The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Monday, September 29, 2003

MORE FISHY NUMBERS
ice ice baby
Not that I want to make a habit out of this, but since he's revisiting a theme he brought up last week, I'll roll with him. Larry Brooks at the New York Post brings up another instance that calls into question the NHL owners claims of fiscal distress:

Two years ago, the league opened the books of four teams - Boston, Buffalo, Montreal and Los Angeles - to the union in a good-faith attempt to lay a foundation for collective bargaining. Slap Shots has been told by a well-placed source with connections to labor that when the PA's forensic accountants completed their look at the figures, there was an approximate $50M profit-and-loss difference in the conclusions of the two sides. Imagine the potential disagreement, then, regarding the books of 30 teams.

Union and league officials are prohibited from discussing these findings under a confidentiality agreement. But Ted Saskin, the NHLPA senior director of business affairs and licensing, did tell us on Friday that the union does not endorse the NHL method of financial reporting.

"When we're able to look at full sets of numbers, our conclusions are dramatically different than the league's," Saskin told Slap Shots. "We find significant discrepancies, for example, in matters such as the reporting of revenue from suites and local television deals."


As always, the shape of the final numbers is in the eye of the beholder. Naturally, the players' calculation could be, and likely is, skewed just as much as the owners', only in the opposite direction. Without seeing the entire balance sheet, it's impossible to tell. Even that highly-publicized fan examination of the Los Angeles Kings' books last season was certainly based on only the numbers the Kings chose to show that guy.

The point is, the owners are the ones who hold all the financial records, not only for the teams, but also for the arenas they own (de facto if not always de jure), the broadcast deals they sign, the marketing agreements based on their season-ticket customer data, their merchandising, etc. Unless they present a full accounting of all this, we'll never know for sure how much truth is in their protests. As private concerns, they are, of course, under no obligation to reveal any of this. But that cuts both ways: If their books are none of our business, then their problems are none of our business either. Put up or shut up.

Brooks also notes a wild rumor of a three-way blockbuster trade: Jagr to Detroit, CuJo to Washington, Kolzig to Colorado, and an Avalanche first-round pick back to the Caps to seal the whole deal. Fun concept all around; I'll believe it when I see it, and I ain't expecting to see it (neither is Brooks).