On Bettman, relocation and value extraction: A guest post


An article appeared on Reddit recently that prompted this post's creation. Nothing seems to get people more interested in writing for this blog (if you're not me that is) than the stink of hypocrisy and bullshit that follows NHL commissioner Gary Bettman like the dust cloud that followed Pig Pen. With that in mind, I'd like to introduce our newest guest blogger, Mikhail Bjørge to the team. He doesn't like Gary very much and wants to tell the world why. This is actually somewhat appropriate given the temporary new mission statement of bringing back the glory (the teaching blog) given that Mikhail will also be giving a guest lecture in my class next week. Here we go: 



For the first time in recent memory, there has been some whining on the internet.  Gary Bettman recently said in regards to relocation rumours: "Nobody's moving. And speculation to the contrary not only is wrong, it's unfair to the team and their fans who are being speculated about."  The plural nature of "fans" in regards to the Panthers notwithstanding, I think people misunderstand the role of Bettman in the league. 

His goal, his only and sole goal, is to make the owners money.  Full stop.  He doesn't want to “grow the game” for the sake of growing the game–he wants to make the owners money.  He doesn't care about the "on-ice product," (suppressing vomit at the nomenclature), he wants to make the owners money.  Everything he does, negative or positive, is to make the owners money.  If the fans like it or not is purely incidental, he wants to make the owners money.  In the 'True Facts About the Gary Bettman', “that’s what the Gary do.” 

A big way Gary makes the owners money is by increasing the value of their teams, and there is no denying that he has done just that with aplomb.  One of the big reasons, if not the biggest reason, that teams have value is because of their potential for relocation, mainly to Canada.  Nobody is going to pay ~$1 billion dollars for a team that loses $10-30 million a year in the American south.  Those teams, in any reality, are worth between a few million and a few tens of millions if they cannot relocate.  They have no gate, they are hockey-revenue negative, and exist to excise rents from non-hockey related revenue (mainly the control of the arena, parking, and concession), all subsidized via revenue sharing and leeching off the local citizens via the local plutocrats/oligarchy.  These hockey-as-vector teams value lies in the potential for moving, and this is good for the league, because it keeps team values artificially inflated.


Now, all hockey teams cry poor.  Nearly every team claims they lose money.  It's almost ubiquitously bullshit.  Take the Edmonton Oilers, owned by Batman.  Katz claims that the Oil loses money, and on paper, that's probably true.  Their only revenue is the gate, and their expenditures are everything, from paying Rexall (Katz's pharmacy conglomerate) for naming rights on the (old) arena, to salaries to sundries - and teams are allowed to write off nearly anything as expenditure.  It should be a scandal, but it’s not.  Also, teams are private entities, their books are closed as fuck, so even trying to untangle the web of economic deceit is a nonstarter.  One doesn’t need to know the recipe to get the essentials on the palate.  The Oilers also own (through Katz Sports Entertainment) other teams that essentially lose money (like the OKC Barons, the primary farm team for the Oilers), appear to lose money, or are dormant, (like the local AA semi-pro baseball team).  All revenue streams are in other, non-KSE numbered corporations.  This is classic Hollywood accounting, maximize paper losses and minimize paper revenue.  Collect losses onto the team, externalize profits into the non-team, and extract concessions from differing levels of government.  The idiots in Edmonton bought his bullshit, and subsidized his team to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in a new arena/arena area/buildings/Wealth Extraction Devices for a local billionaire. 

(Editor's note: this new arena of course had its naming rights conveniently purchased by Rogers, putting more profit into the hands of the billionaire we call Batman rather than back into the hands of the good denizens of Edmonton that subsidized its construction–the same Rogers group that just purchased control of the NHL media network in Canada.)

The thing is, some teams actually lose money, even with revenue sharing.  And these teams are bad for the league.  They cost owners money, because owners have to prop them up.  The NHL isn't the NFL; self-socialism-for-the-rich (really, a boss-owned cooperative) only works if everyone is making decent money. Then it improves the product and produces equity which makes owners money.  This is not the case in the NHL.  There are very weak teams in incredibly weak markets, and this is not going to change going into the future.  One could put a successful NFL team in Toronto, we have collectively seen that one cannot put a successful NHL franchise in deserts and tropical swamps.  One can’t create fandom.  A professional cricket team would fail in Phoenix, no matter how much the Cricket Commissioner talked about its intrinsic stability.

