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Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management. Photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and nature who is exploring the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found.
Author and Blogger. They are not the same thing. Sports occasionally spoken here, especially hockey. Veteran of Sun, Apple, Palm, HP and now Infoblox, plus some you've never heard of. They didn't kill me, they made me better.
Person with opinions, and not afraid to share them. Debate team in high school and college; bet that's a surprise.
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Monthly Archives: February 2004
Do you feel a chill in the air? You should.
The Levitt report is a financial analysis of the NHL. It’s bottom line: the league lost $272 million (US), that a number of teams are financially insolvent, and that, if anything, that number implies that things are actually better than they are in reality. If you want to go and read the report yourself, you can get a copy of it here on the San Jose Sharks web site.
I made some preliminary comments on it here.
The NHL Player’s Association response is here.
The Sporting News reads the report and calls for a six team contraction.
Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette.
A little background: Arthur Levitt is a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. he, Lynn Turner (former Chief Accountant of the SEC) and the Eisner LLP accounting firm spent ten months investigating the NHL’s finances. None of these people have any involvement with the NHL beyond this study, they were paid up front, they were given unlimited access to all data from all teams without restriction.
The NHLPA has, not surprisingly, rejected the report out of hand. They aren’t refuting the numbers, they are telling everyone to ignore them. This is a significant thing to keep in mind — the NHLPA is making no attempt to prove the numbers wrong; they want you to pretend they don’t exist.
That should be a big clue in how you decide who’s right or wrong here.
For years, the NHLPA has been calling for the NHL to open its books and prove the state of its finances. So the NHL did — it handed all of the books over to Leavitt and his group. The result is this report.
The NHLPA’s response, to quote Bob Goodenow: The owners and their commissioner Gary Bettman have obviously found it necessary to retain a new spokesman/consultant to provide general conclusions about League finances while still not disclosing any individual team information or providing an opportunity to examine the actual records upon which the conclusions are allegedly base.
That, folks, is bull. The NHL did. they just didn’t disclose them to the player’s union. And there is no need to disclose them to the player’s union. What the NHLPA wants is not an independent review of the NHL’s numbers, but access to those numbers so they can be spun to the NHLPA’s benefit. The NHLPA isn’t refuting any of the data in the report, because they can’t. Because those numbers reflect what seems to be a very clear and painful reality.
Rather than deal with that reality — the NHLPA wants you to listen to them instead, but has no factual basis for you to do so. So they’re using smoke and mirrors to get you to ignore the facts that are here.
Now, I’m not an accountant (but at one point in my life, I was married to one), but I can read a financial analysis. For those of you who get hives with this stuff, here’s my bottom line:
Arthur Levitt and his group had unlimited access to the league’s financials. Levitt used a standard and well-accepted auditing technique, which is fully documented in the report. They’ve written a financial analysis that would hold up in court, that banks and wall street investors would use to evalaute financial options for the league, that would hold up muster to an SEC investigation and that any financial auditing operation would accept.
Despite that, the NHLPA wants you to ignore its findings. The NHLPA is on very thin ice here; basically, if the NHL can get general acceptance of these numbers, the NHLPA is in a very weak bargaining position.
In my mind, the NHLPA’s position here is simple: we want to be able to continue taking as much money as we can from the league until it does in fact collapse, because we refuse to believe it will.
I’ll admit up front that in the last labor fight in hockey, my leanings were to the players, and I wore my NHLPA jersey much of that ‘season’ in response. This time, the NHLPA is coming across as the greedy side, and I had little sympathy for their position before, and none given their response to the Levitt report. They are, at best, being disingenuous here. Their position that since the league paid for this report, it is biased is unsupportable: companies pay for financial audits all of the time, and part of the process of the audit is to allow people reading the report to understand and accept that the data is acceptable. That’s why the audit process exists, and the underpinnings of SEC regulations and GAAP (Generally Acceptable Accounting Principles).
This is not a league of owners making huge amounts of money and not wanting to share. To think the league is hiding rafts of cash somewhere is ludicrous.
Let’s take a step back and look at the state of the league:
- Two teams (Ottawa and Buffalo) have been through bankruptcy court.
