I often have a recurring hockey nightmare. I dream that one day I make it all the way through camp and sign a contract with a pro team. Then one day, I get a call from the big club to pack up and meet the team on a road trip in Detroit. I arrive at the rink, no time for the equipment staff to do anything else other than throw my name on the back of a sweater and prep my uniform. I'd open my gear bag that had magically followed me from Gwinnett to discover I didn't pack my skates. The other players in the dressing room look at me like I'm a giant knob. I wake up relieved, sweating. But I had made it...
|Oops, these are kind of important.|
Then the other night as I was falling asleep, I had my ear buds in and I was listening to music. Maybe it was the Talking Heads or something, but in this hockey dream I was suddenly the owner of the Columbus Blue Jackets. How did I get this wife? Instantly and out of nowhere, I was now the owner of a team that had lost money every year since the last lockout. Now, it was September 16th and the NHL owners voted 29-0 to lock out the players. But in this dream, everyone perceived me as the Blue Jackets owner from the beginning of franchise history. I had no recollection of anything I had done as the owner of the CBJ. The office at Nationwide Arena was frantic about the one-day-old lockout. The media was everywhere, cameras were in my face. Everyone in Columbus was buzzing over what would happen to the NHL now that it was locked out. I quickly retreat from the press, and ask the team President, Tom Selleck, to schedule an immediate meeting with key staff members to review how I had obviously voted for the lockout.
As I sat alone in my office waiting for everyone to gather in the executive room next door, I quickly run through my head what I must have done last time. See, this team made money before the last lockout. Back then, the CBJ were new, they were fun, and the arena was rocking. Then, for something called 'cost certainty' I took my miserable arena deal that Lamar Hunt said would never work, and voted to lock out the players. An entire season was lost, an entire cog in the downtown economy flopped, and the Columbus Blue Jackets got cost certainty. But now it's 2012, and the team I own hasn't made a dime since 2004. What have I been doing? There was suddenly a knock on my office door. Tom Selleck had gathered the staff together.
I walk into the board room and stand at the end of the rich mahogany table rimmed with looks of intent. I ask the head of the marketing what would happen to attendance if there was another lock out. I knew hockey seating capacity at Nationwide Arena was 18,136. Average attendance for the 2003-2004 season was 17,396. After the last lockout, the 2005-2006 season, average attendance was 16, 796. Not a bad decline attendance. If there was another lockout, attendance shouldn't be negatively affected too much, right? Last time we did ok. "Not so fast," the VP of marketing says. She pointed out that average attendance in 2007-2008 was 15,146 and then 13,495 in 2010-2011. The attendance numbers were running downhill. My VP of marketing suggested that while the was an uptick in attendance in 2011-12, the Blue Jackets are coming off of the most uninspiring season in team history. Not the lasting memory to leave a dwindling fan base with. She said, "I reminded you on the 14th that with attendance dwindling, it might not be prudent to reduce the number of games played, or dare I say it, eliminate the season. Especially since the arrival of Sir Urban Meyer will already be a challenge to attracting the average fan before January." My VP of Marketing is none other than Margaret Thatcher.
Standing there, I thought to myself that maybe a lockout won't be so bad. The team losses from last season are rumored to be an 8-figure number. Certainly it won't cost us that much money to not play this year. Then Paul Newman, the VP of Finance, coughed to get my attention; almost as if he were reading my mind. He opened his briefcase and slid one of the dead seas scrolls across the table to me. I unrolled it and it read, "Franklin County Approves Purchase of Nationwide Arena" in German. Yes - the Dead Sea scrolls are written auf Deutsch and contain Blue Jacket's headlines. "So What, Regg" I said. Then Paul Newman pulled from his brief case the new lease agreement the team has with Nationwide Arena and a copy of the Buser Report. He set them on the table in front of him like pieces of evidence in a murder trial.
