Sunday, June 19, 2005

Walmarts sing the hockey Blues

I think it's fair to say we've entered the dog days of summer.

Hockey news is generally rather scarce over the summers, as beat reporters and columnists eschew their duties for a lengthy vacation, and the general public turns its attention to things like the U.S. Open, NBA Finals or that troublesome yardwork out back.

Perhaps this is all a convenient excuse for the dearth of posting around these parts lately. With the temperatures around Toronto hitting 30 C for much of the past two weeks, it seems almost a chore to scan the wires for the game that most have forgotten. I fully expect the traffic numbers here (and, by extension, on other hockey blogs) to dip over July and August... and why shouldn't they. If I've got something to say that's more worthwhile than a trip to the beach, I haven't the foggiest what that could be.

(If only it was possible to can Tom Benjamin's boundless enthusiasm for writing about the oft-mundane hockey news of the day... I'd buy a can of that. Or even a case.)

Ahem. With that said, the most interesting piece of news over the past week was that of Bill and Nancy Walmart (Laurie) putting the St. Louis Blues up for sale. With the asking price not readily available (the couple purchased the team and the rights to lease the to-be-renamed Savvis Center for $88-mil in 1999), various members of hockey punditry have weighed in on what this news means. What follows is my analysis of their analysis (if you run quickly, you can still escape to your summer).

The piece I read recently which I thought most thoroughly and judiciously meted out the factors was the Post-Dispatch's Derrick Goold's column from yesterday.
The Blues lost $40 million or more in each of the two seasons before the lockout. The loss in operating the team and the building, which are tied together, during the season in which the players were locked out is expected to be $20 million to $25 million.

The new labor deal is expected to slash payrolls. It is expected that the deal will require that salaries be immediately cut 24 percent. Without the cut, the Blues expect to have a payroll of $44 million for 2005-06. With the cut, that payroll would
drop to $33.4 million, saving $10.6 million.

It's not that straightforward, however, with the NHL slated to lose revenue as a result of the lockout season (as Goold goes on to say). Here's Spector with a column of his own on the matter, heartily entitled "Blues' sale not good news for NHL."

But players salaries apparently had nothing to do with the Blues' financial problems; rather it was the high cost of simply running a franchise in a city where, despite the team's popularity, high taxes and other issues may have made it impossible for team ownership to pay off its debt.

It's hard to imagine how having lower payrolls wouldn't aid the debtload of Blues ownership, but the Laurie's cited reasons do not, in fact, have anything to do with player costs. That said, plenty of sports franchises are currently flourishing (in other leagues) under similar circumstances to those in St. Louis. The main difference? Well, not surprisingly, this is the NHL.

Personally, I'm not surprised in the least that the Blues have debtload problems. The team's salary numbers have been perenially in the top 10 the past eight-plus years, and the Blues playoff performances have left much to be desired. Even with a solid and long-established fanbase, this team hasn't turned a profit due to various forms of managerial incompetence rather than the strain of the labour agreement.

As Tom Benjamin said in his comments section, he's not shedding any tears for the Lauries:

The St. Louis hockey media is already plumping for more taxpayer subsidies. Tell me they serve the public interest. Poor Nancy Laurie! Oh, boohoo. The Blues could move! Bunk. Boohoo.

With Chris Pronger, Doug Weight and Keith Tkachuk all firmly in the handsomely overpaid club, don't expect tears from me either.

Back to the beach. Or... the Globe's news desk.


As a way to reward those linking to my site, I'm going to start posting the top referrer to my site at the time of posting.

Today's top referrer: Tom Benjamin

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