- In Ottawa’s case, the former owner kept trying increasingly innovative funding strategies to try to refinance the team and maintain control. Each one fell apart, finally leading to the team being sold to a new owner who self-admittedly says he’s willing to lose money on it (for now).
- in Buffalo’s case, the now former owner kept the team alive by using funds from his other businesses, which has led to felony charges.
- in the interest of history, the league has a bit of a history of this; let’s not forget Bruce McNall’s conviction in LA, and Peter Pocklington’s tax problems in Edmonton
- here’s a scary bit (page 10, bullet 12): Of the 26 teams audited financial statements received, 23 were unqualified, and three had “going concern opinions” — in other words, there are three NHL teams who’s own accountants are saying that their finances are unstable to the point the auditors are worried the team may fail.
That last one should slap you in the forehead. Auditors don’t do that trivially.
If you’re trying to see who to believe here, think of it this way: the NHLPA is saying the current system isn’t broken, and yet two teams have been forced into bankruptcy, and three more have been flagged by their own accountants as candidates to join them.
That should scare you, if you care about the league.
The NHLPA’s position is that the free market should be allowed to solve these issues. it is clear from the Levitt report that the free market is broken. The Duhatschek link above has a nice explanation of some of those problems.
But what the NHLPA is conveniently ignoring is that the NHL’s labor market isn’t really a free market. There are significant restrictions on that market, in terms of free agency and arbitration. The market is biased towards inflation by these restrictions, especially arbitration, and the restrictions on free agency limit the talent pool, leaving those that do qualify with more demand than supply, in other words, a sellers market. The market prices are also set by the richest teams that can afford to spend. It’s easy to say “if you don’t have the money, don’t spend it”, but if you’re a hockey team that has to compete with the Maple Leafs, unless you want no chance to win, you have to find some way to compete for talent. Everyone points to the Oakland A’s and moneyball to show that a smart and savvy team can compete on limited funds, without acknowledging the reality that this only works for a few teams who can figure out how to beat the system — once everyone adopts those strategys, they become the system and the team loses its advantage. So those type of exceptions are limited and temporary.
These ‘successes’ don’t prove the system works, it only proves that you can avoid the reality of the system for a while, if you’re really really good, if you’re also lucky, and if the other teams don’t learn from you and take away your advantage. That is not a sustainable financial or performance model for a league to adopt.
To return to Goodenow for a minute, here’s another quote from his press release: We have consistently stated that one critical issue of disagreement between the NHLPA and the League on finances is how to define the complete business of owning an NHL franchise, and how to address the significant inconsistencies contained in the NHL’s voluntary and unaudited URO reporting process. At the outset it is clear the Levitt report, commissioned by the League, is fundamentally flawed when the author “elects” to define hockey revenues on the same basis as used in the NBA and NFL for defining revenues in their salary cap systems.
Here’s another place where the NHLPA is being disingenuous. A common criticism of sport finances is that they really “hide” revenues. This is a legitimate worry, and sports like baseball have turned this into an art form. A large part of the Levitt report is an attempt to identify and validate those revenues and make sure revenue and expenses that are generated as part of operating the hockey club are represented in the NHL’s numbers. If, for instance, a hockey team plays in an arena that is operated by an affiliated company (which is true of the San Jose Sharks), you can ‘hide’ money by paying rent to the arena company beyond reasonable values, effectively transferring those funds from the hockey team to the arena company. Levitt identifies these relationships (which can also happen in the broadcasting area, in concessions and food services, and a few other limited places) and attempts to factor in and validate that they are properly accounted for.
In looking over his analysis, I find his strategy to be well-thought out and on solid financial ground. Is there room for interpretation? Yes. But remember, just to get to “break even” here, we’d have to find $272 million dollars, or $9 million dollars of hidden revenue per team, on average.