Florida is actually safer than people believe, as it's really only a vector for Sunrise Sports and Entertainment to make money from the venue. As long as that holds, the Panthers are not in terrible danger to move.  The same cannot be said for Arizona, Carolina, and to a slightly lesser extent, Nashville.  Even with Florida’s sweetheart deal, the owners cannot overlook the fact that if they moved to Quebec City, they could move, then immediately flip the team to Quebecor for an easy quarter-billion dollar profit, go back and buy half of Florida, and live the rest of their lives as the parasitic shit-lords they are, but with less stress and exponentially more little tiny umbrellas in tropically coloured drinks. 

Speaking of making obscene profits, there are basically three-and-a-half markets that are salivating ATMs for the rich.  Toronto, Hamilton, and Quebec City, and possibly Seattle if a billionaire tech parasite could be found to be a hockey fan, or at least a basketball fan that tolerates the cold. (We're looking at you, Steve Ballmer, especially if your bid to buy the Clippers collapses under the weight of all that litigation).  I’m leaving Las Vegas out here, because the team wouldn’t be purchased to create a fan base, it would be created as a “draw,” probably by a conglomerate of casinos, and 100% of the tickets would be comps.  It’s a differing situation for this analysis (although it exists within the same capitalist parameters).  A team could conceivably be purchased for $110-$130 million, which is fair market value for a business that is ostensibly deep in the red, and moved in the middle of the night, Baltimore  Indianapolis Colts style. Throw in a $60 million "relocation fee" (bribe) to the owners, and voila, hockey moves to a market that wants it. The problem is, that's a fuck of a lot less than ~$1 billion, which is where the bidding would go for another Toronto team, and ~$300M-~$700M for Quebec/Hamilton.

Relocation fees and expansion tickets are pure profit for the owners. Under the CBA, the players see literally nothing from them - except the headaches of an expansion draft or the pain of relocation.  Bettman exists to make the owners money, and expansion is more profitable for the owners than relocation. However, the owners do not have unlimited patience, and propping up unprofitable (under whatever rubric) teams while there are potential wealth extraction units is leaving money on the table.  What will probably end up happening, despite the relocation/expansion economic juxtaposition, is that two nonperforming teams will move to Seattle and Quebec, and the deep pockets in Toronto and Las Vegas (one corporate, one wealthy family) will pay an insane fee for a new franchise. This is the plan the makes the owners the most money, and that’s Gary’s job, so that’s probably the plan. They can’t say that, because then the teams are worth nothing, and that wouldn’t make the owners money. But anyone with any business acumen can see that the plan will not look substantially different. This will lead to league-wide stability, and huge profits for the owners going forwards. Bettman exists to make the owners money, and he will.

For more on profit scoundrelism see:

And finally, for more on the CBA and revenue sharing, this is essential reading: 

Go Oilers!

And.... we're back (sort of)




It's training camp, the start of a new year and the kids look alright. The prospects have a lot more potential than I've seen in a long time and there might just be reason for cautious optimism rather than the usual Oilers brand of selling hope and then wishing you hadn't bought a goddamn thing. In other news, I have a job now--a real, actual professorial gig at a small Ontario University that shall remain nameless. And as a result of this new job, combined with training camp and the upcoming season, the blog is coming back to life with a slightly changed format, at least from me. (Admittedly I honestly have no idea if any of the other writers still care about this space. I all but took it over exclusively in 2012, but that's beside the point). The fact remains, I will be writing about the Oilers and classical social theory, in lockstep with my own course so that my new students can see that I actually care about them and am willing to have a form of pedagogical praxis instead of being a shitty "do as I say, not as I do" kind of prof. They'll be writing about a number of different topics but I'll be back to a bi-weekly(ish) schedule of Oilers commentary. This weekend will start with a review of training camp and the young stars tournament that was, likely filtered through some sort of Marxist approach.

