The NHL is going to have a tough time keeping the public engaged long enough to care about another lockout. The 24-hour news cycles are on a steady rotation of Middle East turmoil, NFL refs, Election coverage and Honey Boo Boo ratings. And while I’m all for workers negotiating their position, this feels like drudgery and not the “damn the man” vibe that make work stoppages easy for public consumption.
The public can get behind a lockout when issues like safety or corruption are at play, but when the problem is how to split up $3.3 billion in revenue, it’s going to be a tough sell. We did the usual blustering over the NFL offseason lockout last year and the shortened NBA season but trust me when I tell you that the public is fatigued.
Just watching the NFL scab refs getting bullied by coaches and clumsily facing the wrong way has made for some painful yet still pleasurable viewing on Sunday. But something has to give because every good protester knows that when a strategy drags on too long, it becomes a drag.
For the past 18 years, the MLB has been able to avoid similar lockouts by taking advantage of a system that does not having a salary cap. The man that helped negotiate that deal was Donald Fehr, former executive director of the MLB Players’ Association from ’86-’09. He helped coordinate the 1994 players strike that ended with no World Series. Now, as head of the NHL Players’ Association he is attempting to usher in an era of peace on the ice.
So what exactly are the tactics of a union under pressure to cave? Here are some of my favorite ways players can stage their own coup d’etat from Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals:
“Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” There is no way that anyone can follow all of their own rules all the time. Maybe players can flood the owner’s offices with requests for meetings and paperwork to overload the front offices. This helps prove that even owners are capable of failing in the game they chose to play by.
“A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” Sitting at home and not playing hockey is going to get old quick for those who have dedicated their lives to the sport. Players should rent ice in their hometowns and put on exhibition games and donate the proceeds to charity. Show the owners exactly who the fans pay to see.
“The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.” The Players’ Association has to think creatively for alternatives to the owner’s proposal. Simply restating differing demands is not negotiating, it’s just holding everyone hostage.
For now, the season is scheduled to open Oct. 11th if everything can get sorted out. But with limits to free agency and salary arbitration on the table it looks like the owners won’t budge ‘til hell freezes over.