Even that understates the real problem, because with teams already profitable, we don’t need to find missing money. those teams already are telling us they have some to spare. The real problem are the teams showing losses: 19 teams with a combined $342 million in losses — that’s an average $18 million per team. Do you think those teams are hiding $20 million a piece somewhere under a mattress? that’s what the NHLPA wants you to believe.
again from Goodenow: We were given access to the UROs for 30 clubs, but were only able to conduct a thorough review of four NHL clubs. On those four clubs alone we found just over $52 million in hockey related revenues and benefits not reported in the League’s voluntary and unaudited URO process. As I understand it that $52 million is in dispute; the NHLPA evidently thinks that if San Jose has a concert and that concert is profitable, that those revenues should be used to fund the hockey team. That’s a nice tactic, if you’re a hockey player wanting a higher strategy. But also, if you read the Levitt report, he did go in and audit the URO’s (Unified Report of Operations), and where he found problems or inaccuracies in them, he worked with the league to improve their reports and accounting and bring them into line so they were consistent frmo team to team and accurate to the league’s specifications. So the UROs that the NHLPA evaluated were unaudited; the UROs the Levitt report uses are in fact audited. Goodenow is using smoke and mirrors here again. And he in fact wants you to think that in those 19 teams reporting losses, you’ll magically find that missing $18 million per team (allowing a team owner a profit, or any sort of return on their investment, doesn’t seem to worry Goodenow much, but I digress). Goodenow’s response, of course, would be to tell the league to have the rich teams subsidize the poor teams through revenue sharing.
While I’m sympathetic to the need to better manage intra-team league revenues, that’s also a false argument: the union wants it set up so that no owner can have a profit until the money has shifted around to guarantee that every player makes the maximum salary they can. That, in effect, is the bottom line of revenue sharing in the view of the union. keep that in mind when you hear them use phrases like “free market”.
So here’s my bottom line on all of this: I was moderately sympathetic with the owners before reading the Levitt report. Now, I’m honestly worried about whether the league as it stands is viable. I’m pretty much convinced that some contraction is going to be necessary (or forced upon the league), and we haven’t even figured in the upcoming end of the ABC/ESPN US contract where it’s expected both the rights fees and the number of games broadcast will drop significantly (and hockey will leave ABC completely). So on top of everything else, revenue is headed in the wrong direction.
Contrasted to that, the NHLPA’s attitude is that of the guests on the Titanic who demand the crew chip ice cubes for their drinks, because until the water actually reaches the deck, you have no proof the ship will actually sink. When you look at the two bankruptcies and the three other teams under their auditor’s “death watch” audit letters, this isn’t seeing the iceberg off on the horizon, this league hit it some time ago and is taking on water.
Is some of this the owners fault?
Hell, yes. The things we can blame the owners for are legion. After all, the bottom line is that no player has ever forced a team to make an offer or sign a contract. There has been a huge increase in revenues in the NHL, thanks to improved media contracts, new markets, higher ticket prices, more sponsorship and new buildings — and the owners have gone out and found ways to spend all of that money and more. Nobody stopped to think that maybe the revenue streams weren’t sustainable, that the economy might tank, or that interest might wane.
In that, the owners acted like many of our elected officials (they’re clearly qualified to be governor of California or a member of Congress), but that catty remark doesn’t solve the problem. Neither does the NHLPA’s insistence that the owners don’t really have a problem, and if they did, the players don’t need to help solve it — the numbers make it clear that except for maybe a few major teams, the owners haven’t benefitted from all that extra revenue, the players did. And the players want even more. What’s wrong with that picture?
The players are the show — they deserve to make a good living for doing what they do. But it’s just as important that the players exist in a league they can depend on to reliably give them a good living. It serves nobody to wait until teams fail and collapse and jobs are lost due to failure of a franchise, not when it can be solved now and the worst pain avoided.
So here’s my (not so) humble suggestion on how to fix the league and make it profitable for both players AND ownership, and not do it on the backs of the fan who’s already paying excessively high ticket prices that are increasingly hard to justify.