"So you really want to screw the folks who just bailed you out. The county gets a sweetheart deal in purchasing the arena trying to protect the tax revenues from that place outside called the Arena district. The first thing they do after buying the arena is cut you a check for $10 million dollars a year by way of no rent payment. Oh, and not to mention those six storm troopers from Nationwide over there in the corner now own 30% of your team too. They also happened to give us a 52 million dollar loan while you nance around your steel mills. They are actually paying $2.8 million dollars a year to keep their name on the side of the building." I look at him strangely. Newman continues, "It's been rumored that you walk around your office at 'Worthington' muttering that you dare the players to call your bluff on a lockout this time. Did you think what a lost season, or part of a lost season, might do to the folks who just gave you a hand? Maggie over there just told you attendance is already down, and did you forget about the All Star Game? You've got to be a pretty big a-hole to vote for a lockout when your county, the county that just bailed you out, could really benefit from hosting an All-Star game this year. But no, you were hell bent on taking out your red ink on the players, weren’t you?”
|As a man known for his subtleties, his words were profound in the board room.|
Yikes - the All Star Game. But what's in it for me? Because other than some new boards for Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets don't get much in return from the NHL All Star game. I mean really, there isn't going to be a player from the team playing on the All Star team. And if the fans do vote Jack Johnson to the All Star game it would be like voting Matt Moore to the NFL pro-bowl along with either Manning boy, Aaron Rogers, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger. Ugh. The All Star game. The media buzz, the player buzz, the outpouring of income to Franklin County in the form of hotel tax, sin taxes, and tax taxes. Oh, and National Sports Spotlight on Columbus that doesn't involve NCAA infractions. But hey, the Blue Jackets really don't have much to gain from the All Star Game - Just the people who bailed me out not five minutes ago and saved me $10,000,000 a year.
Then sitting at the end of the ridiculously long table in the board room sat my girlfriend from the 3rd grade. She was quietly crying. Confused, I asked who the heck she was supposed to be. "Your Team's Biggest Fan" she said. I asked her why she was crying. "Because you'll just expect that I'll come to a game same as it ever was. You're betting that my love for your team will be so strong that I won't care how long hockey is gone. But you're right. I will come back, but shame on you for just expecting that. It's just like 3rd grade all over again!" She squealed as she ran out of the conference room. As she left, I noticed her "Est. 2000" T-shirt.
|Thank God is was my girl friend from 3rd grade. I was kind a jerk to my girlfriend after college - she may have stabbed me had she been in this dream.|
There was nothing I could do, it was September 16th. My employees all thought I was a real jerk for locking the players out, costing the very county who just bailed me out hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not to mention directly affecting the lives of the 10,000 people who earn a living from the arena district. What was I thinking? I was left speechless. Alas, the damage had been done. Disgusted, all the employees left the room. The last people to leave the board room where the six storm troopers from Nationwide. As they walked out past me, each of them speared me in the stomach with the butt of their blasters. Everyone hated me. What had I done? Why hadn't someone talked some sense into me? Where was the leadership?
Walking out the door ashamed at myself, I flipped off the lights and noticed Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh sitting in a kingly chair just outside the conference room in the hallway - all by himself. He was listening to one of this father-in-law's speeches during WWII. I asked him what he was doing there and who was he in my dream. Slowly I began to wake, but not before he answered my question. "I am the NHL Commissioner," he said smiling softly. “I am largely unknown to most people and play no meaningful role in the empire I control. I let the aristocracy run things their way and speak up when it serves me best. Most people don't know who I am, but in your psyche, I knew that my complete irrelevance to the hardships facing the NHL would best be manifested as an insignificant figurehead who only speaks at awards ceremonies." For those keeping score at home, Prince Philip - Duke of Edinburgh, is married to the Queen of England - The perfect metaphor for Gary Bettman. He takes no responsibility for anything that goes wrong with the empire, but celebrates its growth and always gets great seats.
I woke up saddened that I had done nothing to repay the people and folks who had been loyal to a floundering franchise. Laying here I realized that it was only August 24th, and despite this clichéd dream of a Hollywood script, I had time to make a difference. Even if every other owner in the NHL was going to vote for a lockout, I was going to vote against it. I had to do something SINCERE to the folks who stood by me and helped bail out this money losing team. I would vote “no” to lock out the players. I had no real credibility with the owners or governors any way. I felt good knowing that if I was owner of the Columbus Blue Jackets, I would do the right thing. Even if it had no impact on the lockout, the fans, investors, and county knew I was grateful. I looked over at my alarm clock and it was 5:59am. I hate it when that happens, I hate it.