In the meantime, if anyone still reads this space that isn't enrolled in my class, I'll try and keep it interesting.

Go Oilers!

SWS

Accountability.

There's been an endless amount of talk on the various Oiler blogs about suck, failure, the general badness of the team and the reasons for it. These reasons include but are not limited to the lack of an NHL calibre defence, questionable goaltending (as much as I love Bryzgalov - he's the most quotable Oiler since Fatso Penner), not enough depth, too many of the same types of players, missing a big 2C, poor management, Kevin Lowe, the Pronger curse, the Smytty curse, and even something as simple as "God hates us all". The fan-base is in a frenzy and the jersey tossing masses are getting restless. Even the most optimistic fans and bloggers are starting to lose their composure and fall into the trap of pessimism, something I wrote about in my more prolific days, moonlighting at the CopperNBlue about three years ago. You know, it's funny (not "ha ha" funny, more like "face-palm" funny); there's been so much angst and bitterness for so many years that I forgot some of the stuff many of us were writing about back in the early days of the infinibuild. Even then, the obvious solution was to burn the whole thing down. Here's a slightly edited for context chunk of what I wrote at CnB back in January of 2011: 

"Bringing it back to the Oilers, the idea of the rebuild espoused by the organization is the grand narrative currently being used to bait the general public into believing that everything is okay. Derek has pessimistically contradicted this hope with the concept of (mis)management as his own counter-historical narrative... The purpose here is not to argue which theory (bad luck vs. mismanagement; pessimism vs. nihilism) is correct, but instead to demonstrate that seeing things in absolutes is problematic. There are likely aspects of both of these ideas that are correct; just as luck has played into the decline, so too has (mis)management... Context is everything. Finally, it seems there is only one course of action that remains to bring about a more desirable future: Revolution. "




The revolution that I was sort of blathering on about 3 years ago seems to be starting now, with the Fire Lowe campaign, the jersey tossing, and pessimism reigning over much of the Oilers Blogosphere (LT and maybe Black Dog excepted). But until the players themselves start considering their own actions and how their actions impact others, nothing will change. I'm quite torn here. I want to say that no amount of change at the top is going to make the players (workers) play harder, yet my political beliefs lie somewhere else - that overthrowing the bosses ought to make everything better. In a sense, the players have already overthrown the bosses 5 times since 2009. Mac was fired, Quinn was fired. Renney, Krueger, and Tambo all were let go and while some could argue that Quinn and Tambo never should have happened in the first place, still nothing has changed. This is why I am torn; the theory that overthrowing the bosses will lead us to something great seems to fall apart in this particular instance. It's rather unsettling, quite frankly.


So instead of preaching revolution, today I am going to write about a concept called "accountability." Theoretically I should know something about this. As a soon-to-be professor who has his own class to teach and design, I am accountable to my students to make sure that I am providing them with the necessary tools to succeed in the classroom, something that coaches can relate to. But that accountability can only go so far. Teachers, like coaches aren't responsible for the performance of individual students. Their jobs are to provide the tools for success, the right game plan if you will, to provide structure and to reach students in different ways. However it is not entirely up to the teacher to motivate the students to want to do their best. Try as we might, no teacher is capable of reaching every student. To an extent, that motivation has to come from within, as the teaching-learning dynamic is fluid, not exclusively top-down. The teacher gives assignments, provides ideas, and works with individuals and groups of students to help them to succeed in the courses they take. Students, however, don't always want to try to put in the work. Sometimes they want to sleep through your lectures. Sometimes they expect the teacher to just give them a PowerPoint (or other sort of presentation software) slideshow. Many want to be spoon-fed and to put in the minimum amount of effort required to pass the class. As the old saying goes: "C's get Degrees."


