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How much will hockey cost now?

NHL TV contract is bad news for fans

An earthquake struck the National Hockey League earlier this week. There was no immediate damage but watch out for the ripple effects -- they're coming to a town near you.

The NHL and Rogers Communications of Canada agreed to a 12-year, $4.7-billion (U.S.) rights deal, approved by league owners Monday. Here's a list of who that's good for:

Hockey players.
Owners that care about franchise values more than competition.
People that run Rogers Communications.

So happy for them.

This deal is not good news for the rest of us.

The salary-cap floor (the minimum) is expected to rise from $44-million to $52-million next year, and it's likely to go up from there. The cap ceiling will be $71-million. The cap goes up when revenues go up, and TV deals raise revenues. This deal will be great for large-market teams as they will be able to distance themselves from their "poorer" brethren. Teams like the Sabres will struggle to keep pace. And as we've seen repeatedly from the Sabres, when their costs go up, they charge the fans.

My season seats in Section 117 cost $49/game in 2006; now they are $77, an increase of 57%. That's before this latest development. They have gone way up irrespective of the team's poor play because that's how sports works. The greatest example of the Sabres' thriftiness is still and forever will be that at the end of last season's lockout, when teams all over the league were slashing the price of concessions or even giving food away, the Sabres discounted the price of soda pop to $4.25. They had to have that quarter.

July 1, the traditional date where NHL free agency opens, is often a day of shock and awe for fans. Most of the time reactions read something like this: (PLAYER X) got HOW MUCH??!!

Rarely do free-agent moves seem like good value. It's a byproduct of the system. Thirty teams compete for players from a relatively small pool, under pressure from fans to win and from within to get press. The result: ridiculous overvaluation of a couple dozen or so hockey players a year.

What happens then, in most cases? Fans overrate new players by their sparkling contracts and are let down. Fans then resent these players, and discontent grows on both sides.

Wait until you see what happens when players "worth" $3-million a year now get closer to double that. And you thought Ville Leino looked like a bust.

My disappointment over this NHL windfall does not stem from any doom and gloom about the competitiveness of the league, although one is entitled to that concern. We likely are going to hear a lot more about "haves and have nots" in hockey. That many more hockey players will be able to afford the best living imaginable, so good luck to the likes of Buffalo tracking them down. You want Patrick Kane to come home in two years? Did you read my column from August on where he lives? Kane's going to get $10-million a year or more -- so he can live where, Clarence? Forget it.

For me, I'm just tired of the continually growing financial chasm between players and fans. I think it makes us resentful and unhappy. Guaranteed contracts the likes of Leino's make sports less fun. And it's logical to think an athlete can coast when making millions a year. The team can't trade him, the player gets his money, and you pay more than ever to watch this disfunctional situation fester.

There's only so much money one needs for cool living. More hockey players than ever are about to zoom past that limit. Instead of using a comparative analysis between him and other players, try common sense to consider whether Sidney Crosby, the undisputed best player in the game, could be underpaid at $8.7-million a year. In my mind, no one making that salary possibly can be underpaid. But in the coming few years you will often hear that he is.

When salaries go up the game gets softer and fans get angrier.

You've been warned.

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Topics : Sports
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Locations : Buffalo
People : Patrick KaneSidney Crosby