Revenue sharing: all league revenues are shared evently. Unfortunately, the NHL is heavily dependent on gate (ticket) revenues, which are not equitably shared. On the one hand, a well-run team deserves to be rewarded and a badly-run team shouldn’t expect to make money for mediocrity, but the owners have to get their act together and even out the worst of the revenue imbalances, without turning small markets into subsidized profit centers. My suggestion: all gate receipts split 60-40 between home and away teams. That recognizes that without the away team, the game wouldn’t happen, leaving the home team a big fat zero. It allows some revenue sharing from the large, successful venues to the smaller, struggling teams, but it doesn’t shift enough revenue that the better run and more successful teams lose their edge or their profit. But it would mean that the smaller markets could field a competitive team reliably, but it’s not guaranteed anything close to a free ride.
Salary caps (minimum and maximum): Franchises will be required to spend at least a minimum salary number based on the value of the typical revenues shared from gate receipts — to guarantee an owner doesn’t just take that revenue and run. And there will be a soft cap on the high end: teams can exceed that, but will be handed a luxury tax ($1 tax for every $1 beyond the cap for the first 10% beyond the cap, increase that by 1% for every dollar every 10% beyond that). In my plan, teams will be mandated to spend at least 55% of average-per-team league revenue (not team revenues) on salary, with a salary cap and luxury tax being mandated starting at 60% of that value. The ‘appropriate’ target for salaries is 58% of average-per-team based on total league revenues. If you look at the levitt report the NHL showed net revenues of just under $2 billion (US), or an average of about $66.5 million per team, an average for player costs of 49 million per team, and a net loss of $272 million. Under my plan, the salary range will move to between $36 million and $40 million, with a target of about $38.5 million. That means that we’re calling for almost a 25% paycut on average, a net savings of (on average) 11 million in payroll per team, or 330 million league-wide.
Note that this $330 million number is higher than the league-wide loss of $272 million, but if you look at the teams losing money, the combined losses were $342 million. If you combine the revenue sharing proposal with the salary range and the proposed pay cut to get into that range — the currently profitable teams will still be profitable, but shifting revenue into revenue sharing, so they won’t become significantly more profitable by dropping salaries into the range; the money-losing clubs will see revenues increased by revenue sharing, their expenses cut by the salary cap, but they’re not guaranteed profitability by this plan; it evens out the inequities, and removes the expenses that can’t be made up in any way short of magic; if the money’s not there, the money’s not there.
I also would like to see the league make some fundamental changes in the way it does business, to try to prevent some of the worst mistakes that has gotten it into this situation. For instance:
limit contract lengths: I would recommend limiting all contracts to 3 years or less for players under age 27, and 2 years for players over 27. Contracts may have only a one year option, that option may not be automatic (or so trivial as to be the same as automatic), and may not be automatically extended for any reason.
contract renegotiation: contracts may not be torn up and renegotiated until after game 40 of the expiration year. There is no longer any concept of “contract extension”. You can sign a new contract to come into effect after the current one ends, but you can’t tear up the existing contract and “rewrite the past” by changing existing contract terms.
bonuses: all bonuses count against salary caps. all of them. So don’t offer bonuses unless you know they won’t be met, or unless you budget for them. I’d love to write a clause limiting bonuses so that only 50% of them may be for personal performance (vs. team performance) but everything I can think of has fatal flaws. I do suggest contracts have automatic performance bonus clauses for division championship, conference championship, and for series wins in each round of the playoffs, so that well-performing teams get rewarded for that performance, and those bonuses are not counted against the cap, but should be league-standard numbers.
arbitration: salary arbitration is a horrible concept on so many levels it’s crazy. It forces players to fight the owner, and both sides to argue their position in a false and hostile way. I do away with arbitration completely, and move the age of unrestricted free agency to age 27.
restricted free agency: Those players that would have been eligible for arbitration under the current deal need some other lever to force teams to negotiate fairly. My solution is this: if a player and team can’t come to contract agreement, the player typically holds out and refuses his service to the team. In effect, he’s giving up a current salary in hopes of forcing a better deal (and salary). Other times, a player plays without a contract while negotiating. To prevent owners from refusing to negotiate, as of opening night of the NHL season, any unsigned player becomes a restricted free agent and may negotiate with any team. If he comes to terms, he can sign with that team with no compensation to his old team — but his old team has matching privileges. As of the trade deadline, an unsigned player becomes an unrestricted free agency until he signs his next contract, and may negotiate and sign with any team without compensation to his former team.
deferred income: contracts with any kind of deferred compensation are outlawed. Teams can not pay for this year’s team on a “credit card”. The one exception: a team can buy an annuity for a player as part of a contract, but the annuity must be bought in the contract year and the cost of the annuity counts against the salary cap that season. these annuities must be managed by an independent entity and not controlled by either party (in accounting terms, think of a blind trust).