In a university classroom, there is an unspoken agreement between strong students and willing instructors that basically goes like this: "I'll do the work if I give a fuck, provided that if I give a fuck, you'll give me an A and possibly a letter of reference for grad school/law school/professional program X." I teach a lot of 20-22 year olds. They're good kids, if not a little bit too pampered and privileged for their own good, but some of them are so used to having everything handed to them that they just tune everything out. Some of them also don't give a flying fuck what I am teaching and are there because they assumed (incorrectly) that a course without a final exam is essentially a bird course. 


I wonder if some of this is happening with the Oilers kids. Many of them are really young, have spent their whole lives being successful without having to put in a boatload of effort, and then suddenly they have more money than they know what to do with, and since they're used to being the best, they feel like they don't have to try and hold up their end of the agreement. Many of these Oiler kids have all the skills in the world, incredible talents and endless potential, but they coast because they either aren't motivated or they aren't holding up their own ends of this unspoken agreement. Instead of A grades and reference letters, hockey players get contracts for lots of money. The Oilers kids got their A grades in advance of writing their kick-ass papers but under normal circumstances, the A grades and reference letters require a modicum of work. Instead of acting like A students or even the really hungry B students who want to get better, the Oilers kids play like C students. They take shifts off, they don't show up until the last day of class, and then they complain when they don't get the results they expected. Where's the accountability? Well, they've gotten their grades in advance, what's left? Why show up?


It's easy as a fan to blame management all the time, and admittedly the current management is trying to clean up a mess that is so massive it could take another 2-3 years to overcome. However that doesn't mean the players who are here, who are making giant amounts of money to play a game shouldn't be held accountable for their roles in the collapse of the team. There's no academic probation for talented players in the NHL, there's no dean's vacation either, as teams are too concerned with managing a salary cap to use buyouts with top players who under-perform. Taylor Hall knows he's safe and he's set for the rest of his life. Same with RNH. It's the players on the bottom, the players who would be expected to be C students, the students who were (potentially unfairly) streamed towards technical college and the trades for whatever reasons (usually racist or class-biased) like Ben Eager who get shipped out or sent to the farm (the equivalent of academic probation in this analogy), while the talent and potential allow the kids to maintain their positions in the hierarchy of students, it is almost entirely because the allure of that potential is greater than the actualization or their results. 


It's time for a change, but this change has to come from within, not be forced from above or below. 


Go Oilers!


SWS

Guest Post (or why Gary is a Douche Bag)

Bettman or a vampire? You decide

BCB and I haven't been around much lately for a myriad of different reasons, and none of them particularly worth mentioning. However a friend of the bringing back the glory family, Doug Nesbitt, has been writing some very interesting things as of late. Doug is a labour history student in lovely Kingston Ontario at one of Canada's self-proclaimed "best" universities. That claim is a lie, but that's neither here nor there. And don't let that scare you off regarding where our beloved Oilers' MacFearless leader received his MBA. Apparently it is the one thing this place still does well. Anyhoo, Doug, despite being a Leafs fan, is a pretty smart dude and wrote some words worthy of publication on our underwhelming little space. Please enjoy it.


The Bettman-engineered bullshit in Phoenix ends for now with Arizona taxpayers forking over tens of millions of dollars to subsidize a failed franchise. Let's be clear: the loss of Winnipeg to Phoenix had nothing to do with US-Canadian exchange rates and everything to do with Bettman's desire to move the team to Phoenix because of its massive regional television market. Bettman and Co have proven again and again that the league is more than capable of bailing out teams in financial difficulty, even taking them into league ownership.

But why bailout Phoenix and not Winnipeg? Bettman's entire project, since he became Commissioner at the behest of the owners, has been US expansion into major television markets in order to land a lucrative American network television deal. This explains the two Florida teams, Atlanta, San Jose, Anaheim, Nashville, Minnesota moving to Dallas, Hartford moving to Carolina, Winnipeg to Phoenix, Quebec City to Colorado (even though Colorado had already failed in the 1970s, much like the first Atlanta franchise), and then the granting of another Minnesota team seven years after the move to Dallas. All this activity happened between 1991 and 1999.

