A Sporting Revolution: The Parecon Hockey League

HALIFAX -- UP TO NOW, there is no 2004-2005 National Hockey League (NHL) season for ice hockey aficionados. The public NHL players and behind-the-scenes owners are incurring the wrath of disgruntled fans. The wrangling is between what are portrayed as aloof, millionaire hockey players and rich, money-losing owners of NHL franchises. The players are under pressure to pare their wages to bail out the supposedly financially troubled NHL. But there is an alternative available to the NHL Players Association (NHLPA), the players union, which would free the players from constant confrontation with the owners. If the NHLPA would be so bold as to consider an economic alternative and implement a progressive, egalitarian program, the players could liberate themselves and curry fan loyalty. Just imagine if the players pursued a revolutionary approach contrary to the capitalism of professional sports.

The NHLPA came out with a proposal to accept a rollback of 24 percent on existing contracts and other concessions with genuine revenue sharing among teams. The owners rejected the NHLPA's offer and balked at revenue sharing. So after months of being locked out by the NHL owners, the players decided that enough was enough.

The NHL players banded together and formed a new hockey league.

The players, radicalized by the lock out and their negative portrayal in the corporate media, seized the opportunity and gained control over the means-of-production. After all, hockey could not exist without the players, but it sure could without the owners.

A group of NHL players were familiar with the participatory economics (Parecon) vision expounded by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel. They brought this vision before the NHLPA, and discussed how Parecon might benefit the worker-players. The core concepts of equity, solidarity, diversity, and self-management proved highly attractive to the rank-and-file members.

First, the players would break free of the yoke-of-ownership. Second, this would be followed up with steps toward egalitarianism in professional hockey. Hockey is a team sport and without the contributions of each team member, the so-called stars fade. Each player would be remunerated according to effort and sacrifice. Third, the equality of remuneration would apply throughout the league, to the coaches, trainers, and support staff.

Since the players had become masters of their own fates, they would no longer face the threat of being locked out. Decision-making is now, collectively, in the hands of the players.

Players quickly organized their own league: the Parecon Hockey League. They could now determine their own schedule. The players would no longer have to subject themselves to a backbreaking 82-game schedule -- not including the playoff season, which extends into the summer. The players decided to reduce the schedule to 60 games. This shaved thousands of kilometers of grueling travel each season, allowing players to spend more time with family and friends. Injuries were also significantly reduced. The pressure for injured players, who had not recuperated sufficiently, to return to competition early was now a thing of the past.

The players also instituted new rules, which put the emphasis on skill-based competition and severely penalized injury-threatening aggression. Fighting was banished. The decrease in the number and severity of injuries among players was attributed, in large part, to the implementation of the new rules.

Since profit sharing was in effect throughout the league, all teams had an equal chance to develop championship-caliber teams. Players could settle down with peace-of-mind in their current team's locale, as they were no longer commodities to be traded at an owner's caprice. Hockey aficionados could look forward to having their favorite players stick around longer. The response was to be overwhelming, as fans flocked to see the highly competitive games. The players were well aware that fans are the backbone of a professional sports league. They held ticket prices at affordable levels and reserved a generous proportion of tickets to each game for those supporters too financially challenged to view games live. The outcome: hockey solidified a dedicated fan base and increased spectacularly in popularity.

The players had started a revolution in professional sports that would spread to basketball, baseball, and eventually to the rest of society.

*Kim Petersen is a freelance writer and political analyst resident in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He may be reached at kimpete@start.no

Source: www.dissidentvoice.org January 2, 2005

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