These changes, I think, would make revenues across the league more equitable and limit the ability for a rich team to simply out-spend a poor team, but not without some penalty. It helps guarantee some reasonable revenue level for all teams, but doesn’t guarantee profitability or success, so it protects the small markets without overly penalizing the big, allows the better managed teams to prosper without sudsidizing mediocrity.
For the players, no matter how you look at it, they’re going to make less money. I’ve strived to find a way to minimize that pain, and reward their willingness to take it with the removal of arbitration and the relaxation of free agency — both of which I also feel are salary inflators as well. More players will have the ability to become unrestricted free agents, but will be less likely to be overpaid simply because they hung around to age 32 and because a team needs someone and they’re the only free agent available (think the Luke Richardson contract a few years ago)
I’ve also tried to change a few contract habits that I think encourage teams to mis-spend their revneue, and try to force them into ways of “living within their means”. No credit cards, and I think we’ll be fine. Note this does not mean a team with a down year in revenue can’t run a deficit or finance through debt: it means the teams can’t finance those debts by hiding them in the player contracts through deferred compensation clauses. If a team wants to run a deficit, it can, but it has to handle those debts through visible forms.
One reasonable criticism of this plan is that it takes almost all of the expense reduction out of player salary. That is by design. My justification for this is simple: hockey teams have already cut much of their other operations as far as they possibly can, so there’s very little “fat” in the budgets, and things like scouting and player development can’t be stopped without damaging the future of the game. If you know what people who work for a hockey team make, you know they aren’t paid huge wages (unlike those who play for hockey teams), so I don’t see a lot of available spare cash other than in player salaries. And frankly, the players can afford the cut better than the receptionist.
Now, if it were up to me, I’d take this further.
For one thing, nowhere in here do we solve the financial burden that’s been placed on the fans who buy the tickets. Tickets have escalated well beyond inflation the last few years as teams have tried to keep up with escalating salaries. The fans need a break, too. And to help insure more, quality hockey, we need to reduce the schedule. So I want to see a 10% rollback on ticket prices, and reducing the schedule to three pre-season games (from about five) and by eight games (4 home and 4 away). That will reduce the number of games a season ticket holder pays for by about 10%, and reduces the per-ticket price by 10%. that will, one would hope, spur an improvement in attendance to offset some of the losses, but again, something like this would require further cuts in average player salary.
I would also restructure free agency. Teams deserve a return on their investment in player development, to ensure they’ll invest in it (we do not, repeat, not, want the kind of player development disaster that football and basketball have using Div 1 NCAA instead of funding their own. the NCAA is not our friend. My preference is that a team owns the rights to a player for five years after draft, or for 150 games from the day a player is first activated onto the roster. After that, when a player’s contract is up, they are unrestricted — there is zero restricted free agency.
Contracts are limited to two years with one option year, non-renewable. As above, there are no renegotiated contracts, no deferred pay, limited bonuses and the majority of bonus should be team performance oriented. Players get to have the “open market” the NHLPA says it wants (but really doesn’t), but in return, with a good supply of players on that market, salaries won’t escalate. And when a player stops performing, their contracts stop. The union will hate this kind of proposal, because they want all of the freedom to choose the best deals — but want long-term, guaranteed contracts so that teams don’t have the same option to say “no”.
But like baseball, I want all contracts to be guaranteed. If you sign it, you pay it. That forces teams to think long and hard (or should) about exactly what they’re offering and what the risks are of what they’re doing. With insurance and buyout offerings and non-guaranteed contracts, teams can get a lot sloppier about this. Teams should pay for their mistakes, so they learn to minimize them.