This project should not be a surprise. It was the desire for an American network contract that motivated the original expansion from 6 to 12 teams in 1967. But in the United States, hockey isn't football, baseball or even basketball. Bettman's project failed consistently, producing a number of financially unstable teams. From this situation stems the 1994 and 2004 lockouts. In both lockouts, Bettman and the owners sought to impose a salary cap on the players in order to free up cash for a profit-sharing system in which profitable teams subsidized failing teams necessary to land the network contract.

But expansion has brought with it other problems that has led Bettman and the owners to radically alter the game's rules in very bad ways. The shootout and elimination of the two-line pass were done for ratings - to produce a higher scoring, faster, and "entertaining" game. Prior to the 2004-5 lockout in which Bettman caused the loss of an entire season in order to win the team salary cap, the NHL hit the lowest goals-per-game rate since the mid-1950s. Between 1975 and 1993, teams averaged between 3.4 and 4 goals per game. Between 1997 and 2004, this fell from 2.9 to 2.6 (and have fallen since a peak after the lockout down to 2.7). NHL hockey in the late 1990s and early 2000s was a slow, boring, defensive affair (save Colorado and Detroit) in which "clutching and grabbing" was the major on-ice problem.


The collapse in goal scoring was in great part a result of the league's expansion from 21 to 30 teams in nine years which dramatically diluted the talent pool, making old defensive strategies like the neutral-zone trap radically more effective when implemented by well-coached teams like Jacques Lemaire's New Jersey Devils. With a diluted talent pool, you got relatively slower and less talented players relying on clutching and grabbing to even the odds. This was combined with a revolution in goaltending techniques, like the butterfly and subsequent pro-fly popularized by Patrick Roy, and a brief period of unregulated goalie equipment enlargement. In the hope of creating a higher-scoring and thus "entertaining" game for new fans, eliminating the two-line pass was precisely about breaking Lemaire's trap. It should be noted that Detroit also employed a left-wing lock, imported by Bowman from the Soviet style of play that went along with Bowman's successful attempts to recreate the five-man units developed by the Soviets by literally using those same Russian players.

The shootout was all about ratings. Bettman continues to claim fans are "bored" by tied games. You'd expect that from someone who said he never watched a hockey game before he became NHL commissioner. Bettman's only concern is TV ratings and landing a lucrative network contract. In addition to profoundly violating the team essence of the sport by making shootouts the basis upon which teams win, the extra point awarded to shootout wins has totally warped the standings. The battles for the last playoff positions at the end of the season are often unfair and unreflective of who actually has a better winning record. The shootout is sheer bullshit and has to go.

Meanwhile, the NHL, whether Bettman or Shanahan, is completely incapable of enforcing safety standards on headshots, hits from behind, and cross-checking. This "let them play" attitude is a cover for creating an incredibly dangerous game which has led to an epidemic of concussions and other injuries. Players like Matt Cooke, whose deliberate attempts injure and end the careers of star players, get slaps on the wrist in highly inconsistent suspensions handed down from Shanahan - who has obviously had his head rattled a few too many times. And the ongoing failure to implement automatic icing, like in minor hockey, is indicative of the league's total lack of interest in player health and safety.

This is the NHL as the owners and Bettman want it: a vicious assault on the sport's integrity, its fans, its players, and the cities in which its teams are located. I welcome the destruction of the NHL and its replacement with player-run teams and community-owned venues.


Doug Nesbitt is a History PhD candidate at Queen's University and a labour rights activist. His (non-academic) work can be found at rankandfile.ca and occasionally on Rabble. We here at BBTG appreciate Doug's contribution to our blog and will attempt to get him appropriately drunk as compensation for his efforts.

(Go Oilers)

Teaching to Win or Learning not to Lose?


It's been a while so I am going to go back to a classic "Lowetide" style introduction to start us off. This handsome fellow is Paulo Freire, a Brazilian thinker and scholar of education. He's been on my mind a lot lately because I've started and now finished teaching my first ever University course, a 3rd year lecture on the Sociology of Education. Freire is something of a legend in the field, one of the founding fathers of an area of study known as "Critical Pedagogy." Critical pedagogy looks at fundamental inequalities that exist in the classroom, in the way that teachers teach and students learn, the way that management types and policy makers decide what is to be taught and why. In the early 1970s, Freire wrote a book called "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" and I think that some of what he has to say applies to our young and confused Oilers team. (By the way, yes, we are a hockey blog again. We've just been busy with other projects for about 16 months, during which the team was so bad it was barely worth thinking about.)

