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December 2005, Vol. 128, No. 12
The hockey lockout of 200405
Paul D. Staudohar
The lockout in the National Hockey League (NHL) gave new meaning to the old sports adage "Wait till next year." The aborted schedule of games in 200405 set records that the fans would rather not see: the first professional sports league to lose an entire season, the most games lost (1,230) due to a work stoppage, and the longest-lasting shutdown (310 days) in sports history. Moreover, there was no guarantee that there would even be a "next year," as key issues on the bargaining table remained unresolved. But in July 2005, the NHL and its players union finally reached a new collective bargaining agreement, allowing the 200506 season to start on time.
Lengthy work stoppages in professional sports are not new. In 199495, major league baseball lost 921 games over a period of 232 days from a strike, and the National Basketball Association cancelled 428 games during its 199899 lockout.1 Hockey had a lengthy shutdown in 199495 when 468 games were wiped out during a 103-day lockout.
Team owners have increasingly relied on lock-outs to put pressure on players to accede to their demands. Lockouts usually occur before or early in a season, when players have not received much, if any, of their pay. However, it is not uncommon for players to strike late in a season, when they have received most of their salaries while owners have yet to take home big payoffs from postseason television revenues.
These conflicts are costly, and perhaps it is past the time for the parties to pursue new approaches that promote a partnership between owners and players. This is especially the case with hockey, because the future of the league is threatened by the frequent wrangling over money and power. Unless a more cooperative model of negotiations is developed, the NHL could continue to recede from public view and lose its standing as a major professional sport.
This excerpt is from an article published in the December 2005 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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1 These work stoppages are discussed in Paul D. Staudohar, "The Baseball Strike of 199495," Monthly Labor Review, March 1997, pp. 2127; and "Labor Relations in Basketball: the Lockout of 199899," Monthly Labor Review, April 1999, pp. 39.
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