I’m tempted to outlaw insurance on contracts (on the thought of the “live within your means” principle), but I haven’t decided yet. there is a legitimate worry about losing and having to replace a key player due to injury. I think insurance makes sense here, as long as the cost against the salary cap is the entire salary, including those parts the insurer pays to an injured player.
I also believe the league has over-expanded. Reducing the league to 26 teams would make all teams better, and create larger shares of pooled resources. On top of that, I’d look seriously at reducing the roster size by two, to 21, and the game roster by one. Teams could choose whether to go with four full lines or 6 defensemen, and instead of having three non-skaters, would be limited to two. But that would reduce some of the pains that come from the salary reductions — and in general, the players being cut are 6-8 minute a game types. with the reduced schedule, are they still all that necessary?
This will never happen, of course. But it’s interesting to think about…
Light blogging tonight, partially because I’ve been plowing through the just-released financial analysis by Arthur Leavitt on the state of the NHL. The bottom line — the NHL claims a $273 million financial loss, and after a first reading, the player’s union is going to have a hard time shooting big holes into the results.
A scary note in the document: ignoring the two teams that have spent time in Bankruptcy proceedings (Buffalo and Ottawa), of the 28 other teams in the NHL, it looks like three of them have been given qualified approval letters by their auditors. In somewhat plain english, that means those three businesses have financial issues that prevent the auditors from blessing the results, and in these three cases, it looks like there are financial problems where the auditors are questioning the financial viability of those teams.
that’s really bad stuff, folks. Auditors just don’t do that trivially.
I’ll talk more about the details in the report later, when I have some time to write it up properly. But my early reading indicates that there seems to be very little wiggle room here. The leavitt group took great pains to try to identify and document the various places teams have traditionall hidden (or been accused of hiding) revenues and have documented the financial aspects involved there. It also goes into some details about what’s NOT in those financial statements, and most of what’s missing makes things worse for the NHL, not better. If anything, the official numbers of the NHL understate the problem, and that’s not good for the union.
It’ll be interesting to see how the union reacts to this. So far, it’s been with snide “holding of nose and fake body sound” things, which doesn’t do anything productive for the process, and certainly doesn’t invalidate anything in the report. If they can’t do better than that, they’re in a very weak position moving forward. I’ll be curious to see how they interpret this data. if they attempt to blow off the report, folks, that should be your cue to side with the owners here. Let’s see them respond with details and their own alternative analysis. The less detail from the players union in teh rebuttal, the more the owners have the truth here. you heard that here first.
And you’ll hear more, in all of is glassy-eyed stare glory, in a day or so. It’s 85 pages of accounting-speak. yawn, I think I need a nap…
So friday was February 6, and February 6 is a rather notable day in my life. On February 6, 1989, I was handed a badge and a copy of John Sculley’s Oddysey, and told to go make useful things as a new employee at Apple.
And here I am, 15 years later, still with Apple, still going strong, still doing interesting things and working to change the world.
John Sculley is gone, so is Mike Spindler (thank god), and Jean-Louis. Steve is back, and OS X rocks. Been an interesting 15 years — and if you think about where we (as a company and as society, and as technology people) have come in that time, from the Mac II to the xServe, from Multifinder to Panther, from macPaint to the iPod and Final Cut and iDVD — man it’s been a hell of a ride, no?
Makes you wonder what the next fifteen will be like. I’m looking forward to being part of it. How about you?
Saturday was a bit of a special day, as Laurie and I wandered down to San Jose Arena (aka HP Pavilion, aka Compaq Place, aka, well, oh, never mind) for Bette Midler’s Kiss My Brass tour concert.