Anyhoo, as I said, there is a young and confused team on the ice. As fans, we really don't know who or what they are. They seem to lack an identity. One of the primary functions of education is to socialize students. This process is often how students develop a sense of self and learn to interact with others. It's possible that the lockout combined with a new teacher (Ralph), a new curriculum (Ralph's system) and a rotating cast of crap in the bottom of the roster has delayed the socialization of the team. That is a possibility and also why I wanted to look at Freire's understanding of education. Freire looks at traditional education as something of a "Banking Model", in which teachers deposit knowledge into the docile minds of the students, and students withdraw that knowledge in order to write exams and papers etc. etc. Freire asserts that the teacher is the narrating subject while the student acts as a patient, listening object (Freire, 57), that the teacher’s role is to “fill” the students with the contents of the narrative, which are almost always detached from reality (ibid, 58). It is a conscious attempt to minimize or even annul the students’ creativity to serve the interests of the oppressors, in this case, the State. The oppressors then use their supposed “humanitarianism” to preserve a “profitable situation” in this “banking model” of education (ibid, 60). This could be interpreted as the State attempting to maintain a hegemonic control over knowledge in the classroom, socializing the students to believe the values of the State without question. The State, in this case, would be the Oilers organization and the oppressor is obviously the Hydra-headed beast known as "MacTamblowe". They know the team isn't going to stop making money so why bother putting any work in? They can just switch up the teachers at will and the message won't change. Why else would Bucky and Smith still have positions?

Enter Ralph. He has a reputation for being a communicator first and foremost. Ralph has a teaching style unlike any that the last few Oilers coaches have employed, and while the team has languished under the oppression of previous regimes, perhaps Ralph's new vision could work. Ralph is a motivational speaker and prides himself on creating an atmosphere where the players and coaches engage freely in dialogue, and that coaches can learn from players, too. It's a different approach to thinking about the game. What would Freire think about Ralph's revolutionary approach to teaching?


Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world. Hence, dialogue cannot occur between those who want to name the world and those who do not wish this naming—between those who deny others the right to speak their word and those whose right to speak has been denied them. Those who have been denied their primordial right to speak their word must first reclaim this right and prevent the continuation of this dehumanizing aggression… Dialogue is thus an existential necessity. And since dialogue is the encounter in which the united reflection and action of the dialoguers are addressed to the world which is to be transformed and humanized, this dialogue cannot be reduced to the act of one persons "depositing" ideas in another, nor can it become a simple exchange of ideas to be "consumed" by the discussants (76-77).

As Freire states, without dialogue there can be no communication, and without communication there can be no true education. This is perhaps the most radical statement in the entire book. We cannot begin to be educated or act as educators unless we communicate. 

The Oilers have shown signs of promise this season. When they are engaged, they play well, particularly when they actually have the puck. Unfortunately, they are maddeningly inconsistent, but at least it looks like the team might finally be learning not to lose. It's possible that had the team gone through a proper training camp to learn Ralph's systems, maybe they would have been a bit better. However overcoming years of oppression is hard to do. There is still a sense of defeatism in the team, and that will take time to overcome. Acquiring better players might help, too, but that is on MacTamblowe to work out. The players, like the fans, need to demand more from the State or threaten to bring it down. Some players like Taylor Hall appear to be capable of instilling a revolutionary spirit, but too many are still stuck inside of the old model of learning, where thoughts are mere deposits, not ideas to be explored creatively and passionately. With an offseason and a proper training camp, perhaps Ralph's critical coaching will pay off, the Oilers will actually develop an identity and start to win consistently, not because of but rather in spite of the organization's inability to care for its people and provide the necessary means to succeed. 

As I asked so many times in my class this past year: "whose interests are actually being served?" Something to think about...