For most sports fans, the season of their favorite sports leagues are one of their absolute favorite times of the year. Football fans wait all summer for the fall and the season to start up and baseball fans wait all winter for the spring. But could you imagine if, after all that waiting, your favorite sports league just didn’t begin? Well, that is exactly what hockey fans were faced with prior to the 2004-04 NHL season. That is because the 2004-05 NHL season was cancelled because of a labour dispute in which the players and owners couldn’t come to an agreement on the CBA (collective bargaining agreement).
To date, this has still been the only time a major professional sports league cancelled a season in North American history due to a labour dispute. The “lockout” (as it was called) lasted over ten months and resulted in over 1000 un-played games, millions of lost fans and a laundry list of other issues. Here I will take a look at what caused this lockout, how it eventually ended and the lasting effects felt by the NHL as a result.
After the 2003 NHL season, the CBA was expired and it was up to the league and its owners to come to an agreement with the players. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman attempted to convince players to accept a salary structure that would link up league revenues to player salaries, which would help teams have cost certainty. For most sports commentators and sports media, this seemed like the right move, but the players weren’t a fan of the idea. This is because, according to a report by the SEC, prior to 2004, NHL teams had spent about 76% of their gross revenues on player salaries, which is a number much higher than any other pro sports league in North America. So, as you could imagine, players weren’t happy with this and would not agree to it.
But something had to be done as teams were losing money hand and fist and couldn’t afford to keep paying players as they had been. As a result of no agreement being made by the deadline, the entire 2004-05 season was cancelled and the lockout would run on until July 21st 2005, when a new CBA was ratified. The new CBA included a salary cap that would be adjusted each year to guarantee players 54 percent of total NHL revenues. Player contracts are also guaranteed and the players’ share will increase if revenues rise to specific benchmarks.
While this meant that NHL would return to business as usual the following year, in many people’s eyes, the damage was already done. The public had little no sympathy for the players or the owners as it was basically “millionaires arguing with billionaires”. But, when polled, the public largely blamed the players for the lockout and a much lower number blamed the owners. The 2005 NHL Draft also had to resort to a new and different protocol for the lottery.
And while the public obviously didn’t like the lockout, it did help a lot of teams make some money and almost every single NHL team increased in value due to this new CBA, TV deals and more.