, the capitalist part of it,” Fox elaborated. “You have the owners, who put up the money, and the players, who are compensated for their services.”
“In every walk of life, usually, there comes a time when there’s a disagreement on how to share [revenues], and sometimes, it doesn’t get done on time. But that’s what you do—you negotiate. Sometimes, it doesn’t get done on time, and you have to have a stoppage. I don’t want it to happen. But I think it’s the best system.”
For the Kings, the current work stoppage could not come at a worse time, given the fact that they are coming off a Stanley Cup Championship season.
“[It’s] terrible [timing] for the Kings,” said the Voice of the Kings, Bob Miller, who just completed his 39th season calling the action for the Kings. “The same thing happened to Tampa Bay in 2004. They win it, and there’s no season the whole next year.”
“It’s an unfortunate thing,” said Evans. “On the selfish side, especially with the momentum the Kings have in this market right now, you want to see it go.”
Something that is very clear in all this is that the owners are banking on the fact that majority of hockey fans are hopelessly addicted to their sport, and that once this latest work stoppage ends, they will come running back, filling seats in their arenas, and watching their games on television, as if nothing happened.
One has to wonder if and/or when the power of that addiction will be surpassed by the resentment of being taken for granted.
“They’ve done it to [the fans] twice [before, in 1994 and 2004],” Miller lamented. “The old saying is, you go to the well twice. Don’t go the third time. I just hope they’re cognizant of that. They’re very fortunate the fans came back the last two times they did this.”
“I think there is that factor, the three strikes,” Fox noted. “They’ve done it [twice]. There is an end to [fan] loyalty, and you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you.”
The day will eventually come when the owners take the fans for granted one too many times.
“I read a quote from [the late Los Angeles Times sports columnist] Jim Murray, and I thought, ‘this fits perfectly here,’” Miller cautioned. “Murray’s quote was, ‘if you have a non-essential business, don’t ever let anyone know about it.’ If there is no season, or it’s delayed, [NHL Commissioner] Gary Bettman, [NHLPA Executive Director] Donald Fehr, the owners and the players, are letting people know this is a non-essential business.”
“[People] don’t need [hockey] to survive,” Miller stressed. “We’re letting the fans know that we’re not essential to their livelihood—any sport. The fan doesn’t need this. It may be their passion, but it’s not necessary that they have it. Once you get into this, and cancel games, you’re letting the fans know that they don’t need to rely on us.”
“Each day we go on, people [have other] options for their entertainment dollar,” said Fox. “[With the advent of social media], maybe a labor stoppage is different from twelve or 15 years ago. People [might] find other things to do.”
Like everyone else, Kings broadcasters are in wait mode.
“Having gone through it in 2004-05, with so many days where you thought a deal would get done and it never did [before they had to cancel the season], I’m to the point now where you read the headlines and I take [them] with a grain of salt,” Nickson lamented. “I take it all now as posturing and strategizing. Just tell me when it’s done so I can go back to work. Do what you have to do, but let’s just start playing.”
“Why should I worry about it? They’re not calling me, asking me how to settle it,” Nickson added. “I’m concerned because a lot of people [around the league] lost their jobs last time, and I certainly hope that doesn’t happen again.”
Regardless of when the two sides reach an agreement, everyone should be hoping for one that works the way both sides need it to work.
“Sometimes, sacrifice has to be made,” said Fox. “Players would be sacrificing salaries, some teams would be sacrificing profits. That’s incentive to get back, and let’s hope they do.”
“Moving forward, I just hope that they get it right this time,” Nickson emphasized. “I got the sense that when the owners didn’t budge in 2004-05, then they cancelled the season and the players finally gave in, I thought the owners finally got what they wanted. Apparently, that’s not the case, so this time around, let’s hope everyone gets what they want for the long term.”
“Especially with a Commissioner, who’s been here twenty years, and on the players side, they’ve got a new guy,” Nickson added. “But get the thing right. There’s a model that can work, and I think they’re very close to it. Get it done. Let’s start playing.”
Before they can reach an agreement and get the players back on the ice, the two sides need to return to the negotiating table. But, as reported earlier, both sides are still in the ridiculous posturing stage of the process, with negotiations not even close to being on the horizon.
Miller offered a rather creative way to get the two sides to reach an agreement quickly, once they return to the bargaining table.
“Put’em in a room with a lot of water, and no bathroom breaks.”
Works for me.
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