I’ve seen Midler in concert before, a long time ago in a galaxy far away (in a previous life, when I was small and green and really wrinkled), and she’s a great show. I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time. You might be familiar with her for her portrayal of a character much like Janis Joplin in Rosemary Clooney, a wonderful reflection of her roots in the field., and if you haven’t seen that movie, go find it and watch it (but be prepared to be depressed as hell). Her new album honors
But if that’s how you know Bette, you simply won’t understand the kind of show she takes on tour. Her early start was here in the Bay Area, doing, effectively, the gay bathhouse circuit. Her shows have a strong attachment back to classic theater works like the Broadway reviews of the 30′s and 40′s. Combine the two, and you have an evening of serious music and not so serious, rather bawdy and topical humor. For instance, at one point, she digressed into her views about the current political climate, and trust me, she’s not voting for Bush in the next election (and neither, clearly, is her audience). Janet’s boob, J’lo’s love life, and the war in Iraq all got put in the crossfires. As did Bette herself — always willing to throw herself on a joke to save her audience, she did a wonderful send up of herself, and her flop of a TV series, in a piece with (I kid you not) Judge Judy (on vidoe) and a guy in a CBS eye costume, which ends with her punching out the eye and being sentenced to having to apologize to every person who ever watched her TV show personally.
And then she comes out on stage to sing I’m sorry, i devil’s horns and a tail. Only she can’t finish the song, not straight. Of course.
The best way to define the Divine Miss M is a line she used during the show. She looked out at the audience and said something like:
You know, these days, it seems you can’t become a singing star unless you dress up like a whore!
And do they call me up and thank me? Nooooo!
She also did a duet with Mr. Rogers (yes, that Mr. Rogers), and opened up after the intermission with her latest Delores Del Lagos piece. This is a continuing theme with her, Delores being one of her characters, the epitomy of everything you could hate about Las Vegas Lounge lizards in all their glory. Delores does a nautical act, complete with mermaid’s tail, navigating around the stage in an electric wheel chair. blissfully tacky, wonderful stuff.
In this show, Bette revisits Delores in Fishtails above Broadway, in which Delores takes on the Broadway stage (and flops miserably), and given one last chance, re-invents herself (did you see the Julie Andrews movie SOB? No, pretty much nobody did, but it ties back to Janet’s boobie…), and goes on to do a Broadway review.
Which has to be seen to be believed, if you’ll believe it by seeing it. Bette goes way over the top as she and her Harlettes strap on the garter belts and bowler hats for a quick riff of Fosse (actually, they take on Fosse and Busby Berkeley at the same time; god help me, they do), then a quick snip of Chorus Line, and for the grand finale, you have Delores herself just completely demolish Carol Channing doing the Hello, Dolly entrance down the grand staircase.
Now remember, during this entire time, Bette and the Harletts are in full mermaid fins, either in wheelchairs, or madly hopping about the stage.
I swear to god the woman sitting next to me was laughing so hard she wet herself. Or came awful close.
Great entertainment, great energy, her backup band was awesome, and Bette really put a lot of herself into the concert; no opening act (who’s you get to do that?), about 2 and a half hours of concert, and it starts in high gear and ramps up from there.
If you get a chance, see it. It may not be guns & roses, but, you know? that’s another reason to recommend it…
I’m with Jeff and Alanah on this one: Could the hockey world just shut up about the CBA for five minutes this weekend?. (by the way, their Vancouver Canucks Op Ed is one of the best hockey blogs out there, and one of the few that seems to remember the Western Conference exists…)
Unfortunately, the answer is no. the upcoming labor stuff is the 500 pound gorilla at center ice, telling everyone to skate around it won’t work.
The basic problem: the media needs controversy (good news doesn’t sell newspapers, radio minutes, or clickthroughs), and both sides need the media to try to push their side of the agenda. And the All-star game is a time when people are looking to (and at) the sport, so there’s no way to avoid that vision being hijacked by the politics.
Other than to get the politics put behind you. As I’ve said before, this is all posturing,a nd we shoudl all ignore it to the best we can. Neither side will get serious about negotiation until the last minute, because if either side does, it’ll be accused of giving in before it got the best possible deal.
So skate around the gorilla.
All-star weekend is also time for looking at the game and how it can be improved. ESPN has a couple of good articles, 10 things we’d change about the game and 10 things we like about hockey. I agree with the things they like completely, and their ten things they’d change mostly.
