Yes, the NHL is a banana republic

The National Hockey League was stable for at least the 20 years between World War II and expansion in 1967. There followed 13-14 years of growing pains, competing leagues, shuttling franchises, all of which finally settled down with the folding of the WHA into the NHL. After the Devils unpacked in New Jersey (in 1982? I think that’s right), the league (while not without troubles — Eagleson, Zeigler, etc.) seemed stable again, healthy, and was making new converts, growing new markets.

Then Bettman was hired.

Within a year, we lost a half-season to a lock-out. I’d never even heard of a lock-out before Bettman. That’s a phrase that just goes with Bettman in my mind. 1994 lock-out. Bettman. 2004 lock-out. Bettman. 2012 lock-out. Bettman-Bettman-Bettman. And considering the fact that we spent a few years after each lock-out shell-shocked by the PTSD of the “unthinkable” that just happened, and then a year or two stressing out about it possibly happening again as the end of each CBA appoached, that adds up to the defining characteristic of Bettman’s reign. We have spent way too much of our time worrying about what just happened and what may be about to happen.

If the NHL were a publicly-traded company, you would stay the **** away. If it were a country, you would get the **** out.

Because the NHL is unstable. The public is generally pretty forgiving when bad shit happens once. The 2004 lock-out could be written off as a singularity, a non-repeating event, even a necessary fix. But the excuses that worked the first time can’t be reused. No one believes it.

If you ask for remedies to fix a broken economy, and get everything you want (2004), and then revenues explode to historic levels of more than $3 billion, and you say YOUR ECONOMY IS STILL BROKEN, then — well —

— YOU SUCK AT YOUR JOB. Or you’re a thief (see kleptocracy, below).

A league that does this does not deserve, nor can it have, the public trust. As a counter-example, take US currency. No matter how ****-ed up it might be, the dollar keeps the public trust — worldwide — because it is backed up by the full authority of the United States government. Before Bettman, hockey fans might accept franchises that folded or moved, eras of watered-down talent, crappy TV contracts, ugly jerseys, whatever. But it never occurred to anyone (at least not to me) that the league would just stop playing.

A league that thinks it can just close up shop for a year every few years is not worthy being taken seriously as an institution. And sports leagues, make no mistake about it, profit greatly from being thought of as venerable institutions. As it stands, the NHL is a hockey league sometimes. They’re operating on the level of a beer league.

Or one of these:

Banana Republic – Wikipedia

banana republic is a politically-unstable country that economically depends upon the exports of a limited resource (fruits, minerals), and usually features a society composed of stratified social classes […].  In political science, the term banana republic denotes a country dependent upon limited primary-sector productions, which is ruled by a plutocracy who exploit the national economy by means of a politico-economic oligarchy […] In practice, a banana republic is a country operated as a commercial enterprise for private profit, effected by the collusion between the State and favoured monopolies, whereby the profits derived from private exploitation of public lands is private property, and the debts incurred are public responsibility. […] Kleptocracy, government by thieves, features influential government employees exploiting their posts for personal gain (embezzlement, fraud, bribery, etc.), with the resultant government budget deficit repaid by the native working people who earn money, rather than make money.

And even as a banana republic, it’s one of the less stable ones.


  2 comments for “Yes, the NHL is a banana republic

  1. BringBackTheShieldJersey
    November 16, 2012 at 10:08 AM

    Interesting. However, Banana Republic means a bit more, for usually, if not always, the major companies are owned, in whole or in majority, by foreigners. These foreigners co-opt the local elites to consolidate their hegemony. As the same Wikipaedia source continues later on, “Because of foreign (corporate) manipulation, the kleptocratic government is unaccountable to its nation, the country’s private sector–public sector corruption operates the banana republic, thus, the national legislature usually are for sale, and function mostly as ceremonial government.” So your analogy is breaking down.

    I think a different, also somewhat passe, Political Science term that is more applicable is Gunboat Diplomacy. In short, this is “Diplomacy involving intimidation by threat or use of military force” and more specifically, from Wikipaedia, “The term comes from the period of colonial imperialism, where the European powers would intimidate other states into granting trade or other concessions (unequal treaties) through a demonstration of their superior military power.”

    And that is what the LOCKOUT is for Bettman: a (threatened) means to obtain an unequal contract. I think people who write that the NHLPA was stupid to hire Fehr for he would ensure a difficult negotiation, they are stupid. The NHL has an established track record of using its power to extract more from the players. Why the heck should they just concede? But people write things like, The owners have all the leverage; the players should just cut their losses. Like the players should just say, “OHH look at those big warships, we’re fucked, we surrender.”

    If you want to go with the Banana Republic analogy, then the elite deserve to get overthrown.

    If Gunboat Diplomacy is the more appropriate analogy, then you gotta respect those who stand up for themselves. There’s a reason why France gets laughed at: they surrender too easily. Would you want the players to do the same?

  2. OneTimer
    November 20, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    “A league that thinks it can just close up shop for a year every few years is not worthy being taken seriously as an institution.”

    That one really hit home. In a country that struggles AT BEST to list the NHL in it’s Top 5 sporting attractions … this lockout is nothing short of self-inflicted murder.

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