- Call the rule book
- Bring back the tag up rule
- no limit on curvature of sticks
- stop protecting the goalie
- serve two full minutes
- move the goal line back
- amend the instigator rule
- better schedule
- fix the standings
is a great starting point. But first, throw out shootouts. I’m against home run derbies instead of extra innings, and I’m against shootouts for the same reason: it ain’t hockey. You might as well have the goalies meet at center ice in mortal combat.
Instead? ten minutes of four on four overtime. If it’s not decided then — it’s a tie. Which leads to
fix the standings: how to encourage teams to play for wins? zero points for a tie. don’t reward a tie — reward wins. And I say that knowing full well that ties have really helped the sharks this year; but if you win, you get two points. If you don’t win, you get zero. Games are 60 minutes, with 10 minutes of 4-4 if needed added. Watch teams stop playing for ties…
Better schedules: definitely. Cut the schedule by 8 games: 4 home, 4 away. cut paychecks by 10% to compensate — for every player making more than 40% of the league average. Reduce intra-conference play to cut some of the travel, but let’s still find a way so that every team plays in every arena over a two or four year cycle.
dump the instigator rule: although to put it bluntly, if the referees did their job, teams wouldn’t need to police things for them. but the instigator rule needs to go.
move the goal line back: seemed like a good idea at the time. wrong. bring back the tag-up rule: ditto.
stick curvature: here’s one I disagree with. It’s solving the wrong problem. You won’t get scoring up with banana sticks, you’ll get scoring up by getting goaltending equipment under control. My argument is that while goalies need (and deserve) protection from the pucks, much of today’s equipment isn’t for protection. Reduce the size of the blocker, reduce the size of the catching glove, reduce the size of the leg pads, and you reduce the ability of goalies to do the sumo goalie schtick. I don’t want to take away a goalie’s ability to be good — I want to take away a goalie’s ability to use technology to be better than they are. Oversized pads are an advantage they don’t need in today’s game.
And finally, call the rule book: on which I agree completely, but first, fix the rule book. One problem with this thought is that the rulebook has no discretion, and referees need it. infractions that affect the game (especially scoring chances) need to be called; things that are done away from the play and don’t affect play many times shouldn’t be called; referees can’t win here, because if they do call it “by the book” they get ripped for calling too many penalties, or for calling “too many” penalties against one team (as if magically, both teams are supposed to commit the same # of penalties in each game). So make the calling priorities clear, and what isn’t a priority.
I’m also increasingly convinced the two referee system isn’t working. The NHL attempted to get everyone to call the same things the same way, and the reality is, referees are like players, they have strengths, weaknesses and preferences and tendencies. So this “objective calling” failed, and the clash of personalities and styles on ice create problems.
My current belief is that the 2nd (junior) ref should move upstairs, replacing the video replay official. He has the ability to call penalties from the eye in the sky, solving the issue he was put on the ice to solve — behind the play penalties. But by putting him in the video replay booth, video replay’s powers can be expanded beyond the very limited powers. By having a fully qualified ref up there, their job can become “make sure the right call gets made”, which is what it ought to be. The upstairs ref can call a delayed penalty through adding another light to the christmas tree over the goals — a blue light indicates a pending penalty from upstairs; the upstairs ref also has an electronic whistle to call play. Their primary focus is behind the play issues, but they should also call all major penalties and high sticks. The upstairs ref can also use video replay and confer with the on-ice ref to un-call a penalty that shouldn’t be called — and faceoff at center ice instead. Let’s get the call right. Proper use of technology can do that, non-intrusively.
Other things people have suggested:
do away with the red line: people who suggest this don’t watch much hockey where it’s done. it isn’t the solution to the problem they’re suggesting it for.
wider blue lines: a minor yes from me; anything to open up space I’m for.
bigger ice surfaces: I’m against — because that’s something the league should ahve done before all the new buildings were built. Now, it’s too late. Now, if the league wants to require that any new building or significant retrofit moves to a bigger ice surface, I wouldn’t mind. But it’s like the red line, it’s not the solution some people claim it is. More space leads to less hitting, and makes it easier to play “keep away”. If you think the trap is boring, watch a game on international ice where a team simply avoids the other team for a period and the other team can’t catch them.
bigger goals: first, try smaller goalie gear.